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I just finished SBS’s Secret Garden. The drama starred Hyun Bin as Kim Joo Won and Ha Ji Won as Gil Ra Im. In addition to these two, the drama also starred Yoon Sang Hyun as Oska (Kim Joo Won’s cousin) and Kim Sa Rang as Yoon Seul. The drama also had many side characters that were as enjoyable as the main leads, such as: Gil Ra Im’s Director Im Jong Soo (played by Lee Phillip), the new singer that Oska wants to mentor, Han Tae Sun (Lee Jong Suk), Ra Im’s best friend, Im Ah Young (Yoo In Na), and Joo Won’s secretary, Kim Sung Woo (Kim Sung Oh).
The drama tells the story of Kim Joo Won, an arrogant and eccentric CEO who maintains the image of seeming perfection, and Gil Ra Im, a poor and humble stuntwoman whose beauty and body are the object of envy amongst top actresses. Their accidental meeting, when Joo Won mistakes Ra Im for actress Park Chae Rin, marks the beginning of a tense, bickering relationship, through which Joo Won tries to hide a growing attraction to Ra Im that both confuses and disturbs him. To complicate matters further, a strange sequence of events results in them swapping bodies.
The drama starts off by giving us a preview of the personalities of the two main characters. Joo Won is arrogant and an heir to a rich family. He is the CEO of his family’s department store, LOEL, and manages countless other properties for his family (such as golf courses, resorts, and hotels, etc.). He also likes to ask his underlings, “Are you sure this is the best you can do?” He only comes to work twice a week; we find out that Joo Won has a phobia of elevators and cannot bear to get on one. He also goes on blind dates, and is incredibly rude to the women he is set up with. Finally, Joo Won is addicted to sparkly, tacky tracksuits hand-stitched by Italian/French designers that everyone else around him tend to make fun of.
On the other hand, we have Ra Im. She is a stuntwoman, who is proud of herself, despite the fact that she is poor and is looked down upon by those who have more than her. When a rich customer threatens to get her best friend fired, Ra Im intimidates the customer into agreeing not to file a formal complaint. While she is confident amongst people of her level, she is obedient and polite to those she considers above her. Despite any slights and injuries she may suffer at the hands of others, Ra Im is unfailingly polite to directors, actors, and elders.
There are basically four main tracks in the story, running more or less simultaneously. We have the “Joo Won and Ra Im Fall in Love” track, where they meet, fall in lust, fall in love eventually, marry and live happily ever after. We have the “Joo Won and Ra Im Switch Bodies” track, where Joo Won and Ra Im, you guessed it, switch bodies. We have the “Joo Won/Ra Im vs. Mommy” track, where mommy dearest gets in the way of Joo Won and Ra Im’s happily ever after. Finally, we have the “Oska and Yoon Seul” track, where the drama explores Oska’s and Yoon Seul’s past and has them reunite in the present.
There also several mini-tracks concerning: 1) Ra Im’s stunt school (about Ra Im’s rise from meek stuntwoman to confident director), 2) Ah Young’s relationship with Secretary Kim (they start dating), 3) Ra Im’s relationship with Oska (she’s been a fan of his from way back when and he cherishes her as a fan), 4) Seul’s pursuit of Joo Won (she wants to marry him to hurt Oska), 5) Oska’s pursuit of a musical protege to mentor, Han Tae Sun (who falls in love with Oska and has to leave at the end), and 6) Director Park’s pursuit of the CEO chair (he fails).
Joo Won and Ra Im Fall in Love
Joo Won and Ra Im meet and interact due to a misunderstanding over Ra Im’s identity. When Joo Won finally realizes a mistake has been made, he doesn’t take long into becoming fascinated by Ra Im’s uniqueness. From what I understood, Joo Won didn’t really interact with women outside of the blind dates he would go on; therefore, he only ever had contact with rich, cultured, highly educated women. Joo Won is attracted to Ra Im’s strength and confidence, and he begins to follow her around, going so far as to join the stunt school she is a part of to get closer to her.
