Friday, July 25, 2014

Secret Love Affair: The Reality of Passion and Art

If you are a follower of my blog, then you've read my I Miss You drama review--and if not, here is the link. I Miss You was a drama that had me sitting at the edge of my seat, praying for a good outcome for weeks before the final episodes aired. Watching Yoo Seung Ho's character, Harry Borrison, fall into flames was horrendously painful for me--as it was for many others! I haven't felt that way about a drama since . . . that is . . . until Secret Love Affair aired. Read More to read my Secret Love Affair review . . . 

I'm going to apologize right away if this review is a bit wordier than is necessary. I had a lot of thoughts and feelings during the course of this drama that needed to be laid to rest with it's conclusion. 

Secret Love Affair caught my attention almost a month before it began airing because of the controversy surrounding the plot premise. The story revolves around Lee Sun Jae (Yoo Ah In) and Oh Hye Won's (Kim Hee Ae) relationship. Lee Sun Jae is a piano prodigy that is "discovered" by Kang Joon Hyung (Park Hyuk Kwon), Oh Hye Won's husband. Joon Hyung decides to take Sun Jae under his wing except that he is a mediocre pianist and is incapable of teaching someone as talented as Sung Jae. Enter Hye Won, a "retired" pianist and a director of Seohan Arts Foundation; she is volunteered by her husband to perfect Sun Jae and prepare him for greatness. On paper, Sun Jae is Joon Hyung's student but in all actuality, he very much belongs to Hye Won.

Before I get to the story itself, I want to discuss the beginning of this drama. The drama had stunning advertisement. Right off the bat, the promotional pictures let you know that this wouldn't be a regular drama. How so? Let me just share with you a few pictures . . . 

This was the first picture I ever saw of the drama. Had this been a regular television series, the in-your-face sexuality wouldn't even have fazed me but this is a Korean drama we are talking about--where sex scenes are virtually unheard of and kissing is tantamount to carnal relations. Next picture . . . 

Wow . . . 

These pictures don't even need CAPTIONS, they're screaming so loud . . . 

Okay, so I think that is enough examples.

Steamy doesn't even begin to describe the above photos--these are down right beautiful, alluring and hell yeah, I was going to watch this drama! Many people felt that this drama would be risque, raunchy, over the top sexy but I assure you, this drama was none of the above! The pictures are meant to give a "forbidden" feel to the characters but I think the photos also garnished some undesired results. Knowing that the premise of the show was an older woman falling in love with a younger man, these photos almost make it look like she's a seductress. That couldn't be farther from the truth. I'll explain more in the next segment. 


The Story

The love that blossoms between these two characters is passionate and intellectual. There is a mutual and intense love for music--specifically the piano--that draws these two together rather quickly. There is actually a piece of dialogue that sticks out in my mind: "He is 20, he can be excused for a school boy crush but what about you?" The line belongs to Joon Hyung and accurately represents the opinion of the masses. 

However, there is nothing "school boy" about Sun Jae. He knows what he wants and there is never any question that his love for Hye Won is anything but real--"crush" is not a word that would describe his feelings, is what I mean. He is a man, mature beyond his years, that found a home in a woman twice his age. He's quiet, dedicated but fiercely passionate about his music. He doesn't have very many friends but the ones he does have are very important to him.

Oh Hye Won is a little more complicated; she had a less than wealthy beginning but because she was a brilliantly talented pianist, she had opportunities to fix her status. While living in New York and going to school she came to the realization that money and power and prestige would get her access to the comfortable lifestyle she saw everyone else enjoying and thus her quest to gain all three began. Fast forward to the future, and all she has to show for her life is a quiet power base given to her by her two bosses; Chairman Seo and Chairwoman Han (husband and wife and hereafter referred to as Seohan). Hye Won has established herself as their right hand woman--literally. She does everything for them, including all the evil little dirty deeds that needs to be done. She's positively a scary woman when it comes to her work; she's efficient, logical and merciless.

