When it comes to drama watching, there is no such thing as watching it leisurely, slowly. When you have the beginning and ending in your hot little hands, marathon seems to be the only viable option, sleep be damn. So yeah, I finished Secret Garden in 3 days. I feel a tad guilty, as if I’m cheating on my lakorn world, but that feeling dissipates pretty quickly. Gotta spread the love, yunno. Won’t happen too frequently though, since I have pending lakorn projects on the horizon, and I do value my beauty sleep.
But dang Secret Garden was so worth the lack of sleep. I went into this drama series with no expectations, no synopsis or clue what the story is about. Suzsuz thought it was great, it so happens to be on Netflix and well, I was looking for a romantic comedy, so Secret Garden it is.
I wondered why it was titled Secret Garden, will there be mystical or fairytale-esque plots? Turns out, we get a little bit of everything. Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin) is the president of Loel department store and prefers his high rolling, controlled life to be the way it is. He treats his future marriage as a business transaction, devoid of feelings and attachments. So he’s okay meeting socially compatible women on blind dates. He’s kind of an asshole, but fits perfectly with his constructed, exclusive world. What makes his character interesting though, is his secret weakness that only his personal psychiatrist is privy to, which exacerbates upon meeting a stunt woman, Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won), whom he fancies and secretly wants but it clashes against his social and snobby standards.
Ra Im on the other hand is a tough chick and champion of the underdog, not to mention her daring profession as a stunt woman. Yet there is a contradiction to her character too, even though she is like one of the guys, she secretly likes being a girl. Though she defends others, she accepts abuse on herself. A self-sacrificing, high moral standards heroine, if you will. Upon meeting the rich, handsome yet incorrigible snob of a man, she teaches him a thing or two about the “normal” people and their lives.
What I liked about his character is his seemingly perfect exterior, handsome, rich, powerful, but on the inside, he’s flawed, he’s claustrophobic (that he hides from everyone), has insufferable conflict with his cousin (Oska the singer), and a dysfunctional family. It’s not easy being beautiful. Ha. He also has a work nemesis, his subordinate who’s eyeing his position as President. These myriad of conflicts get explored quite thoroughly in the drama. At first, Yoon Seul and Oska’s past relationship didn’t appeal to me, but as Oska goes through his own character arc- by wanting to get back with Yoon Seul- I am sold. Joo Won’s momma’s boy dilemma and its usage to challenge the couple, makes me think twice about lakorn momma’s and their less toxicity.
Through their intertwined fate, Joo Won and Ra Im encounter a magical intervention that changes the course of their lives. Body swapping could do that to you. Yeah, I didn’t expect that. But it offers a slew of hilarity as we watch their male-female role reversals. The vibe of this drama is far from a silly, funny romcom. It has an air of brooding and moodiness, yet offers beautifully captured scenes that sets the pace for melodrama and angst as the story progressed.
The romantic conflict lies in Joo Won’s self-deception that he could court the stunt woman, feelings removed. He believes his obsession with her would all blow over in three months. He doesn’t understand why he’s attracted to her- she is far from his type- and she is responsible for all of his maladies, his constant fantasies of her walking with him, etc. What strikes me about Joo Won is that he’s petty and childish, he truly believes what he says. And what makes it especially funny is his reaction to this little disturbance in his life.
But they are fated to be together, and their connection was established even before they ever remember meeting each other. The suspense of the story gets woven backwards, giving us the necessary pieces to be intrigued yet not fully in on the secrets. For instance, we are not privy to the details surrounding Joo Won’s accident 13 years prior. This small clue inevitably ties the whole story together. Joo Won’s character growth occurs when he shows us that he can be an adult and sacrifice himself. And the choice he makes at the end of the drama takes me emotionally there with him.
Half the time while watching him, I’m blinded by Hyun Bin’s en pointe portrayal of Joo Won, then I’m flabbergasted by his audacity and high handedness towards Ra Im, and finally, completely enamored by his chemistry with Ra Im. If you could imagine, a whole host of emotions.
Because at the end of the day, I watch dramas to feel touched, and despite its many faulty plots and seemingly random magical world, I was sold on Joo Won and Ra Im’s romance (sometimes a good pairing makes all the difference)- their mermaid tale, their back and forth angst, their amusing body swap debacle, and their kissing scenes. My, they are hot together! The chemistry is so flippin, steaming. I liked the focus on their relationship, their conflicts (even though it is repetitive at times, it invokes the reality that couples struggle over the same issues repetitively), it gave me the romance screen time that I so desired from any dramaland.
Joo Won likes to challenge everyone with the question, “Is this your best?” obviously expecting only the best. Oh he’s such an ass, but I do like my heroes snarky.
It’s no City Hunter, but Secret Garden still managed to knock my socks off.
The body swap
The action, angsty side.
The funny, adorable side.
The steamy side.
The happily ever after.