The Fangirl Verdict

Completely biased reviews and fangirling

Review: Secret Love Affair

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THE SHORT VERDICT:

A drama that is a lot more measured and contemplative than its title – or its poster – might suggest.

To my knowledge, a good number of viewers hesitate over this show for one or several of these reasons: it’s about adultery; it probably condones adultery; it’s probably salacious, titillating audiences with an affair between a much older woman and a much younger man.

Secret Love Affair is not at all the cheap watch that some might assume it to be. Thoughtfully written, expertly directed & executed and excellently acted, Secret Love Affair is an absorbing, immersive watch that is at once the story of a man, the journey of a woman, and an uncompromising study of human nature and what it means to really live.

Substantial, poetic and thought-provoking, and well worth your time.

Secret Love Affair OST – Affair

THE LONG VERDICT:

In a drama landscape driven by so many conflicting forces – supply & demand, PPL, fan response and the limitations of the live-shoot system, to name just a few – it’s a rare and amazing thing to encounter a drama that retains its narrative coherence and its creative integrity.

Even rarer, is the drama that retains its narrative coherence and its creative integrity, and combines it with masterful, careful execution and nuanced, holistic character delivery.

Secret Love Affair does all of that, and does it with a classy, elegant restraint that is only fitting of its caliber.

A masterpiece, truly.

THE DRAMA’S CONSTRUCT

Tone & Sensibility

In line with its artistic sensibilities, Secret Love Affair possesses the ambience of an art film rather than a drama.

Production values are very high, and the world presented to us is carefully constructed, so that it doesn’t look as manufactured as most drama worlds.

The world that Sun Jae (Yoo Ah In) comes from is introduced with gritty, chaotic street sounds, and the world that Hye Won (Kim Hee Ae) comes from, is presented with mood lighting, its quiet, sophisticated atmosphere lightly scored with classical music.

From beginning to end, the drama infuses our experience of its world with skillful touches that serve to heighten our senses. Sound levels are turned up such that many sounds that would usually go unnoticed become magnified and brought to our attention.

Sharp intakes of breath, nervous gulps, the sound of skin on skin as Sun Jae nervously rubs his face when he’s near Hye Won, combined with mood-intensifying music swelling and swirling to fill the silences in each scene, take us into a state of hyper-awareness of the senses.

In that state of hyper-awareness, the varying degrees of every ragged breath, every turn of the eye, and every pause take on magnified levels of meaning.

It’s hyper-real to the extent of feeling surreal; at once immersive, absorbing and completely compelling.

Cinematography

Everything about the cinematography in Secret Love Affair is careful, detailed, and deliberate.

Lighting, color palettes and camera angles are specifically chosen for the messages that they convey, and combined, they tell a silent meta-story, adding layers to the story unfolding on our screens.

Compare the harsher lighting when we see Sun Jae’s world:

…to the more refined, softer lighting when we see Hye Won’s world:

The difference in lighting alone speaks volumes about the plebeian nature of Sun Jae’s world, versus the aristocratic quality of Hye Won’s world.

Simple, thoughtful visual cues like these are inserted throughout the drama, and effectively articulate some of the unspoken truths about the two very different worlds co-existing in this drama’s universe.

Another one of the cinematography’s defining characteristics, is the way the shots are often framed in a deliberately partial manner, giving us a subtle but clear sense that we are like voyeurs peeping into a world of which we are not a part.

Our point-of-view is frequently discreet, gracefully panning out from behind a protective screen, like so:

Or around a furtive corner, like so:

Even the pivotal scene of Sun Jae playing the piano in Hye Won’s home in episode 2, is framed such that we are watching most of it from behind the piano. The grand piano’s lid prop is squarely in our line of vision, like so:

Notably, the partial frame is only used when we are encountering Hye Won’s world.

Sun Jae’s world – which represents the regular world – does not get the voyeur treatment. Combined, it is an effective metaphor of this show allowing us a peek into the privileged world in which Hye Won exists, in a manner that’s not all that different from how Sun Jae is peeking into it too, as an outsider.

So meticulously conceived, and so precisely, profoundly rendered.

Music

The music in the show is such a constant presence in the show that it becomes a bona fide character in its own right.

When the music is played directly by the show’s characters, the music becomes their translator; every nuance in their feelings and emotions conveyed in their music’s overtones, as they pour their hearts into their playing. As we listen to the music flowing forth from their hands, we begin to understand the detailed landscape of their deepest emotions.

When the music is a separate being in the background, it becomes our characters’ narrator, bringing additional life and dimension to their actions and expressions. It ebbs and swells with our characters’ journeys, heightening the highs, and deepening the lows.

At all times, the music is controlled, strong, robust, restrained, and completely masterful, not only in its execution, but also in its application. It’s the kind of music that will absorb you unto itself, and sweep you away, if you would surrender to it.

Beautiful. Gorgeous. Evocative. And completely immersive.

For a fascinating look at how Director Ahn Pan Seok’s team managed to achieve 100% synchronicity between the performances we hear in the drama, and the performances we see onscreen, check out this interview.

The Story & The Storytelling

Unlike most dramas that depend on convenient exposition fairies, Secret Love Affair thrusts us directly into its narrative. We get a sense that we just happened to arrive on the cusp of this world in time to witness key events in our characters’ lives, rather than that the events are unfolding for our benefit.

The introductions we get are piecemeal, and the characters and their worlds slowly come together in a continually shifting kaleidoscope of fragments that inform us, from alternating points of view, who these people are, and who they are to one another.

The points of view flux among our main characters; we see things from Sun Jae’s, Hye Won’s, Da Mi’s (Kyung Soo Jin) and Joon Hyung’s (Park Hyuk Kwon) point of view. Interspersed with all these, we also get to see secondary characters’ points of view.

The effect of this, is that there is an ongoing sense that layers of truth are peeling away as we journey deeper into the drama, and that these will ultimately reveal a central, core truth.

Our characters’ normalcy at the beginning of the drama gives way to the introduction of the affair, and as we journey beyond that, the affair gives way to a deeper, fundamental search for meaning.

In the end, the textured, thoughtful storytelling creates a textured, thoughtful story that is so much more than a torrid love affair between a much older woman and a much younger man.

The Moral Issue

Before I watched Secret Love Affair, I encountered some viewer resistance, on the principle that the show is about an extra-marital affair.

While I understand that this can potentially touch a raw nerve for those whose lives have been affected by such an event, in the show’s defense, it doesn’t condone adultery.

Instead of portraying the affair as acceptable because of various reasons – common ones used by other dramas include:

  • The spouse is a terrible person
  • The spouse is physically &/or emotionally abusive, and the marriage relationship is an abusive one
  • The marriage was never a love match to begin with
  • There is no longer any love left in the marriage

– Secret Love Affair chooses not to take a moral stance on the subject, and instead poses a question.

[SPOILER ALERT]

In the beginning of the drama, more than once, we see Hye Won telling Young Woo (Kim Hye Eun) to break up with her boyfriend and quit men, since she’s married.

Hye Won is very clear on where she stands when it’s not her life, not her marriage, and not her much younger man. But when Sun Jae shows up in her life, in spite of herself and her heretofore clearly held principles, things just aren’t so clear anymore.

[END SPOILER]

Rather than make a moral statement, Secret Love Affair shows us that it’s easy to cast the first stone – easy to make that judgment – when you’re not in the situation yourself.

In the end, the drama is a thought-provoking study on human nature and the murky waters of gray when black and white are no longer so clear and distinct.

Secret Love Affair OST – Waltz Finale

THE WORLD OF THE DRAMA [SPOILERS]

Other Characters, Their Relationships & The World That They Live In

Beyond the elegant sheen, we learn that Hye Won’s world revolves on a bitter, calculating, rotting axis, where relationships between people are mere contracts built on mutually beneficial conditions to its parties, and are terminated coldly and preferably without fuss once those conditions change.

From Hye Won’s marriage to Joon Hyung, to her job at Seo Han Arts Foundation, and even to her friendship with her college friends, everything boils down to contractual terms, whether explicit or implicit, and it’s no wonder that Hye Won literally sees everything – even going home – as work.

It’s an exhausting world, where people use and abuse one another, and adopt vulture-like stances, each watching and waiting for someone else to fail, preferably to their benefit.

The people who surround Hye Won are mostly toxic, and on more than one occasion, I felt literally nauseated by their behavior.

Here are just a few of the more extreme lowlights:

  • E14. When the law comes knocking on their door for Hye Won’s involvement in corrupt practices at Seo Han, Joon Hyung exclaims to Hye Won, “You should sacrifice yourself a hundred times for me!” Not an iota of sympathy, despite the fact that Hye Won has always been the one supporting him, in his career and in his finances. In E15, Joon Hyung, completely rattled by the search by the prosecution, shouts, “I have nothing to do with that woman’s corruption!” Well. He’s certainly quick to look for ways to save himself.
  • E14. Chairman Han and the rest of his world being so matter-of-fact about letting Hye Won take the fall for all the shady dealings within the Arts Foundation, and with false evidence too. It’s cold, detached, and completely revolting, particularly after they’d each angled to obtain her loyalty all series long.
  • E13. Secretary Wang (Baek Ji Won), hearing everything that is being put in place to corner Hye Won, smiling triumphantly to herself. Which is terrible, coz she’s supposed to be Hye Won’s friend.

It’s a world where the haves think nothing of trampling on the have-nots. Think Da Mi getting chewed gum stuck on her forehead by a bratty rich girl in episode 5. Think also, Hye Won being screamed at and slapped by her boss Young Woo on a regular basis.

It’s also a world where corruption is rationalized, and places in the College of Music get purchased by rich sponsors instead of being allocated by talent.

It’s a world comprised of fractured, typically self-serving business partnerships disguised as relationships, with few exceptions.

Over its 16 episodes, the show raises a key question: can someone who is not native to this world enter it, sink roots in it, and thrive?

This is the context and setting of our story.

[END SPOILERS]

Secret Love Affair OST – Four Hands

THE MAIN CHARACTERS

Despite the fairly extensive cast, Secret Love Affair really is the story of just two characters: Hye Won and Sun Jae. In the interest of focus, these are the only two characters that I will explore in this review.

Kim Hee Ae as Oh Hye Won

Kim Hee Ae delivers a seamlessly believable, organic rendition of Hye Won, inhabiting the character so convincingly that she became Hye Won for me.

Everything about her performance is nuanced, faceted and restrained, and offers us such a layered representation of Hye Won as a character, that a more meticulous lens would only find details that support her characterization, rather than detract from it.

Every flick of her gaze, every absent-minded, fluid touch of her hand to the crook beneath her ear, and every slight intake of breath, adds to the depth and richness of Hye Won as a character.

I particularly love how classy, beautiful and sensuous Kim Hee Ae comes across as Hye Won. In the way that she moves, and even in the very air about her, Hye Won is elegant and graceful.

I actually like Hye Won as a character. Beyond the elegance, she’s a sharp thinker who’s quick on her feet and extremely resourceful; she has skill, talent and wisdom, and she does her work with admirable efficiency.

Most of all, I like that through it all, Hye Won possesses a warmth that, even at its most muted, is always present. At her most disheartened, and even at her coldest, Hye Won’s warmth and relatability are never far beneath the surface.

It is this warmth that reminded me, all series long, of Hye Won’s humanity.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The Mask & The Motivation

The fact that Hye Won isn’t organic to the world in which she lives, but a transplant, is not made immediately clear to us, but it’s hinted at, and alluded to by the people around her, until we finally piece it together.

Which begs the question: Who is Hye Won, and why does she want to be in this world?

Before we are acquainted with her motivation, we come to know the mask that she wears in this world in order to survive in it.

From the very beginning of the drama, we learn that Hye Won has to wheel and deal in the thick of business politics, and do battle to navigate basically every part of her life; not only her work, which is a political minefield that she must gingerly navigate and mitigate, but also her husband at home, who is far from being her safe haven.

