Friday, January 28, 2011

Secret Garden (시크릿 가든): Drama Review

Imagine if you will two young Korean couple, one male and very rich the other female and poor, that just happen to switch bodies. Can you see that happening?

That is exactly what happens in the recent Korean drama Secret Garden, which I happen to be watching. I haven't finished it, but I am halfway through. I'll be honest that I haven't been into the K-dramas that much lately due to American ones grabbing all my attention. Plus after watching a little of Boys Before Flowers I started to grow a distaste for it. I really hate it how the female lead character ended up going from a tough-independent person to a soft-apologetic little thing. As I started to watch Secret Garden I feared that this was going to happen all over again. Thankfully, the lead female character in this story pretty much stays a tough chick (so far).

The Characters: source
Gil Ra Im
Played by: Ha Ji Won
Character: The main female role. Feisty and has a street spirit to her, Gil Ra Im shows no mercy towards the male lead who tries hard to bring her into his heart. Her day job is being a stunt woman so you can imagine she is pretty fierce.

Kim Joo Won
Played by: Hyun Bin
Character: Main male lead here who likes to wear fancy track-suits (hand-stitched) and chase Gil Ra Im. Has claustrophobia and a bossy attitude. CEO of a wealthy department store.

Played by: Yoon Sang Hyun
Character: He is the cousin of Joo Won, so naturally he is rich as well. An aging "Hallyu" pop star who faces his career taking a nose dive. Has a heart-broken past with another character. Comes off as cheerful and more free-spirited than his cousin. 

Yeun Sol
Played by: Kim Sa Rang
Character: Watch out guys! This gal is looking for the perfect marriage. She is actually a film director and so you see her trying to make films for Oska. But due to their past relationship things become bumpy. What I love most is seeing her rich-ass cry over her breaking heart...(sorry).

Im Jong Soo
Played By: Phillip Lee
Character: He is the stunt school's director and so has a big influence on Gil Ra Im's life. He secretly loves her but is never man enough to tell her (so far). Makes for complications and a love triangle. 

There are plenty of more characters but these are the main players. The other people you see are Joo Won and Oska's parents, friends of Gil Ra Im and some other lively characters thrown in. 

The story and whole formula for this drama is pretty out there but still adheres to traditional drama algorithms.

Typically, a Korean drama takes a young couple and makes them hate each other at the beginning. Then for some random reason they have to be next to each other practically all of the time. Usually they have to lie about each others relationship to keep their social and family lives smooth. Eventually they fall in love and the last part of the series ends with them finding each other, after being torn apart, and swearing they will never leave each other ever again. 

Beautiful isn't?

Well I can tell you that gets really boring, very quickly. Secret Garden's formula is somewhat like this but the DNA has changed a bit. 

Joo Won finds himself attracted to Gil Ra Im and can't get her out of his head. Gil Ra Im doesn't really fall for him like he does for her, but there are times when she finds herself feeling something. At the beginning of the drama they kind of weave this out for 5 episodes until finally their bodies are switched.

Body Switching! Oh my!

I found it quite whimsical and interesting that the creators of this drama took on body switching. For one there are so many gender and sexual taboos in Korean culture that this kind of story-plot has room to play with. What happens when they discover that they are in each others body is really quite amusing.

The guy reacts by being in the girls body by instantly noticing he has breasts. The girl reacts the same way when she realizes she is a man. It is an interesting play on gender roles and there are times when things almost cross a social barrier. However, the creators of this drama kept things light and fluffy in regards to any kind of social commentary.

The body switching scenarios were mostly playful with one instance where Gil Ra Im (inside the man's body) had to show her switched partner how to put on a bra.
 Don't worry no one walks in on this situation.

They stay switched for quite sometime and end up messing up each others lives. Yes they do switch back, and I won't tell you why, but afterwards the tone of the story becomes more serious. 

Throughout the story Joo Won's mother finds out about his relations with Gil Ra Im. Of course she isn't pleased as Ra Im is completely out of his class. During the body switching she even tried to bribe Gil Ra Im to stay away from her son, but since the person she was really talking to was her son (in Gil Ra Im's body) she ended up toyed with.

After the switch reversal there was an intense scene where his mother called back Gil Ra Im to finally get rid of her. At one point Joo Won walked in and declared that she couldn't get rid of Gil Ra Im

Commentary on Social Class and Standards

His mother berated Gil Ra Im for being poor and daring to think about belonging to her class. The whole scene reminded me of how with my first Korean boyfriend I wasn't truly accepted because I wasn't Korean. 
This is about where I am at in the drama. To sum up the story plot you have a rich guy who wants to love and be with a poor girl. The poor girl time-after-time puts him down and even kicks him around. There are mixed in other love stories and the whole thing seems to be centered on forbidden and broken love. What's going to happen to the couple and will they switch again? Just gotta watch and find out.

Is It Worth Watching?
I would have to say, yes. Although you might find yourself muting it now and then, as I do, since they play the same music over and over. 

I am beginning to see that this is more about the male character changing and dealing with his life. It also portrays rich Korean people in a critical tone, of course done so carefully. You do get the sense that the moral merits mostly come from Gil Ra Im and her "lower class" upbringing. The rich people in this show are portrayed as conniving, backstabbing and easily persuaded. I am not sure if this is something I am imagining or whether the directors are really going for this kind of atmosphere.
All in all, I would say give this drama a chance. Mostly you will need to get through the first 5 episodes and then things get really interesting. There's a lot of the usual eye candy and of course they spend a few episodes on Jeju Island. 

In case you need a visual idea of it all:

Have you seen it? Did you like it? Anything stick out to you as interesting?


  1. I've been meaning to watch this forever. My kids are still talking about it even though it's finished now. I'd like to be in on the jokes too...

  2. Oh man! I am missing out on the classroom culture of this drama. I liked that best..about connecting with the Ss on the pop culture.

  3. I just started watching this, so I can't read your review. But I don't get how Kim Joo Won is so desirable. Im Jong Soo is handsomer and less douche-y. I think, anyway.

  4. So much love for this show! I thought it lagged a bit in the middle, but it really picked up in episode 14 and was excellent for the rest of the run. Hyun Bin and Ha Ji-won especially did an excellent job with two tricky rolls.

  5. Spinster: I think that is kind of the point of his character and you will see they use this throughout the story.

  6. My wife absolutely loved this show, so much that she has already watched repeats of it several times. I've never heard her laugh as much as she did when she watched this.

  7. I've laughed out loud several times too. Parts where it was funny and parts you just have to laugh at what you see.

  8. 외국인도 시크릿 가든을 즐길? O_O 너무 재미있다.. 나도 좋아 ㅎ ㅎ


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