When Ra Im allows herself to fall for him, just a little bit, Joo Won has realized how poor she is and berates her for daring to go out with a ripped purse and to live in a dirty, broken down home. He makes her feel small for being who she is, and tells her to stay away from him because being around her wouldn’t be good for his reputation. Ra Im is hurt by Joo Won’s words, and decides to stay away from him. Knowing that his eventual marriage will be more of a business merger than a love union, Joo Won comes back into Ra Im’s life and asks her to become his “mistress”; he actually asks her to be like the Little Mermaid and disappear when he gets tired of her. When Ra Im slaps him and refuses, Joo Won makes the offer that he’ll be like the Little Mermaid and disappear when they get tired of each other. As the story moves along, Joo Won comes to realize that he cannot live without Ra Im, and he decides to fight his mother for the right to choose his own mate. Up until this point, Joo Won had never had the passion to pursue anything. Ra Im is the one that awakens his desires, and Joo Won goes from wanting her to be his mistress to sacrificing his life for her.
Thirteen years ago, when Joo Won was 21 and Ra Im was 17, Ra Im’s father saved Joo Won from death. In that same rescue, Ra Im’s father lost his life, asking only one thing of Joo Won, that he tell his daughter how much her father loved her. Because of his guilt, Joo Won was unable to speak to Ra Im, and suppressed the trauma, forgetting everything that happened.
Thirteen years later, Ra Im’s father has decided to exact the payment of that rescue. He has somehow discovered that Ra Im will be in a horrible accident, while doing a stunt, and he believes that the body switch will protect his daughter from that happening. Therefore, it happens that every time it rains, Joo Won’s and Ra Im’s souls switch into the other’s bodies. After the first switch the two are confused about what has happened, and after the second switch the two find out that this may have occurred because of the wine they drank at a mysterious restaurant in the woods.
While still not knowing why this has occurred, Ra Im is injured doing some stunt work, and the doctors say that she is brain dead. In order to save her, Joo Won deliberately makes the decision to go into the rain, so that he may trigger a switch. Joo Won knows that this means that he will be in Ra Im’s brain dead body, and that Ra Im will spend the rest of her life in his. He makes the ultimate sacrifice. And, it seems, that ultimate sacrifice is enough for Ra Im’s father to step in and make everything right again. Ra Im’s father puts the right souls in the right bodies, and instructs Joo Won and Ra Im to live on happily.
When Joo Won returns to his body, he suffers from amnesia, having forgotten everything that had happened since the incident 13 years ago. Despite forgetting Ra Im, he falls in love with her all over again, and eventually remembers everything, including seeing Ra Im at her father’s funeral. He is finally able to give Ra Im her father’s last message.
Joo Won/Ra Im vs. Mommy
Joo Won’s mother does not want Joo Won to marry Ra Im because she is not at his level. She does everything to keep the two apart. She tries to buy off Ra Im, but does not succeed. She tries to intimidate Ra Im, by threatening her friend, and almost succeeds; Joo Won steps in and saves the day. She also tries to use the fact that Ra Im’s father saved Joo Won years ago to dissuade Ra Im, but fails. Ultimately, she goes after her own son, hurting him, to get Ra Im to back off. She succeeds at this point, because Ra Im does break up with Joo Won, who cannot understand why Ra Im is acting this way. But when the accident occurs and Joo Won makes the ultimate sacrifice, Ra Im realizes how much he loves her and decides to fight for them.
When Ra Im and Joo Won (who has already decided to give everything up for Ra Im) reunite, Joo Won’s mother realizes that there is nothing more she can do. She warns Joo Won that he will regret this one day, and that “they” (referencing Ra Im and Joo Won’s father) always walk away first. From the day she finds out that Joo Won has married Ra Im, she breaks off all ties with him, and agrees only to see her grandchildren, refusing to talk to Ra Im and Joo Won even though five years have gone by.
Oska and Yoon Seul
Oska is Joo Won’s cousin and is a singer. His star is waning, and he decides that mentoring someone else will gain him points in the public eye. Yoon Seul comes back into his life, and he finds out that she is actively pursuing his cousin. A look into their past reveals that Oska and Seul had a dating relationship, and Oska lied and told a friend that he was not serious about Seul. Seul took these words at face value and turned him down cold when Oska asked her to marry him.
Years later, the two meet and Oska is confused by Seul’s anger. He does not understand why she is angry when she is the one who rejected him, abandoned him, and left with another man. It is only when Oska finds out that Seul tried to kill herself, does he begin to think about why Seul acted the way she did. Once he realizes that he hurt Seul through his own stupidity, Oska begins to pursue Seul once more and wins her heart again. Oska and Seul become engaged at the end of the drama, and we know that Oska will never stupidly hurt Seul again, and Seul has forgiven him.
Ultimately, I have to say that I really enjoyed this drama for the most part. My favorite part about a drama is when the hero and heroine are falling in love, and, here, I got to see it happen twice. The fact that Joo Won falls in love with Ra Im, despite the fact that he has forgotten everything about her, makes that love all the more meaningful.