Hye Won and Joon Hyung married for convenience and live quietly by themselves in separate beds with the understanding that intimacy is not a part of their agreement--however, the power in their household is not equal. Hye Won is the breadwinner of their facade of a marriage and Joon Hyung is all too happy to mooch off his wife. At least until she begins to show interest in Sun Jae as more than just her student.

At the beginning of the story, Sun Jae is embarrassed by his reaction to his teacher, Hye Won, and attempts to keep his distance from her. Between trying to hide his secret affection for Hye Won and his mother passing away, it all becomes too much for Sun Jae to handle. He makes a misguided decision to enlist for his mandatory military service to try and put as much distance between Hye Won and himself. This decision backfires terribly and he is eventually flushed out of the system--saved by Oh Hye Won and Joon Hyung--due to his inability to cope with his emotions.

He ends up on Hye Won's doorstep once again but this time, he doesn't plan on hiding anything--a gauntlet that is thrown down and pretty quickly picked up by Hye Won herself. Thus begins Hye Won's battle of emotions. For the first part of the drama, they try to keep their love a secret from everyone but considering the drastic change in Hye Won's character, it's not long before everyone knows--they live in a  pretty small world at Seohan Arts Foundation.

Through a series of unfortunate events, Hye Won finds herself being targeted by Seohan and her husband on several different fronts and they're using her love for Sun Jae to do it. Eventually, Hye Won and Sun Jae realize their world is crashing down around them and Hye Won is forced to amass her power and wealth to get them out of the trouble that wants to drag them down. She manages to circumvent all the sticks and stones thrown at them until the very end--literally, the last episode is when she makes a fatal mistake--and she is forced to admit defeat. Hye Won and Sun Jae are separated by bars at the end of the series but it isn't an ending without hope. Sun Jae, having loved her from the get-go, refuses to give up on their love, their sacrifices and their hardships just because she is sentenced to jail. Rather than try and sum up his words, I'll just give you the dialogue:
Hye Won: "You can forget about me. You have done...everything you could for me. You loved me. You let me lose it all [more on this later]. I could never have done it on my own so I'm thankful. It's okay for you to leave."
Sun Jae: "Where would I go when my home is here? I don't know if it'll be a year or ten years. But we should give our relationship a shot at least. We will have fierce fights on some days and we will stick together all day on other days. If we break up without even giving it a shot, it's just too big a waste."

My Review

One of my favorite scenes of the entire drama came in Episode 10, right after Sun Jae's debut stage--where he rocked, I might add--and he goes to meet with Hye Won and they watch his performance. At this point in the drama, in their relationship they're intimate and yet still shy around each other and still getting used to the feeling of being in love--like they can't believe they found love, and they know it isn't right, but they can't help it. However, Hye Won's world is dangerous and they fear being separated because of it.  Here's the scene:

The subtitles at the bottom are actually lines from the script itself--they are the emotions that the actors were suppose to project into their acting while filming the scene. I give special thanks to the people over at *especially @Seungshinl and @Blindd--thanks for the translations/subs* for allowing me to use their video. Also, if you want more Secret Love Affair reviews, recaps, etc. Jump on over to their site and they'll have everything I've left out. Thanks!!

As you can see, Hye Won is no seductress. She's just as uneasy about her feelings for Sun Jae as Sun Jae is about his. She worries about how he'll feel when she's older, when he's 40 and she's 60. She worries about how other's will view them, she worries over his safety and his future career. They make each other their first priority and it's really touching.

I was so emotionally tied up in the drama that I couldn't bring myself to watch the last two episodes because I was actually pretty nervous about how they were going to end the drama. It wasn't until a little over a month later that I finally convinced myself that I needed to finish the drama and get some closure. Much like how I Miss You ended, I was satisfied with the ending but I wasn't happy with the ending.

