There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.

We must let go of the life we had planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us

Joseph Campbell

Secret Garden  (2010)
Comedy,   Fantasy,   Romance
Written by
Directed by
Shin Woo-chul    &    Kwon Hyuk-chan
Directed by
Country of origin
South Korea

oh! … brief

A misunderstanding between Kim Joo-won and his cousin a Hallyu star called Oska leads to an unexpected meeting with a stuntwoman and is the start of a romantic love story.

oh! … talks drama

I didn’t expect to like this drama series as much as I did!

I’ve never been a fan of the premise of the story (which I’m not going to share because it’s a spoiler), so I was more than a little sceptical. However, with the solid writing of the narrative and the exceptional acting – it was hard not to fall for the leading characters – all of them!

Kim Eun-sook wrote a strong story with exceptional character development from the first episodes and before even introducing the twist to the story. I was hooked before I even realised I was, and there was no stopping me from watching this kdrama. That’s storytelling at it’s best!

I think it was astute to use the romance aspect as the focus, whether it is between the leading couple, or the second leading couple, or even the love triangles ongoing, instead of using the plot twist as the focus.

There was a lot going on relationship-wise, and as usual in this type of love story (rich man, poor woman) not one, but two overbearing and manipulative mothers. I wonder why women are painted as such evil, conniving creatures? In almost every kdrama there is at least one vile woman. It’s very misogynistic and surprisingly often women writers who paint women this way. Harsh much?

Without realising it, the characters are all tied together by invisible threads, which makes for interesting entertainment. The three male leads are all tied to stuntwoman Gil Ra-im – a father- or brother (Im Jong-soo), a friend (Choi Woo-young), and a wannabe lover (Kim Joo-won). Kim Joo-won and Choi Woo-young (Oska) are tied to Yoon Seul. Im Jong-soo is tied to Gil Ra-Im, Choi Woo-young, Kim Joo-won, and Yoon Seul. Yoon Saul is tied to Gil Ra-im. And then they all have individual ties to each other in odd ways. It’s quite intense at times, but not written to be excessively so.

Kim Eun-sook, while writing in extreme antics for the mothers, didn’t change the dynamic in the relationship between the mothers and their sons and the mothers and the girlfriends of the sons. It was interesting to see this dynamic, as I’ve alluded to previously, it’s rather unusual. Only until I write it and then the very next drama I watch makes me eat my words because of contradiction.

I enjoyed the ending of this kdrama, which was for me, was a new take on the types of endings typical in kdrama series. That was perhaps the best played out twist. And it ends the drama on a more realistic note, given the fantastical elements.

The location scout found awesome spots to shoot – Maim Vision Village for the magnificent houses, Seases Hotel and Resort for various scenes and Resom Spa Castle. The indoor and outdoor cinematography was too notch and the natural weather added to the ambience, setting, and storyline.

The wardrobe of the ‘rich’ characters was in line with popular and modern Hankyu stars, so sleek suits and stunning dresses, skirts and blouses for the women. Gil Ra-im’s outfits start off well, she dresses as if she was buying her outfits from a rack in a department store, and then she suddenly starts wearing upscale outfits (surprisingly) and sporting handbags which she never had and where did she suddenly get the money to buy them? Her wardrobe was not consistent and attention was not paid to her character’s capabilities. A minor flaw, but one I noticed, did you too?

The music for this production was outstanding! I enjoyed the full-length CD and I found the full playlist online. Featuring artists like Kim Bum-shoo, Bake Ji-young and leading man, Hyun Bin among many others, the music reflected the on-screen action and accompanied the mood and tone of the kdrama. I’ll be listening to this collection for years to come. It’s already on my Spotify playlists. Give it a listen!

The cast were pretty much all new to me, except for perhaps one person. And they all did such a great job of interpreting the script and inhabiting their characters, for the most part.

Gil Ra-im is an orphaned young woman, just barely getting by on her job with an action school and being cast as a stuntwoman or body-double. She is stubborn, opinionated and hardworking. She is somewhat obsessed with a Hallyu star, Oska, who she met while working. Ha Ji-won who played this character was in one word, superb! She played the lonesome woman marvellously, emoting all the feelings and sentiments authentically. Ha Ji-won was particularly expressive and a good opposite actress to her male leads. I was drawn into her sadness and connected well with her stubborn determination. Impressive performance!