In episode 1, we see that Hye Won needs to recover her energy with a beer – which turns into 2 beers – before she feels ready to see her husband.

As she drinks her beers, Hye Won says to the ahjumma, “Nothing is easy.”

Later in the episode, Hye Won, hiding behind her online moniker, says to Sun Jae, “Even my real name is fake.”

How telling, that the self that Hye Won puts forward in her world, is not her true self, but a persona. It’s no wonder that every part of her life is effortful, even going home to her husband.

Another thing that we soon learn, is that Hye Won may not have overt power, but she is a master at utilizing covert power.

In episode 4, when Sun Jae lands himself in jail, Hye Won wastes no time putting her husband to work to get Sun Jae out of trouble. That she does it in a manner so that she doesn’t get involved directly, but still gets Sun Jae out, is masterful. Especially considering that it makes Joon Hyung think that in doing so, she is caring for him, finally.

While Joon Hyung does all the leg-work getting Sun Jae out of jail and back home, Hye Won waits at home, allowing her husband to think that he’s being Sun Jae’s rescuer and benefactor. Very impressive indeed.

Thereafter, in episode 5, Hye Won does struggle to keep up the charade and the chess game going, but in terms of setting up the chess pieces, she’s masterful.

Not only is Joon Hyung pleased and placated at having the opportunity to bring Sun Jae back and put up in the house, Sun Jae is now positioned as an important piece in the admissions cover-up, so that Madam Han (Shim Hye Jin) will approve of him. Madam Han even tells Hye Won to now take care of Sun Jae and not lose him again. Plus, Joon Hyung keeps urging Hye Won to help Sun Jae too, and listen to him play.

Which means that everyone now actually wants Hye Won to spend time with Sun Jae. Hye Won is a consummate strategist indeed.

Despite the regular headaches and flat-out abuse that Hye Won has to suffer in her position, wedged among all the power players at Seo Han, she continues to endeavor to balance the intricacies of this political web with her own personal agenda. The fact that Hye Won is such a master at mahjong is a reflection of her being a masterful strategist who is able to deduce the cards her opponents are holding and anticipate their next moves, all while looking to make her own move.

We hear Hye Won articulate this early in the series. In episode 1, Young Woo, after having her face flushed in the toilet by Madam Han, demands to know, “Whose side are you on?”

Hye Won’s answer is more on-point and honest than we know at the time, “I’m always on my side.”

It’s only in episode 13 that we hear Hye Won articulate the goal itself: “I want to belong to the upper class.”

And so it is, that to serve her quest of rooting herself in the upper class, Hye Won wears her exhausting mask in her exhausting world.

Looking Behind the Mask

One of the key layers that get peeled away in the course of the drama, is Hye Won’s mask.

Scene by scene, we slowly get to see the real Hye Won that resides behind the mask. Oftentimes, it feels like it is a discovery not only for us, but also for Hye Won herself, as she gets reacquianted with the self – both the artist and the woman – that she thought she’d left behind.

In the midst of her challenging world where she’s always putting up a front, we get a first peek into Hye Won just being herself while chatting online with Sun Jae in episode 1; ironically, where she hides behind a screen handle and a fake identity.

That concept, of anonymity allowing more freedom than our real lives, is nothing new to us in the blogosphere, and it is this anonymity that allows Hye Won to shed her mask momentarily, to just be herself.

In episode 3, after discovering that it is Sun Jae that she’s been chatting with online, and hearing from him how he thinks she has pretty feet, we see Hye Won experimentally prettying her feet with nail polish; evidence that what Sun Jae said has gotten to her.

It’s one of the first cracks that we see in her unruffled, elegant armor.

It is also the first time we observe evidence of Hye Won’s inner struggle. That she gets up out of bed to clean off the nail polish indicates that prettying her feet did mean something, and it’s a something that makes her uncomfortable.

Beyond Sun Jae’s feelings for her, I believe that Hye Won is moved by his talent; it speaks to the artist in her, the part of her that’s been muted, silenced and close to exile, in order to defer to the political strategist persona that she wears for work. I believe that at the heart of it, that’s why she wants to help Sun Jae to begin with. Not to feed her vanity over his obvious crush on her, but to help him direct and further his talent.

In interacting with Sun Jae, though, Hye Won can’t help but be moved by him, and we see that eventually, thoughts of Sun Jae keep haunting her, even to the point of tears.

In episode 4, when Hye Won pieces together the fact that Da Mi is referring to Sun Jae when talking about her boyfriend, we can practically see the pieces coming together in Hye Won’s mind.

We also soon see that this realization affects Hye Won more than she expects or is comfortable with. In episode 5, we see Hye Won imagining Da Mi in bed with Sun Jae, the hot ‘n heavy visual coming to her mind unbidden, relentless and invasive.

Hye Won’s struggle to shake it off is clear, and we sense that her mind – and perhaps her heart, too – is taking her to unexpected, surprising, unforeseen places.

Even after Hye Won allows herself to act on her feelings for Sun Jae, and after they establish a romantic connection, we see that beneath her confident exterior, Hye Won is wary and suspicious.

In episode 7, when Sun Jae goes to look for a motel room for her to rest in, away from the stress that she associates with home, Hye Won gets angry with him and misreads his intentions. She leaves him stranded in an unfamiliar area while she drives off, furious.

Even after Sun Jae explains his intention of simply letting her rest comfortably, Hye Won is disbelieving.

This incident is such a clear indication that Hye Won continually feels that people want something from her. Seo Han wants something from her. Joon Hyung wants something from her. It’s always some kind of trade. She’s not used to someone wanting to give her something, and not expecting anything in return.

Her inner struggle to reconcile her desire to allow herself to be vulnerable, and her long-established instincts to calculate everything, plays a key role in her personal journey.

The Journey

Hye Won’s journey is arguably the most fascinating and thought-provoking one in the drama.

As the drama’s events unfold, Hye Won learns several important lessons. She learns that trading her loyalty to the privileged doesn’t necessarily buy her peace of mind nor security. She learns that even someone with a humble financial background has the right to personal agency and self respect. She learns that the choices that she makes have consequences.

Most important of all, she realizes that the life that she’s chosen isn’t really what she wants.

Hye Won’s journey towards discovering the path to freedom, and girding herself to pay the price for that freedom, is one of the harder things to watch in this drama, but also one of the most gratifying and liberating.

We see the first cracks in Hye Won’s armor in episode 6. After Young Woo throws mahjong tiles at Hye Won, bruising her in several places, and even leaving a cut on her forehead, the weight of the crazy, abusive world that she lives in begins to finally take its toll on Hye Won.

Her recent interactions with Sun Jae serve as a catalyst, awakening something within Hye Won that wants more than just to survive in that world.

Hye Won begins to compare herself to Da Mi, and tears up that her body is sagging and her heart’s turned into a bag of sand. The new desires creeping into her heart cause Hye Won’s armor to crack, bit by bit.

It doesn’t help that when Hye Won runs away from Sun Jae in episode 7, she is met with only scorn from Joon Hyung. All he cares about is what other people might think if they saw her bruises.

I suppose part of this is coz he’s furious about the affair. At the same time, I don’t think Joon Hyung would have been particularly warm towards her even before Sun Jae came along. There isn’t even a drop of sympathy towards Hye Won from Joon Hyung, that she got hit by Young Woo. Not a single hint.

It’s little wonder, then, that Hye Won is drawn to Sun Jae.

Sun Jae represents an escape from her world. Plus, he sees value in her and practically worships the ground she walks on, whereas in her world, even the people who acknowledge her value end up stepping all over her.

In the same episode, Hye Won’s encounter with Chairman Han’s “other woman” also serves as a wake-up call and an eye-opener to her.

The woman is blunt, matter-of-fact and forthright, and tells Hye Won plainly, “I don’t know what you think of me. But I actually went to one of the best schools in China. And I was taught that all people are equal and that I was the ruler of myself. If I liked it so much, then I’d even pay to have it. I can’t pretend to like a guy just because he’s got money.”

Her words seem to hit Hye Won even harder than the drink that she tosses at Hye Won’s face when Hye Won presses her to accept the money envelope.

The fact is, Hye Won is married to a man she doesn’t like, for the sake of money. And Hye Won is anything but the ruler of herself, particularly at this point in her life.

All these distinct-but-not-so-different threads culminate in Hye Won sobbing alone on the couch in her office, so drained and weakened by it all, that she is unable to even stagger to her feet, and falls back down again, still in tears.

Soon after, in episode 8, Hye Won finally gives in to her desire to love Sun Jae freely. And loving him waters her emotional desert in a way that brings the dry bones of her heart back to life.

It doesn’t take much time, however, for prying vultures seeking a scapegoat to catch up with her. As the consequences of her actions close in on her, Hye Won’s struggle and pain are palpable.

In episode 11, Hye Won breaks down in heaving sobs in the car while talking to Ji Soo (Yoon Bok In). As her world threatens to fall apart, the thing that hurts her the most and is the hardest for her, is that she still misses Sun Jae.

I believe this is the point at which Hye Won begins to understand that she cannot easily detach herself from Sun Jae, as much as she tries. It’s a prolonged struggle for Hye Won, as she grapples with the growing realization that she is not ready to give up Sun Jae, nor her quest for power within Seo Han.

It is a struggle that is hard to watch, as Hye Won teeters on the brink of losing everything, while trying to have it all. When she finally makes the choice that will give her freedom, it is not only a gratifying moment to witness, but an enormous character milestone.

An interesting question to consider, is whether Hye Won would have started to crack if Sun Jae hadn’t appeared in her world to shake her up. My thought is that she would’ve probably managed to continue to keep step with the world in which she chose to live, but that eventually, something would have triggered the first crack anyway.

Hye Won was clearly not in happy circumstances, and her heart was really in neither her work nor her home lives, both of which were headache-inducing challenges. Rising to those challenges day after day would have eventually become a back-breaking burden.

I believe that even if Sun Jae had never appeared in her life, that Hye Won would have eventually cracked, either from some other catalyst, or simply from prolonged weariness.

[END SPOILER]

Secret Love Affair OST – Warm Hearted

Yoo Ah In as Lee Sun Jae

Yoo Ah In is simply outstanding as Lee Sun Jae. I honestly think that he was the choice to play Sun Jae; that literally, no one else would’ve done.

In terms of appearance, Yoo Ah In seems stockier than I remember in his other roles, and I think the stockier build suits the role. It makes him appear heftier and less boyish, and adds to the very masculine aura that Yoo Ah In manages to carry into the role, despite his boyish haircut and clean shaven face. He makes Sun Jae youthful yet manly, and it’s such an ideal combination, for the character.

The stand-out, though, is Yoo Ah In’s delivery of Sun Jae. It’s so faceted, intricate, attentive, and so very believable.

I just love how Yoo Ah In plays Sun Jae, full of nervous twitching, stuttering, sweaty palms and bashful shifty eyes. It’s absolutely pitch perfect (hur), and it makes him come across as young and full of wonder, with a lot of repressed energy, ready to discover the world that he’s about to be thrust into.

As circumstances evolve and as the stress levels increase, Yoo Ah In kills it; Sun Jae’s nervous swallowing and other ticks intensify, and every inflection of his facial muscles conveys a different shade of emotion. Confused, frustrated, suffocated, angry; it only takes a second for each shade of raw emotion to flicker across Sun Jae’s face. It reflects the impressive degree of control Yoo Ah In has, yet is so natural that it’s easy to completely forget that this is Yoo Ah In in character. He is Sun Jae, tortured and in pain.

It’s nothing short of masterful, and it – he – is completely mesmerizing.

On a related tangent, I just want to give major, major props to Yoo Ah In for managing the piano-playing scenes so amazingly well. For someone who entered this drama without any prior experience with the piano, it is just mind-blowing that he personally played various snippets of the extremely challenging pieces, that even trained pianists would find difficult.

Talk about dedication. Talk about impressive. Talk about flat-out stunning.

For more details on the hows, check out this translated interview from Secret Love Affair’s press conference.