The one thing I can say about this drama was that it had great realism; both Sun Jae and Hye Won acknowledge that their relationship is . . . different. The writer was pretty quick to make sure the audience knew that Sun Jae wasn't a victim; he wasn't some impressionable young adult that fell into Hye Won's web of seduction--not at all. Their love of music is what brings them together despite their age. Had Sun Jae been 40-something and passionate about the piano, Hye Won would still have fallen for him.  Sun Jae and Hye Won acknowledge that she is married and that their relationship shouldn't be happening but they simply can't help how they feel.

As much as the ending didn't make me happy, I couldn't knock it because it was a real ending--no, they didn't live happily ever after like Disney would like us all to believe happens when you find true love. She ends up behind bars for a bit--to pay for her loyalty to Seohan and to me, it was almost like paying a debt to herself for believing that happiness came in the form of money and prestige. She wasn't going to be jailed forever and when she was released, Sun Jae made it pretty clear that he'd be outside the gate waiting for her. But more importantly, Sun Jae didn't wait outside the gates day in and day out--his life continued on. He went to Venice to take part in a piano competition, he didn't forget about his dreams just because he fell in love and because that love was being tested. Throughout the drama, Sun Jae and Hye Won were forced to take everything in stride and her being imprisoned didn't change that at all. Sun Jae rolled with the punches and it was understood that they were going to continue on even after the credits rolled.

One of the many reasons this story is so beautiful is because Sun Jae never once wanted Hye Won for her money or her power--unlike her husband. He wanted her because of the person she was and her intense love for music. In fact, he kept pushing her to give it all up and just run away with him. He was perfectly content to live out the rest of his life being a nobody--willing to give up being a pianist just so he could have some happiness with her. Obviously, she didn't leave it all behind soon enough because she ended up behind bars at the end. On the flip side, Hye Won never wanted Sun Jae because he was handsome or because he was young, she liked him because he came from simple means and found happiness and love despite not having wealth, power or prestige. His passion for the piano, for music in general, was so unbridled that it took her by surprise and brought out her passion for music again after she'd shelved it twenty years earlier.  Hye Won's character didn't know real love until she met Sun Jae; she was content with her life because it was all she knew. She felt that as long as she had wealth, power and prestige that she was where everyone strode to be but when she realized that people are just as content and happy with a little more than nothing to their name that she had a lot to learn about herself. Watching her rediscover what real happiness is brought out a lot of emotions in me as viewer and that's not something every drama can do.

Secret Love Affair was well worth the watch and I was deeply sorry to see it end after only 16 episodes. I absolutely loved the characters and the story line. The writer, Jung Sung Joo, actually won "Best Screenplay" at the 2014 PaekSang Art Awards back in May. Yoo Ah In and Kim Hee Ae were brilliantly cast and had beautiful chemistry both on and off camera:

I think this chemistry really shows in the acting because never once did any of the intimate scenes feel awkward or forced. I can only imagine how difficult these roles were to take on but these two pulled it off flawlessly and I will definitely look forward to seeing them as nominees for the 2015 Dramafever Awards for either of the following; best female actress, best male actress, best couple, and best kiss--I would say best drama but that seems like I'm setting the drama up to fail considering some of the dramas that came out this year.

All in all, Secret Love Affair was a wonderful drama.  


  1. Thank you for your thoughtful and insightful review I would love to to republish it on, a blog archiving Secret Love Affair articles, scripts, recaps, reviews, music, etc. I would give full credit and links back.


  2. Great thank you. I'll probably put it up this week. I noticed the script video you used. Is that the one we did or is there another one out there? If it's different, is it on YT somewhere? I'd like to check it out.

    1. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure. It was a clip of a scene I wanted to discuss in my review. I found it on YouTube but I don't remember who had originally posted it. Does it look like yours?

    2. Yes, it looks like part of this one If it is the one we did, a mention would be great.

      Thanks again.

    3. I believe it is. I will go and edit the post now. :)