Secret Garden in a romantic comedy starring Hallyu star, Hyun Bin (My Lovely Sam Soon) and acclaimed actress Ha Ji Won (Hwang Ji Ni). The story is about a couple who swaps bodies.
When I first heard of this drama, I thought to myself, “Self, why is this drama called Secret Garden? Why are they doing something ludicrous like swapping bodies? And why did these beloved actors sign up for something that sounds like a hot mess?”
Is it just me or does Secret Garden not sound like a romantic comedy? Every time I heard it, I thought of Sound Garden, Savage Garden or some horror movie I watched as a kid where the damn plants and flowers in some garden came alive at night and did all sorts of horrible things. And yes, that stupid movie still haunts me which is why on one road trip to Atlanta, I was so freaked out by all the topiary along the highway. But I digress.
So the name didn’t sound good to me and the whole body swapping thing just seems kinda dumb. Not that I have a problem with the premise since I’ve enjoyed body swapping movies like Freaky Friday. But 20 hours of a romantic comedy about body swapping just sounded like a very long running joke that would get stale fast.
But boredom and just all around curiosity got the best of me so I decided to give it a try. And guess what? I think this drama has the potential to be awesome.
So who are the characters in Secret Garden? Anyone who’s seen a romantic comedy Korean drama has a good chance of predicting the next one he or she sees. I’m not trying to be mean but even though the actors and settings might differ, underneath it all, a lot of Korean dramas have the same plot. So is Secret Garden a departure from this? Well, not quite.
Joo Won(Hyun Bin) is a CEO of a store. He shows up to work only twice a week, takes the long way in so that everyone has to line up and bow to him as he passes by and talks down to his underlings. He’s also very straightforward and efficient and doesn’t believe love is the best use of one’s time. We’re introduced to him on his blind date with a gold digger where he proceeds to cut her down to size. Other than being arrogant, he’s also rather wacky and there’s a running gag of people making fun of the sparkly track suit he’s wearing while he constantly defends it as being “handcrafted and made in Italy.” Over the course of the first two episodes, we learn that he’s claustrophobic and that even though it appears like he talks down to his employees, he’s really not mean spirited – he’s just tactless. He says what he feels regardless of it if sounds like an insult or a compliment.
Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) is a strong, working class girl. We’re introduced to her when she visits her friend’s workplace and is asked to leave by some rich bitch because she doesn’t look right with her tomboyish clothes and tattoos. The drama then goes to show us just how bad ass she is when she chases after some thugs (they’re driving, she’s riding a bike) then beats them up to retrieve a stolen purse. Later on, we find out she’s a stunt woman. A stunt woman who’s bad ass and takes no mess off the set but transforms into a timid mouse on it. She’s constantly being belittled by the lead actress and she allows the director to abuse her.
There’s some rich bitch interested in Joo Won (sorry, I can’t be bothered to learn her name). I wish I could tell you more about her but I basically ignored her the whole time. One thing I know is she’s Oska’s first love but wants to become Joo Won’s last love.
Oska is Joo Won’s cousin but instead of being the sweet, wonderful guy that kdrama law dictates must get hurt on the leads’ journey to true love, he’s this flamboyant player. His clothes are all wrong, his hair is all wrong and when it comes to women, his personality is all wrong. He’s introduced to us in a scene where he shares a deep kiss with someone we assume had just spent the night with him then proceeds to dump her. He and Joo Won appear to have an antagonistic, bickering relationship but as with all these things, there’s clearly love between them. Or so I expect.
Then there’s a fifth lead played by Philip Lee. He’s Ra Im’s boss and someone who appears to have been silently in love with her for a while. He’s always taking care of her and in episode 1, takes her to Oska’s concert (she’s a big fan) and constantly tries to protect her. It’s still early days yet so I’m not sure if he’s always been silently in love with her, he’s confessed to her and been rejected, or they once embarked on a now failed relationship. Normally, I would just assume he’s the usual second lead type who loves hard but doesn’t have the guts to confess but there’s a certain level of discomfort between them and even though the Boss dude always offers to help Ra Im, she constantly refuses. So I think they might have some kind of history or at least, she knows how he feels about her even though she doesn’t reciprocate those feelings. I’m a sucker for the second lead who’s loved the longest and always root for him (even though he never wins) but it’s different this time. There’s something I just don’t like about this character. Perhaps it’s that seemingly forceful nature of his. If this were a pure melodrama, I would predict that at some point in the story, he’d threaten to commit suicide if Ra Im dated someone else.
Our leads meet when Oska asks Joo Won to occupy the time of an actress he’d dumped who was threating to slander him in the press. Joo Won goes to the set and instead, picks up her stunt double who happens to be Ra Im. It’s a cliche case of mistaken identity and one that I’m fine with. Although I don’t want my drama to be predictable from beginning to end, I also understand that cliches are often used because they work.
As a closet romantic, I must say that episode 2 hit the spot. I didn’t expect any romance to begin before the body switch so it was quite surprising to see Joo Won constantly thinking of Ra Im at the beginning of episode 2. And I especially liked how this was depicted with him constantly having visions of her.
Ha Ji Won has this mature, sophisticated beauty so I particularly enjoyed seeing her portrayed as four different types of women.
One thing I love about how this romance has begun is that it’s very realistic. Most dramas don’t have the couple date – instead, they spend some time together, fall in love then get married. But what’s happening in Secret Garden happens everyday. I think most women can relate to meeting a guy, exchanging numbers then having him call you soon after. Or, as in this case, meeting a guy, not giving him your number but still having him call you soon after. 😀 Sometimes, the surprise call is welcome but most often, it isn’t, just like in Secret Garden. And you know how dramas like to have the male lead tell the female lead she’s unattractive? Well, instead of that stupidity, we actually have Joo Won ask Ra Im how it’s possible that she’s manages to stay pretty even while angry. For once, isn’t it great to see a male lead act like a real man?
The rest of the story consists of Joo Won chasing after Ra Im in his own way (in an attempt to see her, he shows up for auditions and later for practice) and Ra Im not being completely immune to his charms as thoughts of him distract her from her work.
Then we have the quintessential kdrama scene of the rich prince coming to rescue the damsel in distress. Normally, I would roll my eyes at this but here, I find it cute. Maybe it’s because he’s a reluctant prince and she’s an unintentional damsel in distress. I hope they later on explain why an otherwise strong woman becomes so mousy during work hours.
Instead of forcing a couple to get close to each other in a fake marriage or because their house got burned down, the characters will get to know each other in the most intimate way possible. A rich man will leave his mansion and be forced to share a room in a rundown building with another girl, while a poor girl will get to enjoy luxuries she could never have dreamed of. An uncoordinated man will be expected to engage in sword fights while a timid girl will have to lead a company. There’s a popular saying that implies that you can never really understand another person till you “walk a mile in their shoes.” So imagine how much you can get to know a person if you live inside their body. And this is the allure of Secret Garden. Plus having two hot actors with good chemistry is a welcome bonus.
Parting words: Hyun Bin is sexy, but he’s even sexier when he doesn’t look like he’s been on a 40-day Master Cleanse diet. Ha Ji Won is beautiful and I’m glad that this drama doesn’t try to pretend she’s an ugly duckling. Yoon Sang Hyun is hilarious and something about his hair at the beginning of episode 2 suddenly made me find him attractive. The O.S.T sounds good enough and I have no complaints about the technical aspects of this drama. We are yet to see the body swap which means so many things can go wrong along the way, but if the execution of the first two episodes is any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a romantic, fun ride.
*Screencaps were taken from soompi.