As a character, I really, really liked Sun Jae.

He represents all that is decent, innocent, and unsullied in a corrupt world. Sun Jae’s intentions are consistently pure, never mind what anyone says to try to influence him otherwise. And perhaps most endearing of all, is how he seems completely unaware of the magnitude of his talent.

Just seeing the way Sun Jae plays music, we can tell that he is an all-in kind of guy when it comes to his emotions. He pours his whole heart into music, without holding anything back. It’s not hard to make the connection to see him pouring his whole heart into loving Hye Won too.

That wholehearted, pure-hearted earnestness in Sun Jae moved me all series long.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Sun Jae’s Context

When we meet Sun Jae, he’s never had any sort of proper guidance before in the area of music. He’s clearly hungry for any sort of solid guidance, and we see that in how he cleaves to “Mak Ki hyung” online, and then to Hye Won when he meets her.

While it might be easy to dismiss Sun Jae’s preoccupation with Hye Won as that of a young man infatuated with an attractive older woman, I believe that Sun Jae has a very sound instinct for what constitutes solid guidance.

For one thing, we see him rejecting Joon Hyung as a teacher very quickly. And while that could arguably be attributed to his own preference for Hye Won, and his jealousy that Joon Hyung is married to such an amazing woman, it’s notable that Sun Jae doesn’t warm up to most other teachers at the College when he gets there, except for Professor Jo In Seo (Park Jong Hoon). And we know that Professor Jo is possibly the only non-corrupt professor in attendance at the College, and the only one who demonstrates any true artistic integrity in the drama.

It’s my conclusion that Sun Jae’s hunger – and instinct – for guidance is very sound, and under Hye Won’s instruction, we see him bloom.

After the sudden and very tragic death of his mother, Sun Jae wrestles with his decision to give up music, and it literally nearly drives him crazy.

When he finally finds his way back to music, more so than ever, he seems to crave Hye Won’s approval and acceptance.

Music is pretty much all he has left, and Hye Won is the one person whom he trusts to help him fortify that lifeline.

Simmering Sincerity – He Just Wants to Love Her

It begins with adoration

Beyond – but not separate from – the realm of music, Sun Jae is very quickly captivated by Hye Won, from the moment that they meet.

We see it expressed unmistakably in his nervous, awed gaze, and in his self-conscious stuttering, and all the little twitches in his body language.

We see it, too, in the way he treats her and all that is hers.

In episode 2, when Hye Won’s foot gets stuck in a mouse trap, Sun Jae doesn’t hesitate to scoop her up off her feet, to rush her to the safety of the washroom.

It’s a pretty epic response from Sun Jae, and it’s clearly not him trying to be a romantic hero. It’s his knee-jerk response, to keep something – someone – as precious as Hye Won from harm.

He’s the same way with Hye Won’s shoes, arranging them so carefully and attentively, as if they are the most valuable things in the world. This is such a clear reflection of how he sees her; she is precious, a treasure, a goddess.

When Sun Jae tells Hye Won that he regards her as his teacher, he says, “That day my soul was born again.” And when Hye Won asks if his toes aren’t curling from saying all that cheesy-sounding stuff, he says no. He’s sincere.

Sun Jae is so intense about his conviction, that it’s absolutely riveting.

As Sun Jae relates to “Mak Ki hyung” later, he sees Hye Won as amazingly charismatic; scary, feisty, fun, and graceful. He is clearly intoxicated by Hye Won, revealing, “My soul has been captured.” And he adds that that includes his body and heart too; everything. She’s captured his everything.

Sun Jae is disarmingly frank, telling “Mak Ki hyung” that he “literally climaxed,” and that he gave everything to the goddess.

Sun Jae’s confession is so candid and matter-of-fact, and his adoration of Hye Won is so ardent, so strong and so potent, that it’s hard not to feel a little intoxicated too.

Notably, Sun Jae doesn’t set out meaning to act on his feelings.

The knowledge that Hye Won is married to Joon Hyung seems to tear Sun Jae apart every time he is faced with that fact, but he doesn’t actually articulate wanting to have her for himself.

Aside from his frank confession to “Mak Ki hyung,” Sun Jae attempts – but fails – to conceal his feelings from Hye Won.

It’s interesting that in episode 5, Sun Jae tells Hye Won that he doesn’t ever want to get caught by Da Mi or by Joon Hyung. While that could be interpreted as selective honesty, I think Sun Jae’s just coming from a place of simply wanting to love her.

His Protective Instinct

As their relationship grows deeper, we see Sun Jae’s protective instincts emerge more and more. Even though he has no power to speak of, we see that he earnestly, deeply wants to protect her.

When he first realizes that Hye Won is treated poorly at Seo Han, it bothers him a great deal, and he struggles to find a way to make things better for her.

Along with the protective instinct, we also see Sun Jae’s deep desire to be able to acknowledge Hye Won as “his girl.”

We see it in episode 12, during their weekend getaway, when Sun Jae tells the restaurant ahjumma that he and Hye Won are a couple.

We see it, too, in episode 15, where Sun Jae is eager to introduce Hye Won to his quintet friends. As he introduces her, finally, he beams with pride for her; as a teacher, and as his (unspoken) girl.

Along with his desire to protect Hye Won, we also see Sun Jae assert himself in their relationship, more and more.

It’s in the smallish beats, like in episode 15, when Sun Jae hands Hye Won the keys to his house and tells her to stay there until he gets home.

Or during the bust by Joon Hyung and the police. Through it all, Sun Jae does his best to protect Hye Won, in every way possible. Like how he tells her to stay still, offering to talk to the police. And when all else fails, at least, to exchange seats with her so that she wouldn’t have to sit next to Joon Hyung at the police station.

Although Sun Jae is frustrated by his limited capacity to protect Hye Won, I find his deep desire to shield her and keep her safe extremely touching.

He consistently searches for any little way that he can protect Hye Won, with no thought for his own well-being. That selflessness, and that earnestness, to not give up even when the odds are stacked against him, is completely moving.

Sun Jae’s Substance – His effect on other people

One of the things I really appreciate about Sun Jae is his positive effect on other people.

It’s not something that the show dwells on too much, but in episode 9, Da Mi makes mention of it. She credits Sun Jae with getting her to quit the gang that she used to be in, and changing her as a person, for the better.

Sun Jae tries to do the same, for Hye Won.

We see him reason with Hye Won more than once, asking her to leave her world to come to his, trying to convince her that she has a choice.

And Sun Jae’s not all talk, either. He puts effort into finding a teacher somewhere, who will take him and his girlfriend.

Even though Hye Won consistently resists, Sun Jae does all he can to help Hye Won make a choice that will remove her from the toxic world that she is in, as well as give them and their relationship a chance.

In the end, I do believe that it is Sun Jae’s influence that helps Hye Won make her choice; not so much because of what he says or does, but more because of the kind of person he is.

Sun Jae’s Pain

As ardent and passionate are Sun Jae’s feelings of love and devotion, so is his pain equally acute and potent. And Yoo Ah In embodies Sun Jae’s pain is such a believably heartbreaking manner, that one can’t help but feel sorry for Sun Jae.

Whether he’s groaning from the extent of the inner pain, or sobbing it out, Sun Jae’s pain is completely heart-rending to witness.

Perhaps even more eloquently than the tears, is how Sun Jae expresses his pain through his music.

Arguably the most memorable scene where this happens, is in episode 14, where Joon Hyung insists on the awful charade of happy family at the party, with Sun Jae having to act the part of the dutiful student.

When Joon Hyung drunkenly insists that Sun Jae show everyone how Twinkle Twinkle should really be done, Sun Jae takes to the keys, pouring all of his wretchedness and frustration into his rendition of the piece.

Sun Jae’s agony is evident not only on his face, but also in the music that flows from his hands. Outside, without even needing to look at his face, Hye Won weeps at Sun Jae’s suffering, voiced so clearly by the music that he plays.

Afterwards, outside the house, Sun Jae barely manages to hold it in. The sobs break forth in heaving, wheezing waves that overcome him, and he crumples to the ground as he lets the tears overtake him.

Whether he is smitten and in the throes of first love, or writhing from the pain of it all, Sun Jae is heartbreakingly, bone-achingly wonderful to watch.

His earnestness as a character, in possession of so much genuine heart, and so much poetic soul, moved me deeply.

[END SPOILER]

Secret Love Affair OST – Devotion

THE KEY RELATIONSHIP: SUN JAE & HYE WON

Despite the real-life age difference of 19 years, Yoo Ah In and Kim Hee Ae are completely convincing as our lovers, caught up in an unexpected, intoxicating, life-changing love affair.

Their chemistry simmers, smolders and sizzles onscreen, adding depth and dimension to all of their characters’ interactions, so much so that the relationship literally comes to life.

The relationship between Hye Won and Sun Jae feels complex, raw, organic, and completely believable.

[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]

The Core of Their Love

At its core, the relationship that Hye Won and Sun Jae share is a meeting of souls.

To Sun Jae and Hye Won, the musical realm is even more real to them than this world in which they live. That’s why Sun Jae considered that duet with Hye Won in episode 2, where he gave her everything, equivalent to him losing his virginity. In that other realm, where they both come truly alive, is where he connected with her in a way that felt like their very souls were interwoven as one.

They both feel so nourished by the time together in the musical realm, that they both don’t feel the need for physical food. Another indication that to both of them, the musical realm is even more real and tangible than this world.

Sun Jae describes it as his soul being born again that day, awakened and brought to life by her interest in him as a person.

I actually think they brought each others’ souls to life that day. He by watering her dried out soul with the life flowing through his music, and her by caring for him as a person, and acknowledging his genius and talent in the one area that mattered most to him: music.

In its execution, the duet really feels like it’s a metaphor for a love scene; the enthralled looks, the breath caught in their throats; the bodily swaying and responding to each other in the rhythm. The finish of the song and the release that comes with, as well as their ragged breathing, feels so much like a metaphor for the, er, climax of the love scene. And the air about it definitely feels charged.

Afterwards, Hye Won’s air is exactly that of a woman recently undone. She’s relaxed, glowing, curling up in bed thinking about how beautiful he is.

And then there’s how Sun Jae obsesses over various moments they shared, squeeing silently to himself on the bridge, reliving them over and over.

The body language is all about love and infatuation, showing us in no uncertain terms that the piano-playing is a deeply emotional experience for them both. So much so that neither of them feels the need to eat after playing without food for an entire day. They feel filled, literally, from sharing the music.

Sun Jae doesn’t even feel the need to go home or sleep, he stays on the bridge till dawn, playing music on the railing, with a vision of Hye Won by his side.

In episode 8, when they’re playing their pianos on their own, separately, at the same time, it feels like that’s how they’re connecting to each other, in some virtual place, tied together by the same music.

Over time, we get a stronger and stronger sense that Hye Won and Sun Jae share a connection that transcends the physical; their souls meet in a realm where only music can transport them to, and that is where they truly express and consummate their love.

Their Effect On Each Other

From the very moment that they meet, Hye Won and Sun Jae affect one another in profound ways, each changing the other, and often without realizing it.

In episode 2, the time that they spend together in the piano studio, when Sun Jae plays for Hye Won, is a deeply affecting experience for them both.

For Hye Won, who’s working and surviving in such a harsh, dog-eat-dog world where she doesn’t even get to touch the piano, but instead has to walk on eggshells around political time-bombs that hate each other, her time with Sun Jae is a balm for her very soul.

It feels like his pure, raw talent, untainted by the world in which she exists, brings back to life a part of her that used to feel dead. She comes alive and is moved to tears, just listening to him play, just being in the same room as he, as he unleashes that emotion and passion onto the keys. She drinks of it, and draws life from it.

He is the oasis to her desert, and she is the sunshine that nourishes him, as she appreciates his music.

With Sun Jae’s adoring crush on Hye Won in full bloom, it’s clear that Hye Won’s literally awakened something in Sun Jae. At the same time, Sun Jae’s also awakening something within her; the way he regards her as a goddess is making her see herself with new eyes. It’s making her inner goddess awaken, the sexual being part of her that her husband doesn’t see.

