Secret Garden: jumping on the Oscar and Yoon Seul bandwagon!

aka the drama that was responsible for the funniest 60 minutes I've ever experienced...
aka the drama that was responsible for the funniest 60 minutes I’ve ever experienced…

Like any other category of media, there are K-drama titles that become the talk of the town. Secret Garden, a 2010 drama starring Hyun Bin and Ha Ji-won, is one of them. With ratings climbing to over 30% by the end of its run, it is still fondly remembered by Korean and overseas fans alike, and several of its locations increased in popularity as tourist spots. Personally, I’ll freely admit that I LOVED Joo-won’s house – it’s actually part of the training institute of the Maiim Group, a comestics and health food products company, but don’t you think it would be absolutely amazing to live in such an airy space? Though the heating bill would have been expensive!

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Look how stylish it is, both inside and out!!

Okay, okay, I’m done with that tangent – time to look at the drama itself.

It actually took me a while to get into this drama, and even now, there are many reasons why it’s never going to be my favourite. First and foremost, the main couple of Kim Joo-won and Gil Ra-im didn’t really appeal to me as a romantic pair until perhaps the last quarter of the show. In fact, it was actually quite difficult for me to understand why Ra-im even felt attracted to Joo-won in the first place. Although he did show a few – very few, I must emphasise – instances of gentlemanly behaviour, such as taking her to hospital when he realised that she had become lightheaded from an injury she’d ignored, he insulted her many times in a manner far more abrasive than that of Mr. Darcy (from Pride and Prejudice, of course). Although Joo-won’s high-brow upbringing and status as one of South Korea’s “societal leaders” goes a long way to explaining his behaviour and how much he had to learn about how Ra-Im and other ‘commoners’ live, it is this very gulf between their worlds that made it difficult for me to see how she could ever become drawn to him. Furthermore, there were also a few instances where he kissed or hugged her against her will – that’s something that I really cannot accept. Even though I appreciated the development of Joo-won’s character over the last third or so of the show, I just didn’t think that the character of Ra-im was able to match it.

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One of the discontinuity errors that drove me nuts

The other major thing that annoyed me was the editing. Korean dramas are known for having tight budgets and even tighter schedules. Whilst the former wasn’t really evident in Secret Garden (there are several rather depressing stories that I have recently come to know of), the latter drove me crazy towards the end. Whilst some minor slips involving discontinuity between cuts could have been overlooked had there not been so many of them, even more irritating were the strange transitions between several otherwise touching scenes that diminished their impact, and the overbearing musical cues that accompanied them did not help. This was undoubtedly a consequence of the last-minute filming schedule – apparently, the concert in the final episode was filmed at an actual concert by the stars and artistes featured in the drama the night before that episode aired! A friend suggests that the director’s cuts that would be found on the DVDs may have fixed some of these issues – I wish they’d set up some kind of paid streaming site for these finalised versions!

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Admittedly, Hyun Bin may have had the juicier part, but they both did very well nonetheless.

Moving on to what I really liked, however, the acting has to rate a mention. Hyun Bin, in particular, was utterly convincing as the characters he had to play: not only was he hilarious at portraying Ra-im struggling to come to terms with being in Joo-won’s body (and all the problems associated with that), he really made you feel for Joo-won in several of the later episodes. That I kind of grew to like him in the end, despite his earlier behaviour, is a testament to the actors who played him. And yes, ‘actors’, because Ha Ji-won also did a good job portraying him in Ra-im’s body, particularly the looks of realisation on her face when Joo-won made discoveries that really opened his eyes to Ra-im’s life. Unfortunately, this also meant that one aspect of the body-swapping was quite irritating: I would have preferred it had they left the actors swapped for all of the scenes, instead of using that ‘magical veil’ to swap them back for significant scenes. It really spoiled the effectiveness of those scenes a large proportion of the time.

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“The crazy bitch in this town is me.”

Most of all, however, I really love the secondary couple of Oscar and Yoon Seul. Although the latter had been introduced as someone to be detested, ironically, it was her “The crazy bitch in this town is me” speech – albeit deployed in support of our main couple – that sealed the deal for me. Yoon Seul is one sassy girl, and although I disliked what she was trying to do at some level, I found both her disillusionment at love and her hope that things would somehow work out despite her trying to get back at the person who’d hurt her to be quite a realistic and moving representation of the uncertainties of love.

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“Why do you let Kim Joo-won win all the time?”
“How do you know I let him win? Everything thinks I’m always the victim.”
“Because even when you are victimised, you look happy.”
When Joo-won was 21, he experienced something that would have been better off not experienced. Because of that, he had a really hard time, and depression followed. It was very hard for me to watch. He wouldn't even talk. Since then, I purposely started bothering him, starting fights and making fun of him. Because then, he would at least get irritated.
When Joo-won was 21, he experienced something that would have been better off not experienced. Because of that, he had a really hard time, and depression followed. It was very hard for me to watch. He wouldn’t even talk. Since then, I purposely started bothering him, starting fights and making fun of him. Because then, he would at least get irritated.

I also liked Oscar, though for slightly different reasons. His efforts to find out how he’d hurt Yoon Seul and make up for it, along with his loveable if frustrating emotional denseness, might be memorable to some, it was his protective and understanding attitude towards his cousin that clinched it for me. Ultimately, although I will always remember Secret Garden for the stitches that the 6th episode gave me, for me, it was Oscar and Yoon Seul that gave the show heart, and I will always love them for it.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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