I fell in love with the character Kim Joo-won. As the CEO of a high-end department store, he is arrogant and more than a little self-centred. A trauma in his past has rendered him with post-traumatic memory loss and claustrophobia. Hyun Bin was phenomenal in this role. He displayed his character’s emotionless state flawlessly. The long blank stares, the puzzlement, it was heartbreaking but alluring at the same time. I loved watching his confusion growing. The other side to his character’s personality is the sad, yearning and longing.  Hyun Bin was outstanding – delivering the right balance of arrogance and ignorance and many of the outlandish things he said were both hysterically comical and harrowing. I normally try and keep things professional and might mention good looks or physical features, but, this time I’m throwing caution to the wind. Hyun Bin is drop dead sexy, whether he is the yearning man or the comical tease who’s head-over-heels in love. He delivered an honest portrayal of the character he inhabited.

The chemistry between the characters played by Ha Ji-won and Hyun Bin was electric. Anything from the sparring and aggressive way they initially speak to each other, to the gentle and tender way they love each other was breathtaking. The way they both used their expressive eyes spoke volumes and louder than the lines they shared. WOW!

Choi Woo-young (Oska) the flailing Hallyu star and cousin to Kim Joo-won was played by Yoon Sang-hyun. Still a selfish and self-centred man, he was spurned once in the past which he, in turn, uses an excuse to become a playboy – womanising and partying like there is no tomorrow. Yoon Sang-hyun was exceptional at delivering a shallow man who struggles to balance his free-but-plagued spirits but stumbles from one bad decision to the next.

The chemistry between the characters played by Yoon Sang-hyun and Hyun Bin was outstanding. I enjoyed their interactions, from the argumentative and competitive tones to the camaraderie and brotherly affection they shared.

The chemistry of Yoon Sang-hyun and Ha Ji-won characters was special. They share many moments that almost tip the scale from friendship and infatuation to romance, but it never quite happens. It was remarkable and endearing what the two shared.

Im Jong-soo, the director of the action school where Gil Ra-im works was an interesting character. Im Jong-soo has taken on the role of both father-figure and brother to Gil Ra-im. Lee Phillip delivered an interesting performance. Behind the professional exterior façade, Im Jong-soo is a kind-hearted, genteel man who hides an unrequited love. Lee Phillip delivered a professional performance exhibiting a man who cares about his business and both his employees and his students. He used a lot of English and was good at speaking and reading it. I was impressed. Lee Phillip portrayed the sanest third wheel in a love triangle I have ever watched in a kdrama. No hysterics, no excessive emoting, no drama. Just a cool, calm collected man who will not rock the boat and is okay staying in the background, no matter how hard it pulls at his heartstrings. It was intriguing to watch.

Lee Phillip’s character shares chemistry with Gil Ra-im that was more familial than anything overtly romantic. I found myself sold on the interactions between the two characters and believed that their friendship was more important to the overall story than the unrequited love. However, I wasn’t as sold on the chemistry between Lee Phillip and Hyun Bin characters. They both are strong actors, but their interactions came of asymmetric and had me thinking that perhaps the two actors didn’t personally like each other and allowed those real-world feelings to show in a minor way.

Yoon Seul, Oska’s first love and musical director is a conniving wench, no other way of saying it. Kim Sa-rang (who I’m not particularly fond of as an actress) painted a perfect scorned woman. Hey! I’m biased because of my personal dislike, but, she did a great job and her performance was credible and at times, moving.

The chemistry between Kim Sa-rang and Yoon Sang-hyun was charged and filled with anger, frustration, despair and bitterness. It was tragic to watch two people who obviously love each other deeply, rub each other up the wrong way and manipulate the people around them (individually) to force reactions. It was very honest. Humans do this when they feel betrayed and scorned.

The chemistry between Kim Sa-rang and Ha Ji-won was heated. Two women, one with an obvious agenda, the other oblivious to manipulations. The interactions of their characters were tinged with regret.

Kim Sa-rang and Hyun Bin character interactions and chemistry appeared forced and unnatural. Too attentive, perhaps a little distracting, the interactions between the two were unnecessary and was one plot twist I understood but disliked.

Park Joon-geum played Moon Boon-hong, mother to Kim Joo-won. A calculating and manipulative woman (typical chaebol mother in kdrama). Park Joon-geum, who is growing on me as an actress, delivered her overly concerned character with her usual flair. I’m glad her performance wasn’t too excessive and while melodramatic didn’t have too many high-pitched screaming scenes. I get it, kdrama likes to depict mother’s as insanely protective of their sons. Park Joon-geum used her facial expression, the tone of voice, and body language to enforce her character’s frustration and angst.

The chemistry between the characters played by Ha Ji-won and Park Joon-geum was dramatic and cheerless. There was no love lost between the two which made every interaction exasperating. But the chemistry between the mother (Moon Boon-hong) and son (Kim Joo-won) was intense. Park Joon-geum and Hyun Bin worked well together to create a war of wills between their respective characters and it was fierce and animated.