Over time, that awakening seems to give Hye Won new strength. Sun Jae’s adoration and respect seems to empower Hye Won to also love herself, a little. For example, in episode 8, she stands up to Young Woo’s bullying, something that she never did in the past.

Bit by bit, Hye Won also begins to stick out her hands to grab what she really desires.

In the same episode, it’s out of character, yet liberating, to see her throw caution to the wind and just go to Sun Jae’s place to wait for him.

That she’d change into his clothes and let down her hair and wait for him on his bed is a huge step, considering how Hye Won had struggled to keep Sun Jae at arm’s length prior. It’s no wonder that Sun Jae is completely blown away and thinks she’s downright sexy.

As their passion and hunger for each other grows, we see Hye Won and Sun Jae begin to act in increasingly rash ways in order to spend more time together.

Like the time in episode 9 when Sun Jae shows up late at night at Hye Won’s place, and Hye Won decides to put aside her reservations and agrees to a ride.

Then Hye Won even suggesting that they go back to his place, where, after a brief moment of hesitation, they fall into a hungry, passionate embrace:

Their burning desire to spend time together literally drives them to act in increasingly reckless ways.

In episode 12, Hye Won goes to the eatery under Sun Jae’s place, in spite of the risks, and in spite of her better judgment.

Later in the same episode, Hye Won takes off in the midst of Chairman Han’s indictment to see Sun Jae. That’s definitely out of her previously controlled character, and very reckless.

Sun Jae, too, takes risks in order to see Hye Won. In episode 14, he shows up outside Hye Won’s house. It’s a scarily dangerous move, considering how the prosecution is watching them 24/7.

Both Hye Won and Sun Jae seem like moths drawn to a flame. They are so intensely drawn to each other, that they are literally unable to breathe without the other.

Their Dynamic

The dynamic between Hye Won and Sun Jae undergoes a change trajectory over time, as their relationship evolves and as circumstances shift.

In the beginning of the relationship, Hye Won asserts her power over Sun Jae. The power dynamic between them is that of a teacher and her student, even though their relationship has turned romantic.

In episode 7, we see Hye Won using harsh tones on Sun Jae, and adopting a colder attitude. Mostly I think it’s how she’s dealing with her fear.

At the same time, Sun Jae seems extremely confused.

He’s clear on what he feels for Hye Won, but she’s not being very transparent with him. On top of that, he’s also confused at the world in which she lives, and why people in that world treat her so.

When Hye Won confronts him about his intentions for booking a motel room, Sun Jae is honest and forthright, “I love you! So I want to sleep with you someday. But not back there… you said that you were tired.”

In the face of Hye Won’s evasiveness and lack of transparency, Sun Jae chooses to be truthful and straightforward.

He is consistently the standard and example of emotional honesty, and I like that very much.

In episode 8, when Hye Won’s jealousy has grown to a degree where she can’t control it, and she lashes out at Sun Jae, Sun Jae doesn’t take her anger at face value. Instead, he sees past the lashing out and latches onto the dual facts that 1, she came by to his place like he asked, and 2, she was jealous.

That’s actually very emotionally perceptive of him.

It is Sun Jae’s emotional integrity that eventually turns the dynamic around between them.

In the process of trying to import Sun Jae into her world, Hye Won repeatedly tries to educate him on how he can live off his talent by using the money of the rich to get whatever he wants. But Sun Jae is consistently unwilling.

Eventually, Hye Won is the one who cracks.

In her long text to Sun Jae in episode 9, when she leaves in a taxi without saying goodbye. it’s the most honest and transparent she’s been all drama long, to anyone. That she now feels safe enough with Sun Jae to articulate so much to him, and show him her vulnerability, is a huge character milestone.

Hye Won giving Sun Jae access to her personal mobile, versus her previous instruction not to call or text, is another big step. It’s becoming 2-way now, because she’s finally allowing him to reach out to her.

Slowly, as their relationship grows, and as Sun Jae takes on more and more of the protector persona, their dynamic shifts too.

I love the moment Sun Jae sees Hye Won again for the first time after they first sleep together. Sun Jae’s bashful gaze is so endearing as he asks, “Are you ok?” So protective, while asserting himself gently as the man in the relationship.

In little things, we begin to see Sun Jae taking more of the protector role. Like the time when Sun Jae gets the CCTV turned off in the practice room, so that he and Hye Won don’t have to deal with the filth. It’s sweet and rather ballsy. Notably, they maintain decorum even though the cameras are switched off.

In episode 10, after Sun Jae’s concert, as they sit together watching the recording in her office, there’s this moment when Sun Jae takes Hye Won’s hand, and then places her hand on his leg. It’s in that moment that the dynamic between them shifts. In the matters of piano and everything related, Hye Won is the one who calls the shots. But Sun Jae asserts himself romantically.

Sun Jae doesn’t do it in a pushy way, but in a way that shows that he’s still the man in the relationship.

It echoes how he’d responded to her when she’d first offered him a hug, many episodes earlier. He’d responded then, “I’ll.. give you a hug.”

We see this again, when Sun Jae shows Hye Won where he’d caught his first glimpse of her, in his courier days.

Now, he’s the one who holds her and guides her with his hands on her body. Now, he’s the one who leans in to kiss her. And now, he’s the one who is clearly quite intent on taking it further too.

Outside of their romantic skinship, Sun Jae submits to Hye Won’s authority and looks up to her. But in his mind, she’s still his girl, and he still wants to protect her. And he asserts himself as a man in the area where she admittedly has little experience: love.

By the time we arrive at our later episodes, the shift in dynamic goes a step further.

In episode 12, as they sit at the villa, Hye Won jokes that Sun Jae’s been teaching her all along. Sun Jae jokes in response, “Then why don’t you learn?”

At a deeper level, their conversation resonates with another layer of meaning.

Sun Jae keeps trying to teach her and show her that she has a choice, that she doesn’t need to live that terrible world and that she can leave.

It’s Hye Won who takes a long time to learn the lesson that he so earnestly tries to teach her.

Ultimately, though, Hye Won does learn it, and by the end of our story, the dynamic shift between them is complete.

Notable Scenes

Here, I give a quick spotlight to some of the key scenes between Sun Jae and Hye Won.

The First Kiss

In episode 3, Hye Won and Sun Jae share their first kiss.

Hye Won has been drinking, and Sun Jae has been trying to deal with the overwhelming guilt and misery over his mother’s death. As Sun Jae walks towards her, in the dark of her garage, we can see that he’s on the brink of losing it.

He admits to Hye Won that it’s all hell now, and Hye Won, moved by his pain, reaches to touch his face.

Unable to bear it, Sun Jae trembles before reaching to draw her to himself and kiss her.

The kiss is desperate, intense and overflowing with raw passion.

The First Embrace

In episode 5, Hye Won, who’s been holding Sun Jae at arm’s length, and pretending not to remember the kiss, finally cracks at Sun Jae’s repeated pleas to talk things out.

When Sun Jae indicates his wandering thoughts around the fact that Hye Won shares a room with Joon Hyung, Hye Won acts out by kissing Sun Jae.

She frames it as a reprimand, even though the kiss clearly feels more driven by passion and desperation.

She turns to leave, curtly instructing Sun Jae to reflect on his actions, but Sun Jae reaches out to her in a desperate backhug.

He implores, “I just want to play [piano]; please listen.” And Hye Won caves into his arms.

We literally see the moment that Hye Won gives in to the wave of emotion that Sun Jae brings out in her, as she exhales and allows him to hold her.

Afterwards, as Hye Won and Sun Jae spend time together at the piano playing duets, it feels like they’re on a date.

It’s sweet and absolutely heartening to witness, coz they look like they’re having such a breezy, innocent, fun time.

The Love Scene

In episode 8, when Hye Won waits for Sun Jae in his home, the couple finally consummate their love.

The treatment of the love scene is discreet and subtle, and we hear only Sun Jae’s and Hye Won’s voices as the camera pans over various mundane household objects.

The voice-over of the love scene is tasteful yet very intimate; the lowered, gentle tones, Sun Jae’s voice sometimes taking on the rough lower registers, Hye Won’s tearful gasps. It feels almost voyeuristic to listen.

As far as the audience goes, we see their love scene in their music. This is consistent through the drama, and this scene is no different.

After their lovemaking, we see Hye Won and Sun Jae chat and joke and play. And perhaps most intimate of all, is the moment we see Sun Jae play for her, while she lies back and allows herself to sink into his music.

The First Date

In episode 15, Sun Jae takes Hye Won on a date, and they walk hand in hand along the streets, just enjoying the normalcy of the moment.

As they walk, Hye Won muses, “You must really like me… You must madly love me… That must be why you’re not even scared.” Sun Jae answers in the affirmative, and draws her close to himself in a tight embrace.

He tells her, “It’s going to be fine. Just stay as my girl.” And then he kisses her, deeply, passionately and without self-consciousness or restraint.

That Sun Jae still readily confirms his love for Hye Won, in spite of everything, is sweet. That they enjoy holding hands so much, is sweet. That he kisses her deeply and openly, is sweet. And disarmingly, stomach-flippingly sexy.

Secret Love Affair OST – The Book

THE ENDING

I genuinely like the ending. It’s hopeful, clean, and warm.

Hye Won finally does leave the world of dirt and filth, and not by running away like Sun Jae had suggested before. She lays out her crimes and agrees to pay for them all, regardless of the sentence. To appease her conscience. Just being able to have a clear conscience gives her the freedom to sleep soundly at night. And the way she gazes out through the fence to the world; her face is no longer guarded, but her eyes are clear and her smiles full of freedom and hope.

It’s rather ironic that it’s behind literal bars that Hye Won finds her freedom, where before, her lavish lifestyle had been a suffocating prison.

That Hye Won offers Sun Jae the option to leave and forget about her is so poignant. It shows that Hye Won truly cares more for him than for herself. It shows, too, that her actions were never about trying to stay with Sun Jae, but were more about satisfying her conscience.

On the other hand, that Sun Jae decides that they should give their relationship a chance, that he refuses to quit without even trying, is so earnest, and so sweet, in such a down-to-earth sort of way.

And I find it so lovely, that he refers to her as his home now, after she’d christened him hers before.

I love that they can laugh amid the tears.

I love too, that in the end, he seeks his solace in music everyday, just like she once told him to, as Mak Ki hyung. And it’s through playing that music, that he connects with her everyday, in that virtual soulful space where they first found each other.

I believe they’ll make a new and meaningful life together when she gets out of jail. And I believe Sun Jae won’t have to wait too long either, since there are hints that the prosecution will go easy on Hye Won because she’s bringing them bigger fish.

I like to think that the future they build together post-prison won’t be too far from Sun Jae’s version of their lives, that he’d imagined while they walked the streets holding hands. Down-to-earth, together, and contented.

METAPHORS, SYMBOLISM, MOTIFS

The entire drama is so rich with metaphors, symbolism and motifs, that it’s impossible to discuss them all. Here, I highlight some of the key ones.

  • Who is Hye Won?

In episode 9, Sun Jae saves Hye Won’s name as her initials backwards: WHO.

That’s also the underlying question of this drama. Who is Oh Hye Won? What is she really about? What does she really want? What would truly make her happy? And those are questions to Hye Won herself too. She’s discovering the answers, one interaction with Sun Jae at a time.

  • Home

In episode 11, Hye Won’s got Sun Jae saved as “home” on her cellphone. He’s where she feels safe and truly at home.

And by episode 16, Sun Jae is also referring to Hye Won as his home.

  • Duets as Love Scenes

I’ve mentioned it before in this review, that Sun Jae’s and Hye Won’s duets function more like love scenes, on a symbolic level.

