End of the road Review for Secret Garden:I know I hardly ever do reviews for the things I watch but I decided that this being Hyun Binnie's last drama before Army enlistment I wanted to have something that reminded me of why I loved SG and him so much.
At times Hilarious, At times Frustrating, At times Tear-jerking, Always an Intense Ride
At times Hilarious, At times Frustrating, At times Tear-jerking, Always an Intense Ride
The first thing that I will say is that this drama is not perfect, it's actually very far from it but there is so much effort, and so much talent put into it that it makes up for a lot of its flaws.
Joo Won (Hyun Bin) is a major jerk, really no leading man can compete with his level of jerkiness, maybe, maybe the lead in Who are you?, but even then I think not. Joo Won is a rich, self-centered, self-important, neurotic pompous ass. For every nice thing he says or does he'll do ten horrid things that will erase the good will he may have cultivated with the nice. He seems to make it his mission to make the person he loves suffer because he loves her. I wanted to slap his face for Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) almost every second on screen with her in the first half. This is actually revealing on how well it was acted, because to make me want to hit Binnie's face? THAT is just incredible. What I loved was that there was no bulging of the eyes that tends to occur when people want to show anger, and the sneers weren't over the top, they were so subtle and so telling of how much Joo Won really did believe himself above everyone that even sneering at them wasn't worth his effort.
Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) is major kick-ass, which comes with the territory of being a very talented stuntwoman. Even in Ra-Im’s everday life, she chases thieves and doesn't take shit from hoity toity wealthy women. She calls it like she sees it and though she's tolerant when it comes to things said to herself she'll defend her best-friend like nobody's business. At first you think she's really very boyish and unfeminine, but as you get to know her little things pop out that show just how much she really is a girl. For example whenever she gets complimented she lifts her right leg backwards and taps her toes on the ground like a cute little girl; or how much she fan girls Oska (for 13 years admitting only 3 years at first so as not to be seen as a stalker by him); or how she has makeup hidden in her locker, something that she doesn't use but likes to have, probably to remind herself that she really is a woman.
Seul (Kim Sarang) is a hoity-toity I'm-better-than-you wealthy woman who's superficial intention is to marry Joo Won and her hidden intention is to get revenge on her past love Oska who is Joo won's cousin. She has depth in her that we get flashes of in the first half but don't really get into until the 2nd half. She is the woman all women get jealous of: rich, beautiful, self-confident, has a cool job and just about every man at her feet. Which is why it's funny to see how Joo Won rejects her because he's fallen in love(not that he'll admit it for a good while) for a stuntwoman who Seul considers far less beautiful and compatible to Joo Won as she is. She knows that marriages between the rich are rarely for love and is completely alright with a business-like marriage. She'll even allow Joo Won to have his "toys" like the stuntwoman he likes as long as he wants her, she won't be jealous at all since it's not like she loves him.
Oska/Woo Young (Yoon Sang Hyun) is an oppa-dol who knows that he's more fluff than talent but who really genuinely cares about his fans because they have stood by him through all kinds of scandal trouble. He loves women, or more like he loves the physicality of women but trusts none and knows that many are with him because of his idol status and won't stay much longer than that, and he doesn't want them to. He argues a lot with Joo Won who is his cousin that he cares for like a dongsaeng, however he likes to poke and fight with him. Sometimes he and Joo Won get carried away in their fights and really do say things that shouldn't be said to family you love. He likes having Gil Ra Im around because she makes him feel better about himself and accepts him like he is. And he loves baiting Joo Won about how Ra Im admires him and might even love him more than she loves Joo Won.
Jong Soo (Phillip Lee) The stunt acting director at the school Ra Im is at. He loves Ra Im but doesn't confess to her because he doesn't want to be a burden so he does the typical second lead thing and supports her from the shadows. He is very kind and understanding and he does everything to prevent her from getting injured in a stunt but he doesn't stop her if he knows that she's capable of carrying it out safely. His main purpose is to be a block to Joo Won but he isn't all that effective since he doesn't confess his feelings to Ra Im while Joo Won is very active in pursuing her.
Tae Sun (Lee Jong Suk) he's a pretty and a very talented musician that Oska wants to take as a pupil. However Sun won't let himself be pushed into a label since he knows that he's way more talented than Oska. And when confronted by Oska he tells him that he's gay and to leave him alone, which is something Oska doesn't know how to do. Sun ends up liking Oska because he sees that underneath all that Hallyu star arrogance, he's pretty insecure but very kind.
The first couple of episodes we have the setup for the body switch, and I particularly love that. Because the switch didn't happen right away we got a sense of who Joo Won and Ra Im were before the switch and that way we could measure how much they change if at all after it.
There is magic of the spontaneous rather whimsical kind at work in the world of Secret Garden. For example a petal that reattaches itself from a stem after Joo Won plucked it in the classical "She loves me She loves me not" move that most of us resorted to in our childhood. Or the fact that a bookcase is arranged so that when you take out a book it reads a poem. Even without the switcheroo I was loving the whimsy and the oh so beautiful backdrop.
The switcheroo was fun and it gave me all the comical situations that I could want, and while some say that the characters didn't grow and that the switching back and forth was no good and made no sense, I beg to differ. Joo Won before stepping into Ra Im's shoes (literally) had no idea how people who weren't born in abundance got on in life, he was a major jerk to anybody who couldn't "buy discrimination" as he once said. Essentially rich people were better because they could buy the rights to be considered better (such as getting the V.I.P. lounge only for them) and people who were not them had no right to even complain about being mistreated by them. After the switch he began to understand really why certain comments had hit Ra Im harder than others and while he didn't change overnight it took about six more episodes for him to finally get it, he was introduced to how he could change through the body swap. Ra Im was already pretty much a decent human being so her growth wasn't so much in her personality as it was on the change in her perception of Joo Won. He became something that she wanted to uncover (she even bought the books he liked to try to figure out what he liked) he was suddenly not just a pesky fly but perhaps an interesting pesky fly.