An honourable mention before I move on to other supporting roles is the performance by Jang Seo-won who played Hwang Jung-Hwan, a director and staff member of the action school. There was something about Jang Seo-won’s performance that just brought out the smile in me. I enjoyed his spirited interpretation and portrayal of his minor, but equally important role. I found Jang Seo-won’s smiling, jovial depiction touching and that smile of his! He used his entire face to deliver a nuanced performance. It was noteworthy and I’ll look for other performances for future kdrama choices.

oh! … sidekicks

The supporting characters were portrayed by a combination of strong performances by a team of great actors and actresses.

Of note, Lee Jong-suk who played Han Tae-sun, the aloof and brusque musical genius discovered by Oska was hypnotic. Something otherworldly about this young actor that I can’t find the right words to describe. Yes, he’s handsome, but, that wasn’t what I found fascinating. It also wasn’t Lee Jong-suk’s performance that was understated and quiet. I think it was his interpretation of his character’s brooding and contemplative mannerisms. The possibility exists that it was the hurt and sorrow he carried in his body language and tone. He is another character that suffers unrequited love.

Yoo In-na played Im Ah-young, Gil Ra-im’s best friend and roommate. Yoo In-na brought her character’s silliness and ignorance to life by playing the out-of-touch with reality character for this kdrama. I couldn’t take her character seriously and perhaps that was the intent to balance some of the more intense moments and character interactions. She did a fine job, but Yoo In-na is good in support roles where she can be natural and unpretentious.

Kim Sung-oh played long-suffering and faithful Secretary Kim. Kim Sung-oh was directed in his interpretation of his performance I’m certain. I found the overacting excessive but understood where it was coming from and its intent. I’d like to see Kim Sung-oh play a serious character so I can accurately rate any of his performances. This performance didn’t do it for me but deserved a mention because I believe there is a great actor lurking inside that needs a solid character and skilled direction.

Lee Byung-joon who played bad guy Park Bong-ho was hilarious for all his evil machinations. Expressive and rip-roaringly funny, Lee Byung-joon nailed his character’s flaws and managed to catch my eye enough for me to mention his performance. However, saying that, this type of character typically annoys me. However, writer, Kim Eun-sook is good at managing her character’s narration and development and so Park Bong-ho as a character is not as hateful as most bad guys!

oh! … that’s a wrap

This kdrama was a success for me as all the key elements (script, narration, cinematography, locations, production, wardrobe, music and acting) came together to create a kdrama masterpiece.

Kim Eun-sook writing is exceptionally strong and while she is often criticised for writing ’shallow’ characters. I think for this drama series she outdid herself and silenced her critics. I get enjoyment out of her romantic comedies and I typically don’t go for romance in a big way. She is brilliant at writing humour into lines for actors and actresses and humour always appeals to my inner jokester.

I highly recommend this kdrama. I found it entertaining and uplifting with a humorous tone. I laughed! I cried! I enjoyed every minute spent on the 20 episodes.

oh! … tidbits

In 2012, China remade the drama into a film starring Wallace Chung, Tan Weiwei and Korean singer Kangta.

In 2016, Thailand remade the drama starring Ananda Everingham and Pimchanok Luevisadpaibul

I wasn’t the only person who enjoyed this production, it won a fair number of awards, including the following:

2010 SBS Drama Awards

Hyun Bin won the Top Excellence Award, Actor in a Drama Special

Ha Ji-won won the Top Excellence Award, Actress in a Drama Special

Secret Garden won the Netizen Popularity Award (Drama)

Hyun Bin won the Netizen Popularity Award (Actor)

Ha Ji-won won the Netizen Popularity Award (Actress)

47th Baeksang Arts Awards

Hyun Bin won the Grand Prize (Daesang) for TV

Secret Garden won the Best Drama

Yoo In-na won the Best New Actress (TV)

Kim Eun-sook won the Best Screenplay (TV) (Secret Garden)

6th  Seoul International Drama Awards

Shin Woo-chul won the Outstanding Korean Director (Secret Garden)

Kim Eun-sook won the Outstanding Korean Screenwriter (Secret Garden)

Baek Ji-young won the Outstanding Korean Drama OST (That Woman)

2011 4th Korea Drama Awards

Kim Eun-sook won the Best Writer (Secret Garden)

2011 13th Mnet Asian Music Awards

Baek Ji-young won the Best OST (That Woman)

2011 24th Grimae Awards

Heo Dae-sun, Lee Seung-chun (camera directors) won the Grand Prize (Daesang)

Ha Ji-won won the Best Actress

Park Man-chang won the Best Lighting Director

2011 Korea Content Awards

Kim Eun-sook won the Prime Minister’s Award in the Field of Broadcasting (Secret Garden)

Besides the awards success, Secret Garden also had huge rating success, with an estimation of more than 20 billion won worth of economic effect.

oh! … soundtrack

oh! … gallery

oh! … trailers

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