This takes an uncomfortably weird turn in episode 10, when Joon Hyung stands watching Hye Won practice with Sun Jae. Given that playing duets together is one of the intimate things that Hye Won and Sun Jae share, to the point of it being practically orgasmic, it feels like Joon Hyung is literally watching his wife cheat on him with Sun Jae. Very weird indeed.

THEMES

There are several themes that surface throughout the drama, and I’d just like to highlight the main ones.

  • Freedom

It’s not your environment that gives you freedom. We see that ordinary folks like Da Mi may not have true freedom – in beating up the privileged girl at work, she could lose her job – and we also see that Hye Won, even in her upper class world, doesn’t have freedom.

The idea that freedom is a choice. That one can learn to live freely and truly relax.

  • Hot as fire, cold as ice

In episode 7, there’s the repeated concept of hot as fire, cold as ice.

In Sun Jae’s audition piece, Hye Won tells him to remain cold in order to interpret the piece, which is hot. And Chairman Han refers to his new woman similarly: hot as fire, then cold as ice. And it is precisely this quality that intrigues him about her.

Hye Won goes through that too. Sometimes, when she’s thinking of Sun Jae, or when she’s with him, she gets as hot as fire. I think in her efforts to tamp down that fire, which her brain clearly tells her is wrong, she becomes as cold as ice. Even her friends and co-workers feel the iciness from her. The ice is her shield.

But the fire eventually burns through the ice.

  • Journey from the dark towards the light

This happens on several levels.

Hye Won’s dark deeds for Seo Han, finally coming to light.

Hye Won’s dark world, finally filled with Sun Jae’s light. In episode 9, Hye Won describes walking up the slippery stairs and through the scary dark hallway, motivated by the thought that at the end of the dark hallway was Sun Jae’s apartment, his place. On a metaphorical level, she’s now in a dark place, and Sun Jae, representing warmth and light and a warm, honest, human heart is the light at the end of her tunnel.

Hye Won’s and Sun Jae’s relationship, from having to stay in the shadows, out of sight, finally coming out into the light. In episode 15, the open display of affection between Hye Won and Sun Jae, in front of everyone else, feels bold and the open display is like being out in the light, finally.

  • What does it mean to love?

This question comes up all series long.

Da Mi, in her version of love, desires to possess Sun Jae. Even when Sun Jae clarifies with her that he doesn’t see her as a woman, she states that she’d be upset if Sun Jae got involved with some other girl. That isn’t love. Hye Won’s marriage of convenience to Joon Hyung is not love.

Hye Won finally learns to love Sun Jae by offering to let him go. Sun Jae learns to love Hye Won by staying with her anyway, even when he can’t be with her in person.

  • What does it mean to live?

All series long, there’s a repeated theme of breathing and suffocating.

By episode 12, Hye Won begins to use a repeated excuse, that she needs to get some air, when she’s going to meet Sun Jae. That turns out to be quite literal, because she’s suffocating in the world in which she lives, and Sun Jae is her fresh air. It’s becoming a need for her, to see Sun Jae, so that she feels that she can breathe.

In episode 14, Sun Jae is literally unable to breathe while wearing the clothes that represent Hye Won’s world.

The idea that to find what it means to live, you need to find a way to breathe.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

In the end, Secret Love Affair is not about judging what’s right and what’s wrong. It doesn’t seek to make a moral judgment about adultery. The thing is, in life, people make mistakes. What really matters is what you do, in order to set things right, in order to continue living.

And that’s Hye Won’s story. That’s what she does. She finds a way to set things right, in order to satisfy her conscience, in order to breathe freely, in order to live freely.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

This drama will suck you in with its intensity. Beautiful, evocative and soulful. Not for the faint of heart.

FINAL GRADE: A++

VISUAL TREATS:

For those who haven’t seen the show, here’s the official trailer:

And the drama’s opening sequence, which feels like a trailer too:

For those who’ve watched the show or who don’t mind spoilers, here’s a set of very nicely done MVs, complete with voiceovers and a poetic sensibility that brings out the essence of the show.

For some Yoo Ah In Pretty, go here!

Author: kfangurl

Proud to be a k-fangirl since 2007. Main diet of kdramas with movies and kpop on the side.

84 thoughts on “Review: Secret Love Affair

  1. Pingback: Pure Pretty: Yoo Ah In | The Fangirl Verdict

  2. Hi thank you for linking our article to your article. This is an amazing review! Can I reblog this to our website please? 🙂

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  3. Totally loved your review here – thank you! I’m one who loves to analyze dramas in detail, and all of your comments were excellent and thought-provoking. When i watched SLA, I went from overwhelmed at how dark and serious it was, to thoroughly enjoying it, and needing to re-watch it… twice. It is definitely one of those shows that requires time to digest and analyze. You summed it up perfectly, and came at it from so many angles I hadn’t seen before. When you described Yoo Ah In as “mesmerizing” I literally shouted out “yes!” SLA has since become one of my all-time favs.

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    • Thanks Darcy! I’m so glad you enjoyed the review. You’re absolutely right that this drama requires time to digest and analyze. I finished watching it a fair while ago, but it was only this week that I felt ready to dive in to actually write the review. It’s definitely a drama among dramas, and I’ve since added it to my list of favorites as well 🙂 And yes, Yoo Ah In is nothing short of mesmerizing in SLA. He made Sun Jae come alive in such a 3D, natural, detailed way that it still blows my mind to think about it.

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      • Kfangurl, I’ve only recently discovered your blog/reviews and I’m enjoying reading through, though I have to pace myself, as there is a lot!! Amazing how an entire afternoon can disappear while I sit reading on the couch!

        I’ve been watching K Dramas for about 18 months now, and have taken in about 50 (wow! how can that be? 50?!) I’ve got to say, I almost always enjoy a good drama even more the second time around, partly because I can focus more on the actors/scenes and not so much on the subtitles. But also because I’m not completely stressed and frustrated about what’s happening, and worrying about how things will all play out.

        I appreciate your insightful comments and excellent writing. Looking forward to more…

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        • Aw, thank you Darcy! I’m so glad that you’re enjoying poking around the blog! 😀 I’m afraid not all the reviews are created equal. The early reviews are particularly skimpy and haphazard. I feel bad towards those shows that I reviewed early on, as I feel I didn’t do them justice, especially the ones that I really liked. But I also don’t have the time to go back and redo them, so I’ve left them as is.

          50 dramas in 18 months is quite a few! Plus, you’ve even managed to work in rewatches as well. That’s rather impressive 😉 Which are your favorites so far, besides SLA? And yes, certain dramas get better on the rewatch. Chuno was like that for me. But some dramas lose their shine on the rewatch too, so I’ve learned to be a little careful on that! 😄

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          • I will take your “warning” into consideration as I explore your reviews. I confess I do love the in-depth approach!

            It’s so hard to pare down to a few favorites, since there are different reasons to love different dramas. Right now I’d say that in addition to SLA, my favs are My Love From Another Star, King of High School Savvy, Queen In Hyun’s Man, Coffee Prince, SKKS and I Hear Your Voice. For me, the best part of the drama is the romance, and the chemistry between the leads. Of course, the actor playing the lead role is a major factor, as is, for the most part, a truly happy ending. But in thinking about my favs, I’ve realized that the thing I prefer most is when the difficulties the couple have to overcome stem mainly from trying and often tragic CIRCUMSTANCES, rather than the proverbial evil other-woman or villain ex-boyfriend. This drops many potential favs down a few notches, like Goong, Lovely Kim Sam Soon, Lie to Me and others.

            There are many on your list that I have not yet seen, such as Chuno, but I’ve got a good “want-to-watch” list and I’ll definitely add those titles. Next up is Pasta…

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            • There are a number of in-depth reviews on the blog, and you might be pleased to know that the review for I Hear Your Voice is one of them, Darcy 🙂 Gaksital started it all, really. Before Gaksital came along, I was writing shorter, less analytical reviews. And then Gaksital blew me away with its brilliance and I just had to find a way to try to do it justice. And that’s how the Epic Review was born. After a season of doing only epic reviews, though, I found that I couldn’t keep it up. I was losing too many drama hours, and more importantly, not all shows could stand up to the scrutiny. I found that keeping my lens that analytical was ruining a lot of shows for me (well, whatever shows I did manage to watch, considering I was spending so much of my time writing!). I’ve since found a more condensed way of approaching reviews, and I only do the epic reviews for the shows that are truly worthy. SLA is definitely one of those worthy shows 🙂

              Your comment actually inspired me to take a closer look at my list of Faves, and I’ve just updated the list. As time goes by, and as my drama tastes evolve, the list evolves along with it too. I’ve taken down a few shows, and added more to the list. Pasta’s still on the list tho, and I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy it as I did. Some people found the story too small, ie, their beef with the show was that not a lot happened. But I really, really enjoyed it, and loved it so much that I went right back to the beginning again once I reached the end. I found it warm, breezy and quite addictive. Chuno is a masterpiece that I highly recommend. However I must warn you that it is not a romance, and although there is some romance in the show, it is not the point of the show. On my first watch, I was looking for romance, and got very upset with the show. On my second watch, my drama tastes had evolved and I didn’t necessarily need romance in my drama, and I found myself flat-out blown away by it. I would consider it as much of a masterpiece as SLA, even though they are very different dramas. 🙂

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              • I think your two types of reviews are perfect – and you’re exactly right – not all shows can stand up to the scrutiny. All K Dramas are not created equal! 🙂 It’s so interesting to see your K Drama blogging journey up till now.

                On second thought, I would alter my comment to say that while I prefer a good (great!) romance, I do enjoy other genres. I just love a great story. The most important thing for me is to know a little what to expect before I start. If it’s a good romance, but there’s not one kiss, that’s fine, I just like to know going in. If it’s a tragic ending, but the drama’s really worth it, I’m good with that. I just like to know going in. I don’t need or want all the details, just the bottom line.

                I’ve only heard great things about Bridal Mask, and now Chuno. I definitely plan to watch them both.

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                • Thanks Darcy, I’m glad you like the current review formats – it’s taken me a while to land on a format that I feel works for me and allows me to keep watching more drama 🙂

                  Ah, both Gaksital and Chuno are excellent – and it just so happens that in both, you should keep in mind that romance isn’t the point. Both are character pieces that focus more on ideology and principles. Chuno in particular is beautifully filmed and has an amazing soundtrack, although Gaksital is also very decent in both areas as well. I’m looking forward to hearing how you like them when you do get to them! 🙂

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  4. Dear kfangurl, I’m so glad you watched it. Great post, as always. I was sad when this show ended because everything about SLA was perfect. So many people kept tweeting how boring it was… The truth is, the key to understand SLA is to put you into the character and the perspective that you see once you’re in it is unbelievable. It is hard to explain it in words but I can feel their energies and emotions pouring like rain in this drama. I love watching their body language. They speak so much more than words. The best!

    Like

    • Indeed, their energies and emotions suck you right in, don’t they? It’s such an immersive drama, and it’s so easy to sink right in and let the emotions and the music just take over. I am so, so amazed that such a drama was able to be so carefully and lovingly produced, especially in our current kdrama landscape. It makes it all the more special and precious. Truly, a masterpiece. It’s sad that not everyone sees SLA’s appeal, but I’m so glad that you loved it, despite the naysayers. Let’s hope that more people will give SLA a chance to sweep them off their feet 🙂

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  5. Gosh, you really said everything one can say about SLA and then some. How long did it take to put it all together? The drama itself was quite emotionally draining to watch so I can only imagine how it felt to write this wonderfully detailed piece. Thank you. 🙂

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    • Aw, thanks Timescout, you are always so kind 🙂 To answer your question, I finished watching SLA quite a while ago, but it overwhelmed me so, that I couldn’t find the right words to write about it. Real Life intervened as well, and it was only this week that I felt like I was in the right frame of mind to attempt to do this show justice. I started writing on Monday, but could not manage to rush this baby. Such a thoughtful drama demands – deserves – thoughtful treatment, and I wrote it in sections over 5 days, as I felt ready and as inspiration flowed. It was an absorbing experience indeed, somewhat similar to the emotional immersion of actually watching the drama, except this time, my brain needed to be on higher alert than before 😉

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  6. Terrific review. So much thought and care. I’d love to highlight it on our review page. May we reblog to http://www.pianoconversations.wordpress.com?