I found that I enjoyed each and every character in the drama, except for Joo Won’s mother and Ra Im at times. I loved the interactions between Joo Won and Ra Im, because they brought a different vibe to the same old character types, Joo Won more than Ra Im. I liked how Joo Won changed despite himself. I just wished that Ra Im didn’t cry so much and why did she turn out to be so weak. I also liked Seul and Oska, because they were the second leads, but they were threaded into the story so much so that Ra Im and Oska were able to have a relationship separate from Joo Won, and Joo Won could appreciate Seul without wanting to be with her. I also enjoyed the relationship between Oska and Joo Won, where we could see how much Oska loved his cousin and took care of him. Additionally, the triangle between a clueless Oska, mature Seul and the younger Tae Sun was just hilarious.
This was a drama where the secondary characters didn’t feel just secondary, and I liked how they had their own stories and lives. I liked that Seul didn’t just pursue Joo Won to the end, but that she actually wanted Oska, and the secondary couple actually got a happily ever after. I am so over the perpetual triangle in Korean dramas, and I would love to watch something that did without this tendency to “triangle” every relationship up.
Joo Won’s character was deeply flawed, and I think that it was realistic that it took time for him to overcome a lifetime’s worth of conditioning. He grew up under his poisonous mother’s control, so I just think that it was a big deal that he overcame it at all and fell in love with a woman that he considered so “beneath his standards.” I see characters like Joo Won all the time in romance novels, so his character wasn’t really a slap in the face for me, and I could accept him for who he was because I knew that he was going to end up changing and becoming a better man for it.
I loved Ra Im’s kickass character at the beginning of the drama, but then she just became this weak, wishy-washy woman. She couldn’t get rid of Joo Won, no matter how much she hit him, she wouldn’t fight his mother because she felt she had to respect her elders, and all she did was cry! That made me really irritated with the character. That’s why I enjoyed her interactions with Joo Won because she was strong, and with Oska because she was flirty.
I liked Oska for his effervescent view of life and his mindless pursuit of Seul; he was the classic beta male, someone more mellow and more willing to go with the flow of things. I also ended up liking Seul, who loved Oska for years and came back to fight for her man. And she got him in the end. Seul’s character was another trope that I often come across in romance novels, so it was cool to watch it being brought to life on the screen.
There was a lot of controversy over the show of force that Joo Won showed toward Ra Im, when he forced her to sleep in the same bed with him. I didn’t really get too upset with this, because the girl had been beating up on the poor guy for the past 10+ episodes and he’d previously kissed her without her permission. This behavior was normal for them in the world of the drama, therefore, I didn’t really understand why people were so upset. But, then again, I am at an age where I can differentiate fiction from reality. It is also understandable that it could be worrying for people to see younger audiences taking these representations of a relationship at face value and thinking that this is what a real relationship should be like. While I agree with that worry, I do have to say that if we had “good” relationships on television, than there would be no “drama”.
Finally, I hated Joo Won’s mother. I hate the trope of the mother thinking that no woman is good enough for her son, and this drama wouldn’t let it die! Despite the fact that she didn’t back off from her stance and was treating Ra Im like crap, they let her get away with it and awarded her by allowing her visitation with their children! That was taking the “respect your elders” idea to the extreme. Elders can be wrong. They can be pigheaded. And it is not wrong to point how wrong they are out to them. This idea of the male getting the woman worthy of him is so prevalent in Asian society and always drives me crazy, and to see it in a fresh melo-comedy like this … I mean, couldn’t they find some other conflict? Not only does the mother go on and on about how lowly Ra Im is (is money really everything?), but she has Ra Im believing it. Why do the heroines start believing they’re worthless just because an outsider is harping at them; where is their self-confidence?! That part of the story really disappointed me, especially the fact that the conflict was stretched to the end of a 20-episode drama! Why couldn’t the show take care of it initially and move on!
Additionally, I really wish that the writer had thought to explain more about these powers of foresight and other powers that Ra Im’s father had. How was he able to see the future? How was he able to switch their souls? And if he had the power to make everything all right, then why have them switch in the first place? And if he was able to make it all right at the end because of Joo Won’s selfless act, then why didn’t the show say so?!
Overall, this was a good drama to watch, but only if you’re willing to enjoy a deeply flawed hero, a cliched conflict, and some major holes in the plot. If not, this drama isn’t for you.