In the beginning because Ra Im doesn't like Joo Won at all, she is almost always frustrated and angry around him. She doesn't understand why he always has to appear wherever she is only to end up pointing out why she is not good enough to be his wife, or even his girlfriend. However he is the only one that gets under her skin and makes her think about him even when she doesn't want to, so we know that there is a certain degree of attraction on a physical level even when her mind tells her that she should avoid him at all costs to preserve her self-respect and avoid emotional pain.
Joo Won can't believe that he's attracted to such a tomboy who is not really like a woman, and definitely not his type. But he's curious about her and wants to get to know her more so he ends up going to her stunt school and boy do we get a LOT of hot sizzling sexual tension (Binnie and Ha Jiwon have very good onscreen compatability). Chaos always ensues wherever he is and she doesn't appreciate it because she always has to end up apologizing for him and bowing her head to others because of his really high-handed way of treating others.
That right there is her flaw, she is very meek when she's being insulted and sometimes I want to yell at her to defend herself, but she's too good and respectful to others. I love how Joo Won is the one who does yell at her for being so meek, saying that she should answer back and never lower her head to others, but then again she can't be like him either because then she'd be out of a job and she doesn't have an inheritance to fall back on like he does. However I appreciate the fact that while she is like that with others she isn't as polite with him once she gets to know him and she tells him what she thinks of him to his face.
Ra Im's relationship with Oska is very cute because at first she was very shy before him but as she grew to know him she became comfortable and started calling him oppa (something that Joo Won is infinitely jealous of). Nobody else gets that honour from her not even Jong Soo who she has known for far longer. Oska and her have a fun flirtatious way of talking to each other where they both know that they are not being serious and that nothing is meant with the flirting it's all just for laughs (and making Joo Won green with jealousy). They comfort each other when they are down due to their complicated romantic relationships. They also cutely call their friendly dates one-on-one fan meetings.
Sang Hyun is adorable in his role of ne'er-do-well idol oppa. His character talks about himself in the third person sometimes to emphasize how big a star and important person he is, but he is also not above making jokes or comments about how his singing talent is not all that impressive or that he has non-existant acting talent that even his fans ask him not to act. He makes me laugh so much most of the time that he could have ended up just being the comedy factor in the drama but he has depth in him that is explored in the second half. As he has reached the status of Hallyu star he says he wants to now launch other artists and teach them (teach them what?). But it feels like he just wants to collect talent like a certain hallyu star ::cough:: Bae Yong Joon ::cough:: I love this kind of stab at K-pop, it's funny and it's really actually insightful.
Oska's problems with Seul seem to be rooted in misconceptions of each other on both their parts, and they don't know how to listen to each other most of the time since they both suffer from voluntary victimization. They both love each other but since neither wants to admit that, they resort to alienating each other as much as possible and trying to cause jealousy in each other.
Later on when they are no longer firing hurtful words quite as often at each other, Seul, when asked by Sun why she was helping Oska through a copyright issue, when she supposedly had a strained relationship with him, said, "Only I'm allowed to bother Oska." That right there is her truth. She wants him for herself but first he has to be made to hurt like she did in the past. Oska's truth is that he once valued his pride more than his love and now he wants to keep his love even if he has to lose some of his pride, thus he goes through several plans on how to get Seul back
Tae sun at first really disliked Oska because he symbolized all that's rotten about pop music, talentless musician that only had marketable value because of his looks. However he does end up falling in love with Oska, and I like how subtle it is, though it would have been awesome to see Oska more conflicted with it than as completely oblivious as he was throughout. When Tae Sun leaves Oska, Seul, his rival in love asks him to stay, but he can't stomach being the friend and watching somebody else be Oska's lover.
There are so many cute things in this story like the storyline between Secretary Kim and Ah Young. Or the story of Joo Won's grandpa and his new wife. However there is no denying that it does have it's MakJang element to it especially with Joo Won being saved by Ra Im's father and Joo Won's mother threatening Ra Im with disowning and crushing Joo Won because if Joo Won doesn't capitulate to her, she won't let anybody have him... scary right? yeah it did scare me. Secret Garden went off on a completely different road at the 17th episode that at first I was suffering from whiplash.
In the last few episodes there are tears galore, what with a crash, a coma, amnesia and disinheritance it about spun my mind around and made my heart squeeze so tightly I about had a heart attack. Joo Won showed us how much he grew with this and Hyun Bin showed us that men really can cry. I felt so aweful watching Joo Won decide that he loved Ra Im enough to give his life for her, but I really really understood that it was the only way he could think about keeping her alive. Thankfully because ofJoo Won's grand unselfish love for her, Ra Im’s father managed to reverse all the damages and let them continue living their love together.
The ending ties everything in as we’re told how Joo Won was saved by Ra Im’s father, how he had gone to deliver her father’s message to her and had been unable to as he watched a young Ra Im fall asleep weeping and laid down next to her for a while and then because he was so saddened and tortured by the image of a Ra Im crying he forgot everything until the last minute.
What I did like though, is that we finally see how much each of these characters loved each other, and how much change can occur in a person if they find their other half.
Was this drama THE DEFINITIVE drama for me? No, there were others throughout the past year that moved me more and caught my attention more ( ex. My Girlfriend is a Gumiho) but it did provide me with cries and laughs and OMG the sexy tension between the leads was electric. I loved it, perhaps more than it deserves as its detractors say but it's going into my list of favourites to rewatch ^^