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  7. What a wonderful review! I love that show and I really enjoyed reading your review. It is so much more complex than most dramas and has so much meaning. You did a great job talking about it all. I kept saying Yes! Yes! I feel like they did themselves a disservice by having their promotional pictures so over-the-top. The show itself was much more restrained and meaningful then the pictures indicated. I hesitated watching because of them. But I’m glad I did because it was so good. You could tell right away that the quality of production was high.

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    • Thanks Telzey, I’m so glad that you enjoyed the review! 🙂 Indeed, SLA is a rare, intricately conceived, magnificently executed drama, and stands up to even the most analytical lens. I am so amazed that Ahn PD’s team managed to pull off such an amazing feat, seriously.

      I tend to agree with you on the promotional pictures being a hurdle. The lava-hotness of the poster, AND those photoshoots for Elle, really amped up the sexy vibe of the show. And while that might pique the interest of some folks, there are just as many folks who would shun the show because it looked too sexy for their tastes. And the irony of it all, is that the show’s treatment of the single bed scene is so subtle and tasteful. While I understand that the art film sensibility of SLA is not for everyone, I really hope that more people will give the show a chance to sweep them off their feet 🙂

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  8. Pingback: Review: Secret Love Affair by The Fangirl Verdict | Yoo Ah In SikSeekLand

  9. Ahhhh, thank you! What a perfect start to my Sunday reading this with a hot cup of coffee.
    You did the impossible here by capturing the essences of the 16+ hours of viewing in one piece! Standing ovation. I can’t believe how much territory you covered. It makes me want to go back and watch again again.

    As I read through your review, reliving the breath-catching moments thrilled me. Your perspective also reframed some scenes for me. For example, in all the hours of watching and rewatching, I never noticed that when he performed for the first time in her Music Room, the lid prop (I had to google that to find the actual name) was in the shot, and separated them. Now it seems ridiculously obvious.

    I wish we could convince more folks to give this show a chance. It really IS that good. KHA and YAI ARE that wonderful. The music IS awesome. Maybe if they called it, “Journey to Happiness” or “Discovery of Life” or “Good People Find Each Other and Joy, and Despite the False Bad Guys Trying to Keep Them Separated” it would have gotten less negative attention.

    But, the creative team certainly didn’t care or compromise to make the masses happy. Luckily for us. We ended up with characters choosing their own happiness over doing what Society expected. We witnessed a truly satisfying union of a pair of misfit toys. Oh, and cheesus if Yoo Ah In wasn’t damn sexy as the aggressor for most of the awesome kisses and skinship. Looking a the stills of SJ when he flirts with HW at the bottom of his stairs, reminding her that it could be “dark and dangerous” for her to go to his apartment., gulp. The kid has got IT.

    How much time before the writer, director, staff are ready with their next drama? Two years? Cannot wait!!

    Thanks again!

    Like

    • I was really obsessed with that piano lid prop since the 21 minute teaser. I did a little riff on it here http://pianoconversations.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/the-piano-lid-prop/

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    • Aw~ thanks Jomo! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the review 🙂 Coming from a serious SLA lover like you, I take that as a serious compliment! I’m storing this away in the ol’ mental treasure box for sure ❤

      SLA really is so meticulously, lovingly, expertly conceived, and I can’t help but echo your wish, that more people would give it a chance. I think it’s partly the premise that keeps some people away, and then I think it’s also partly this drama’s art film sensibility. Art films simply aren’t for everyone, and the same would apply to SLA. Its art film restraint and contemplativeness just isn’t many viewers’ cup of tea. Which makes it all the more amazing that it got made, as is. I’m so grateful that PD Ahn’s team managed to maintain this show’s creative integrity in such a thorough and unwavering manner. In the current kdrama landscape as we know it, I consider it nothing short of a miracle. And what a beautiful, lovely miracle it turned out to be.

      I would love to see more work from this team, if their future dramas have anything like the kind of excellence and thoughtfulness that SLA possesses.

      And yes, Yoo Ah In was extremely hot as the aggressor. He made me catch my breath more than once, that’s for sure! 😉

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  10. Thank you for the review. For non-Koreans you’re only window through which we can know Yoo Ah In and his reflection as actor in Korean media. I hope YAI appreciates your work, although I think that for him it is more important to be appreciated in Korea than abroad (what I consider natural).

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    • Thanks Alexandra, I’m glad you liked the review! YAI did an amazing, amazing job as Sun Jae, and I believe this will be an iconic role on his filmography. I hope more viewers will grow to appreciate SLA for the masterpiece that it is 🙂

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  11. Thank you for an intelligent and sensitive review of Secret Love Affair.

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  12. Thanks for the excellent review! I had been expecting this since the Pure Pretty Yoo Ah In post and you made me worth waiting because this was really beyond my expectation 😀 I can’t say much since others have already said what I wanted to say 😀 heehee
    By the way, do you have the complete OST? I tried to download them at MelOn but something happened during the signing-in process so I couldn’t download even one song 😥 If you have, could you share the link here? 🙂 XOXO

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    • Hi there yosics, I’m so glad that you found the review worth the wait! Certainly I kept everyone waiting a very long time! I actually finished watching the show not that long after the YAI Pure Pretty post, but it’s a hard drama to write about, and I decided to allow the inspiration to come at its own pace. Thank you for being so patient! ❤

      Sorry to hear that you’ve had trouble finding the OST tracks. They ARE hard to find! I ordered my copy direct from Korea. I’ll send you an email 🙂

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      • Yes, SLA sure is really difficult to write about, but you’ve managed to write such a breathtakingly great and detailed review about it, it makes you deserve the teuk-geup ching-chan — top compliment! 😀
        About allowing the inspiration to come at its own pace, I can understand it as fellow writers 🙂 I constantly make my readers wait for the same reason as yours! Teehee!

        I’ve received your e-mail and I’ve sent you a reply 🙂 thanks very much!

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        • Aw, thanks for the (top) compliment, yosics! I am so pleased that you appreciate the review so much! It makes me feel that taking the time to write it was all the more worth it 🙂

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  13. Ok, the write ups have been so good and friends are recommending. I will give it a go. Hope it is not like Madame Board which is deemed a great classic but which I hated.

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  14. I’m tempted to read! But I realized I got stalled on ep 12. Will get back soon. 🙂

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    • Ah! I remember that many people found it a little hard to push past the episodes around 10 or so. I remember that as the harder section to watch, compared to the earlier episodes. I pushed through anyway, and felt it was well worth it. I hope you find it worth your while too! 🙂

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  15. Really really love your writeup. Just want to make a slightly contrary comment about YI ‘ S weight. It reminds me of “babyfat” and helps me believe he is 20 instead of late 20s. Also reminds me physically of a very very young BYJ in his earliest performances, before he was prettied up.

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    • Thanks ida, I’m glad you enjoyed the review! And it’s interesting how we saw Yoo Ah In’s relative heft in this drama in very different ways! And even more fascinating is that whichever way we look at it, it works! 😀 You seeing it as “baby fat” helped you believe he is 20, whereas me seeing it as making him appear more manly helped me to see youthful Sun Jae as a man. Coolness. Whichever way YAI intended it, it works, and he’s brilliant as Sun Jae 🙂

      Your comparison with a young BYJ is spot on – you just reminded me of how BYJ was on the stocky side, once upon a time. Ah, memories.. 😀

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      • I am currently enjoying plus 9 boys on tvN which includes a 9, 19, 29 and 39 year old. Not their real ages but somewhere in the vicinity. The 19 year old has a very toned slender young man’s build which is markedly different from the 29 year old. The contrast with YAI made it hard for me to accept him as a 20 year old until I remembered BYJ in those early shows. He wasn’t 19 but still pretty young.

        You are spot on, it works either way!

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        • You know what, your comment about Plus 9 boys got me thinking.. and looking at all the Asian boys around me, I think it works both ways for them too! The ones who have baby fat tend to look stocky at around age 20, and they may or may not lose the fat depending on lifestyle choices and whether they serve actively in the military. On the other hand, there are many, many boys who are lean and lanky around age 20, who eventually put on weight in their 30s when their metabolism slows down and they have less active lifestyles after marriage and kids. Which means to say that both of our interpretations of YAI’s stockiness in SLA are supported by real-life weight patterns of Asian boys! How cool is that?! 😄

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  16. Pingback: Review: One Warm Word | The Fangirl Verdict

  17. Hello there, thank you for wonderful review of SLA. SLA definitely my favorite k-drama in 2014
    Btw, I’m having such a hard time to find the whole soundtrack (been searching everywhere like crazy). Do you mind to share it online ? Thank you so much

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  18. This is an awesome review kfangirl. It really helped me remember how much I enjoyed SLA when I watched it earlier in the year. There are two things that left an impression on me firstly it’s never too late to reconnect with what ignites you, despite the difficulties it takes to be content and fulfilled. It also takes serious gut to do that. Secondly sometimes the price for worldly success isn’t always worthwhile in the long run.
     
    Anyway I loved the journey that Hye Won and Sun Jae took, I loved Hye Won’s husband (He was such a simple man), I adored all the music, loved the parodies and I loved this review!

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    • Thanks Muffin! I’m so glad you enjoyed this review 🙂 You’re so right, in terms of the themes that the show surfaced; that taking the courage to pursue true happiness can be a difficult journey, but can also be a liberating one.

      I loved Hye Won and Sun Jae, and I loved the music. I didn’t love Hye Won’s husband though! You are a very understanding and patient viewer, to actually find something endearing about him! 😄

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  19. Pingback: Year In Review: 2014 | The Fangirl Verdict

  20. It’s funny how we came to the same conclusion about Hye Won’s journey, but not always for the same reasons. I spotted a couple of sentences that were exactly what I wrote in French. Especially about Sun Jae and how he’s just the element that pushes Hye Won to finally try to get back some control over her life. I do think she’d have reached her breaking point sooner or later, he was just the reason to make it come sooner rather than later. Personally, I went further in my understanding of the Hye Won/Sun Jae dynamic. I totally agree with the fact that the drama did a great job as not blaming but rather showing that life is about choices you make and when you get it wrong, it’s never too late to make things right. To me, Sun Jae is not just Hye Won’s teacher about the simple and happy life. I also see him as a projection of Hye Won in her 20’s when she made the choices that led her to the life she had when she met Sun Jae and yet she never reached her goal to belong to this upper class. If Sun Jae were to be older, hence with more experience but still as honest and as sincere, I don’t think it would have worked because when you’re in your late 20’s, early 30’s, you have made choices, good or bad, and you know things. His innocence comes from the fact he just believes in the way he was raised and Hye Won’s world challenges this vision. Every scene Hye Won had with the CEO, I felt like it was a reversal of her own scenes with Sun Jae (pre-sms love confession). She was approximatively Sun Jae’s age when she became the CEO’s dirty fixer. She didn’t know any better and thought she was capable of going to the top by any mean necessary. If 20-year-old Hye Won had met someone like 40-year-old Hye Won, 20-year-old Hye Won might have made other choices… Her life when the drama starts feels like she just kept making wrong decisions and drowned herself to the point she didn’t see her way back to integrity. So when she faces Sun Jae, he’s all but impressed at first, but Hye Won shows him the dirty behind the glitter and she’s actually his own light in this world that he needs to learn to understand if he wants the career Hye Won encourages him to have and the career he deserves with such talent. To me, the light metaphore goes both way in that aspect.

    The only thing I would disagree with is that I don’t think Sun Jae was taking the role of “the man” in the relationship when he tells Hye Won he wants to protect her or when he takes initiatives to take care of her. Does it mean that she’s taking “the man’s role” in the relationship when she wants to protect him against her dirty world and it’s a role she’s not “supposed to have”? Or does it mean he’s not being a man because Hye Won is the most experienced one and more protective? I’d rather see it as him taking the lead because she needs him to in those moments she’s about to break down instead of him “asserting himself as the man in the relationship”. It’s just that I don’t think gender defines roles within a relationship… Maybe it’s just a difference of vocabulary perception, though 🙂 And if it’s not, I also understand the vision that a man being a man in a relationship means that it is expected of him to take the lead the woman should follow just because he’s the man.

    Well, 2015 and still talking about this drama. I hope Yoo Ah In will enlist soon because Sun Jae was probably his last “late teen/young adult” role and what a great role. I can’t help but make the comparison with Lee Minho who also probably landed his last teen role when he played Kim Tan in “The Heirs”… but I don’t think Kim Tan was a challenging role for an actor like Lee Minho. I won’t say more, though. Back to Yoo Ah In, I’ve noticed how Korean actors are very sensitive about playing high schoolers or characters in their early 20’s. That might be because of their 2-year hiatus for their military service, so they ahve this strong sense of being a boy before going to the army and being a man when they came back. I really can’t wait to see Yoo Ah In in (successful) adult roles (goatee and all xD) two years from now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey there, sunnylady! It’s great to see you around here! 🙂 And what a great point you made, about Sun Jae being a projection of Hye Won in her younger days. That is so perfectly spot on, and I completely missed it! Thanks for pointing it out, coz you’ve just deepened my appreciation of the writing in this show 🙂

      As for the gender roles.. you’re right that gender doesn’t define roles. At the same time, I felt like Sun Jae had a desire to be “the man” in his relationship with Hye Won. In the way that he responded when he perceived she was being treated badly, his protective instinct just came out. That, and his continued desire to introduce her to everyone as “his girl.” I guess these little pieces just added up in my head as Sun Jae preferring more traditional gender roles, that he wanted to be a man to his woman. 🙂

      If Sun Jae is YAI’s last role before MS, I’d say he picked a fantastic note to go out on. He was AMAZING as Sun Jae, and it’s a fantastic performance not easily forgotten. Although I’d hate to see him disappear for 2 years, I am a little excited thinking of how much more gravitas the MS experience is bound to give him. All manned-up YAI with a goatee? Thud. I am ready for that awesome! 😄

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Pingback: Secret Love Affair 밀회 [2014] | My Drama Links

  22. Pingback: Are kdramas getting worse / “dumbed down”? | The Fangirl Verdict

  23. Hi, I just finished watching this drama and all I can say, I am totally captivated.
    And Kfangurl, your review is CRAZY!! Haha, I mean, I feel like you wrote everything that I had in mind, only this is a way so MUCH better! Thank you for making such a thorough review. Excellent job 😀

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    • Aw, thanks pixy!! Yay that you enjoyed the show – it deserves more love and attention, it’s just SO good. Thanks too, for your encouragement on the review!! I actually had to let the thoughts settle for a while, I found I couldn’t begin writing right after finishing the show, there were just too many feels ^^

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  24. Pingback: Flash Review: Surplus Princess | The Fangirl Verdict

  25. I like Yoo Ah In, and I love piano, but I hesitated watching this because I’m not familiar with adultery. But now I’m swayed by your review. Your post reminds of the feelings I felt when I watched Majo no Jouken, but I believed it’s more subtle compared to Secret Love Affair. Majo is also a story about a couple (teacher-student) drawn to each other in order to free themselves.
    I also heard Secret was based loosely off the book Tokyo Tower by Kaori Eguni, which I read and saw the movie adaptation. But based on your review, it looked like the writer was inspired but she built her own story around it. But then, I’ll reserve my judgement till after I see this. Loved your review, even though I haven’t watched this

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    • Oh, I’m so glad that you’ll be giving SLA a chance, gromitt!! Especially since you love Yoo Ah In. He is FANTASTIC in this. I was extremely impressed with his delivery, and there were times that he literally had me quite spellbound with his performance. And the piano music is lovely too. PLUS, it’s just a really, really good drama. It gets a bad rap for having adultery as a theme, but it’s so much more than that. I really hope you enjoy it! 🙂

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  26. Hi again! I must say… I became a fan of your reviews 😛 So, after reading the review for SLA I decided to actually give it a chance and watch it. I must admit I was taken aback by the heaviness of the show, that being mainly because I was in pursuit of fresh and funky, not heavy (I just finished a heavy relationship myself :P). But having both your review in mind and my own feelings of support for true love, I came to enjoy this show sooo much! I was impressed of the fact that WHO was able to convey both a motherly feeling and romantic feeling for Sun Jae. Leaving the plot aside, I am a huge fan of classical music, mostly piano, so the music in this show was just golden for me! It reinforced my desire to pay a large amount of money just to learn how to play the piano :))! And I will learn… probably… eventually :))).
    Anyway, as I’ve said before, when I have doubts about a show, I just give your reviews a look (usually, really long and thorough :P) and based on your opinions, I decide whether to watch the show or not. Now, on with “I Hear Your Voice” :)))). I think I’ve managed to watch some 5 or 6 dramas in 3-4 weeks :)))) Life is biting my behind, but, oh well…

    Keep up the good work :D!

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    • Hey there Sabina!! I am SO PLEASED you gave SLA a chance and came away liking the show!!! SLA is completely underrated, and aside from its niche fanbase, tends to get overlooked by drama fans. It’s SO GOOD, isn’t it?? The characters are so intricately conceived and delivered, and the entire world is presented in such thoughtful detail. It’s just a pleasure for the senses, AND it makes you think, too. TOTALLY unlike the “soap opera” reputation that kdrama tends to have among non-fans. And what a bonus, that it re-ignited your desire to learn to play the piano 🙂 I was a terrible classical student when I took piano lessons, but this show definitely helped me to appreciate classical music more too. 🙂

      YAY that you’re checking out IHYV too – it’s completely different from SLA in sensibility, which ought to be a nice change for ya. The law practiced in that drama world is completely laughable, but the emotional throughlines are robust, and our leads likable individually, and adorable together. I hope you enjoy it!

      Thanks for your lovely encouragement on the reviews, it does help motivate me to keep writing 🙂 At the same time, I feel I should warn you that many of my reviews aren’t as long or as thorough as the ones for YFAS, SLA and IHYV. Hopefully you’ll find the shorter reviews as useful as the long ones 😉

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      • No worries! Even your short reviews are really helpful and I enjoy reading them :).
        I agree, the characters in SLA were really smartly written and layered and the show had me go through so many different emotions..! For instance, at the beginning when the affair started, I felt pity for Joon Hyung for being left in the dark and for always having to hide behind his wife. But as the action progressed, my feelings turned from pity to disgust and eventually, to hatred. I thought to myself “How can you betray someone you’ve been living with your whole adult life just to seize a damned position?!”. But then again, I guess it’s in the human nature.
        I’m quite strong, emotionally speaking, but I have to admit that I did tear up a couple of times for the OTP. I felt that the world was so unfair, that at least she has suffered enough and should be left alone. But I loved the fact that they still made fun of each other, despite all the currents they had to fight.
        The strongest impression I was left with was the strength, courage and determination WHO had. To be able to battle and go to war like she did, and to put up with so many things just to accomplish your dream, no matter what that dream is, I thought “I want to be just as strong!” And, like the usual story line, I was expecting the guy to be weak and dependent, but he surprised me with his strong will and determination to thrive in this world while holding onto her.
        Overall, I didn’t really expect to like it so much, but I’m glad I gave it a chance.
        And the fact that you still take time to reply to my comments is really a plus :). I enjoy talking about my interests with people who know what I’m talking about :)))). So thanks 😀 !

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        • Aw.. You’re very welcome, Sabina! 🙂 It’s why we’re all here in the blogosphere, really. Particularly for those of us who don’t have family or friends who are drama fans, the internet is a great way to connect with fellow fans who actually get what we’re talking about! ^^

          Absolutely, Hye Won stood out as a character in a profound way.. the journey she took was not easy by any means, and yet, her courage and determination to walk it, once she’d made up her mind, was deeply moving. I loved Sun Jae as well, for being strong and refusing to allow her to let him go. SLA is a gem of a drama that truly stands out from the rest, and I’m so glad you gave it a chance! 🙂

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  27. I have just finished episode 8, but wanted to comment on the love scene while it was fresh in my mind. My apologies if what I write has been captured or discussed already. I have not read the bulk of your review, nor any of the comments as I am avoiding spoilers, I hope you understand.

    I found the “actual” love scene in episode 8 to be one of the most intimate that I’ve seen to date in kdramaland. I was expecting to see some kissing and I was initially disappointed. Yet, as the scene went on, with the camera panning the room, focussing on objects, as the conversation went on, I came to think that it was skillfully directed. These two people have already shared their souls and passion, on screen, through music. Having the bed scene off camera, imo, leant a weight and respect and honour to the love making that would not have been achieved on camera.

    I agree that it felt voyeuristic in some ways, to hear them speak. In a way, it mirrored the music scenes. In the music scenes, all we can do is watch how they connect. In the bed scene in episode 8, all we can do is hear how they connect.

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    • I love your thoughts on the love scene, michelle! Indeed, it’s a very different treatment than most other shows I’ve seen, and that includes non-kdramas. I love the idea that the treatment lent a weight, respect and honor to the moment – thanks for that! ❤

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  28. I have now finished watching SLA (yes, I had the luxury of being able to bingewatch!), and I have read your review in full, as well as all of the comments.

    This review is amazing. You have an enviable ability to craft your summaries, synopses and critiques, including dedicating the time needed. Thank you so much for sharing that gift, and in particular sharing it with your review of SLA.

    I don’t have much to add. You captured all my initial responses. Absorbing. Immersive. The lead actors truly were their characters, something that is not common in television (whether kdrama or other).

    You mentioned in your review and the comments that some viewers have found the show to be slow, and that this was part of the art film nature of the drama. I agree. However, the pacing of the show, for me, was perfect. There wasn’t a wasted moment in the entire drama. Every scene, even every flashback, helped to move the story forward. In my experience, this is unusual in tv dramas. There is usually filler in there somewhere. However, none of the scenes in the 16 episodes of SLA struck me as being filler.

    I found the ending satisfying, especially with Sun Jae going off to his competition. As Hye Won says in her final statement to the court, “He didn’t give up his life for me.” And, as you point out in your review, she didn’t give up her life for him. Rather, he helped her to see the prison bars that were already around her in her life and, even more important, helped her to see that the door to that particular prison was wide open. That he was standing outside it, holding out his hand – but it was up to her to choose to step out. Even in the end, he helped to continue to see the freedom she had, although she was now behind prison bars.

    In writing the above, I was put in mind of Valerie’s letter in “V for Vendetta”, and I think there is a portion especially suited to SLA: “Our integrity sells for so little, but it is all we really have. It is the very last inch of us, but within that inch, we are free… An Inch, it is small and it is fragile, but it is the only thing in the world worth having. We must never lose it or give it away. We must never let them take it from us.” Hye Won had let others take her integrity. With Sun Jae’s help, she learned that she could take it back.

    Lastly, Sun Jae’s love for Hye Won, and his expressions of it, put me in mind of this (translated) quote from “It’s Okay, That’s Love” episode 11: “You don’t become the weaker one because you love more. You become the weaker one because you’re not free at heart… Not the worry of needing to get back as much as you give but knowing that being able to love is enough to be okay and happy. That’s what it means to be free at heart.” Sun Jae is free at heart. He is happy in his love for Hye Won, even while he acknowledges that he never expected to be in the position of “wanting another man’s woman”. Hye Won is not free at heart, just as she is not free in her life as a whole, until the completion of her transition at the end of the film. It is this freedom of heart that makes her contentment and joy, even while imprisoned, believable.

    Thank you again for your reviews, and for inviting others such as myself to contribute to a dialogue on the dramas.

    Like

    • Aw, thanks for your sweet encouragement and compliments, michelle. That really does encourage and motivate me to keep writing, so that definitely goes into the ol’ mental treasure box! ❤

      And, wow! You made REALLY fast work of SLA, which impresses me, because it's such a meaty drama that most viewers would need some time between episodes to digest it all. I know I needed to rest – sometime in the MIDDLE of an episode! – coz I just needed to pause and just think, for a bit. I really think SLA is a masterpiece, and I don’t use that term lightly, particularly in dramaland. To date, I’ve only ever pronounced one other drama a masterpiece, and that’s Chuno (which is amazing as well, but in a completely different way). Of course, there are other highly recommended dramas that I’ve yet to watch, so hopefully I’ll discover more dramas worthy of the title, as I go! 😀

      For a meaty drama with heavy streaks, SLA really does have a satisfying and uplifting ending. That’s something pretty special, in my estimation. So often, kdramas with heavy themes tend to end in sadness and tears. Another k-melodrama that’s quite different is One Warm Word. My review is here, if you’d like to check it out.

      What a lovely quote and sentiment about integrity – thanks for sharing it, michelle! Hye Won HAD allowed others to take her integrity from her, and it’s true that Sun Jae is the catalyst, moral compass and strength that helps her to regain her integrity as well as true freedom. I love it. ❤

      Like

  29. Omg, this show is so, so hawt *mind blown* While I kinda wished they’ve shown some bits of Hye-Won and Sun-Jae’s life together after, but wow, the love they have for each other is just so intense and mind-blowingly awesome. And the kisses *fans self* *melts*

    Being fairly new to Kdramas, I haven’t seen anything else YAI is in (picking up acronyms from reading your blog, lol), and at first, I didn’t think he’s that hawt, but I changed my mind soon enough. A kiss in Ep 2! Even in my limited experience of Kdramas, I knew that was really rare when it’s not an accidental kiss (like falling on/catching someone, as usual). The OTP’s chemistry is mind-blowingly volcanic. *brain melts again*

    Speaking of noona romance, I think I have a bit of a thing for them now, after recently watching Dal-Ja’s Spring as well. That’s amazingly good, have you seen it? I love how real the whole show feels, it reminded me of Pasta.

    Like

    • Ops, I meant the kiss in Ep 3, got it mixed up with the house visit. Still, their interactions are so swoon-inducing. The passion, the chemistry, the way Sun-Jae fell at first sight… phew.

      Like

    • OMG I’m so glad you gave this show a chance, Aurorenoire!! It’s a masterpiece, and is head and shoulders above the average kdrama. So yes, its treatment of its characters and relationships are completely atypical, and both Kim Hee Ae and Yoo Ah In did such amazing jobs bringing their characters to life! I was so invested in the love relationship between Hye Won and Sun Jae, augh! (Yes, their chemistry is positively molten.)

      Yes, I did watch Dal Ja’s Spring.. It’s been years since I watched it though, so I can only remember that I wanted my very own Lee Min Ki, heh. 😉 If you enjoy noona romances, you might want to check out I Hear Your Voice and Witch’s Romance (reviews are here and here, if you’d like to take a peek). I have a soft spot for noona romances myself.. possibly because I secretly want my own smitten puppy? 😉

      Like

  30. Pingback: Flash Review: Page Turner | The Fangirl Verdict

  31. Wow this review is epically epic. I’ve seen SLA. But even though I really liked the OTP, I wasn’t blown away by the entire show. Your review makes me want to re-watch it. Maybe it’s just me, but the show’s dark and murky lighting was a constant annoyance. I thought the make up was weird too; maybe they were aiming for a dewy look but Hye Won’s face just looked constantly greasy.

    However, I agree with many of your points, especially how good YAI and KHA were! Their chemistry was so palpable, it almost crackled audibly. I think YAI met his acting match in KHA… None of his other leading ladies had comparable acting chops; YAI usually overwhelmed them.

    As for YAI’s fuller face, my theory is that he put on weight for the role to look like he has baby fat. It does make him look younger and wholesome. I feel that he did the same thing in Six Flying Dragons… It looked to me that his face slimmed down towards the end, as he “grew up” and shed his childish ways and idealism. But it could be because of the physical demands of the show, it’s 50 episodes after all!

    Like

    • Lol. Yes, this review is one of my most epic ones. To me, SLA is a masterpiece, and I really wanted to do this show justice. I will concede that SLA isn’t for everyone, and even for those who appreciate it, the right mood is required. The first time I dipped my toes into SLA, I found it very well made, but I just wasn’t in the mood for it, and therefore wasn’t really feeling it. So I did the wiser thing, and shelved it for another day when I was in the right mood. Best decision I made about this show, coz I ended up mesmerized and thoroughly sucked into this one.

      I thought the lighting was a very deliberate choice, so I was not bothered by the darker scenes. And yes, the dewy look is a Thing in Korea, so that was what they were going for, with Hye Won’s character. And beyond the presentation of it all, the core of Hye Won and Sun Jae’s story was what captivated me. I can totally see myself reaching for this one again, it’s just so well done, and so good! 🙂

      PS: Agreed on YAI looking younger with a fuller face. And I wouldn’t put it past him to deliberately put on weight for a role. He’s that kind of dedicated actor. And he buffed up specifically for Fashion King, so we know he is that serious! 😉

      Like

      • I think you’re right, I need to get in the right mood for it. I regret deleting the entire show from my hard disk, because now my regular site is down and I can’t find a streaming site that has it 😦 Any ideas?

        I do realize the lighting was a stylistic choice. I just got annoyed because the entire show was so dark and murky. I would have liked some brighter lighting in their “happy” moments, for example.

        PS. YAI wasn’t really that buff in Fashion King lol… I don’t think he put in that much effort, unlike SJK in DOTS 😉 I fully expect YAI to buff up after MS, though. And he once said he’s totally up for a role in an 18+ rated movie. Here’s hoping it comes true 😛

        Like

        • I managed to get the entire series and I’m now rewatching it 🙂 I’m falling in love with Sun Jae all over again ❤ *swoon*

          Like

          • Aw, yay that you’re rewatching SLA, and seem to be enjoying it! I mean, how can one not fall in love with Sun Jae, after all? 😁 I hope this watch will be a more satisfying experience for you than your first watch!!

            Like

            • I am enjoying it now 🙂 I figured out how to enjoy it more: turn up the screen brightness and turn down the contrast so the faces don’t look so greasy haha 😉 But joking aside, I think I’m in a different mood this time, perhaps happier? Because every time I see Sun Jae I just get the feels augh… His lines are just the best. And Hye Won is one lucky ahjumma, I’m so jealous 😛 I’m up to ep 10 and I’m bracing myself for the upcoming emotional rollercoaster.

              Like

              • Hey there neve! I’m sorry this reply is coming so late.. Life’s been rather hectic lately, and I ended up falling behind on comments in a big way 😛 I’m so glad you’re enjoying SLA! The feels are intense indeed. Who wouldn’t find Sun Jae endearing, with his earnest adoration of Hye Won, right?? 😍 The best part is, he’s not merely infatuated with her.. he truly loves her with all of his being, and that is just so moving. ❤

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                • Welcome back! Real life takes precedence over dramas 🙂 I finished SLA, bawling my eyes out at some scenes…. When Sun Jae bawled on the roadside, I bawled along with him 😦 I don’t know why it hit me so hard the second time around. I too had a younger man in my life, although only by 8 years, not 20 😉 And I was not married. I guess Hye Won and Sun Jae reminded me of that chapter in my life, gone but fondly remembered. And SLA is just so different from other dramas, it’s so heartfelt and “real” if you know what I mean. There feels are just so pure and true, I just got sucked in. This is another one to rewatch for sure.

                  Like

  32. I was convinced that I would never watch this drama, but after finding your site and reading your review I took the time to watch this and I am really, really glad that I did. Yoo Ah In shows that he is truly one of the most gifted actors of this generation. He literally blew me away with his performance as Prince Sado in The Throne and his performance here was over the top brilliant!

    The reason that this really worked for me is because I recognized that these two people were true soulmates and I knew that from the first time he played for her. Their relationship was so deep that it could not be denied. I also responded to the way Hye Won’s character grew and changed. Music was spellbinding. Film look is almost ethereal.

    I really wish that they would have given more thought to the advertising media (see the poster at top of page) as it makes you think the drama is cheesy when it is anything but. They used HD filters which makes the photos appear hard when the whole look of the drama is soft. Believe it or not Fangirl, that was the main reason I did not want to watch this drama. It may be that the graphic designer who came up with the design did not watch it or the look would have been completely different…

    So very glad I found you Fangirl and thanks for taking the time to write this and also thanks for your grading system. You summed up perfectly everything I felt and thought as I watched this drama and your reasons for the A++ are warranted. I find your grading to be very helpful in selecting any new drama. BTW – I am now on my third watch of Nirvana in Fire and it gets better every time I watch it. I never would have found this, and other top drama without your wonderful reviews. Last but not least – I am really glad you put in the music! Thanks!!

    Like

    • I’m so glad you decided to give SLA a chance, phl!! It truly is a masterpiece, isn’t it?? YAI is absolutely amazing in this, and KHA is gloriously restrained and elegant. I so agree that the show did a good job of portraying how made for each other they were – that soulmate quality was clear. It never was a cheap and casual sort of attraction. They were clearly drawn to each other on much deeper levels, and I found that very meaningful and moving indeed.

      I do agree that perhaps a different marketing tack could’ve made this show more approachable for audiences. I think they were riffing off the amazing chemistry between YAI & KHA – the main poster reminds me of the couple shoot they did for Elle Korea.

      I’m so pleased you enjoyed this review, and that you find the reviews helpful in general!! The rating system was a request from a reader, and I liked the idea enough to play with it. Going back to grade all the reviews retrospectively took a long time, but in the end, it’s been so worth it; most of you guys have expressed that you find if helpful and that makes me happy 😄

      PS: You’re not alone! My mom watched NIF 3 times as well, and loved it each time. I will definitely watch it again myself. It’s too beautiful and amazing to watch just the one time ❤

      Like

  33. HI! I’m comming a little bit late, but I loved your review.
    I rewached Secret love Affair and this time as I new what was going to happen I could take my time to apreciate the subtleties that make this story magical.
    I’m not very elocuent and you somehow were able to put all my brain rumbles into words and gave me a deper understanding of it all.
    so thank you for that.

    Like

    • Hi there Barbi! No worries, there is no “late” when it comes to appreciating a quality drama, in my books. SLA is definitely a rewatch-worthy drama; it’s such a masterpiece. I’m so pleased that this review helped amplify your enjoyment of your rewatch! 😀

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  34. Hey there! This is a looong post so imma keep it short.
    I visited this review a while ago and amazed at how you noticed the framing in this drama. it’s crazy. I personally love this drama partly because of its purposeful cinematography, but i didn’t noticed some of these great details! I hope there are more well done dramas like this one, because I love seeing creative and beautiful frames!
    thank you for your post!

    Like

    • Ah! I’m so glad you enjoyed this review of SLA, murmuringmind!! And I’m so pleased you found new insights through the review too! SLA truly is a masterpiece, and it really shows in every little detail. Everything is so deliberate and thoughtful, it’s just masterful. ❤ I’m sure I missed lots of other details and insights too, but I’m glad that you enjoyed what I was able to bring out about this amazing show. Thanks for the compliments and encouragement, you’re very sweet! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  35. Hello, I really love your deep review on this drama.
    Have you watch another drama from Ahn Pan Soek?
    I watched Heard it through the grapevine / Heard it as a rumor, and it’s so good. It won Best Drama ini Baeksang Award, but it is not too popular among internasional korean drama lovers.
    Please write a review about Heard it through the grapevine if you have watched it. I wanna read about your analyzed.

    Like

    • Hi there Risa, glad you enjoyed this review of SLA, and thanks for the recommendation! I’ve had Heard It Through The Grapevine on my list for some time, but just haven’t gotten around to watching it yet. When I do, I’ll be sure to write a review on it! 🙂

      Like

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