The simplest description of Secret Love Affair as seen up to episode 3 is the exploration of the thrumming attraction of a much older former pianist with a diamond in the rough young wunderkind. It’s exactly as the synopsis laid out, but to watch it is to marvel at the undeniable truth that this drama is so much more than that, and in ways that throw the viewers and the characters off kilter. I feel like sipping a whiskey when I watch, and whenever I finish watching I feel a slight buzz even when I’ve not had a sip. Isn’t it fascinating the way the world of Seohan and it’s tripartite power structure of the chaebol group, the university, and the arts center create this triangle vortex sucking in musical prodigies and paid power entrees all together. I used to think music couldn’t be faked, but it turns out the world of music can be bought, which is why genuine talent like Sun Jae makes even the jaded professors and administrators at Seohan quake inside with appreciation.
It’s exhausting to live each day ready for battle, the way Hye Won fends off all the competing forces around her, and it’s even more ironic that the battlefield is built on top of something that is organically a life force. Music has been described as good for the soul, sound is not something that is the domain of the rich. But to develop music requires wealth to construct the platform to train and nurture raw talent, so it’s an unavoidable evil that Hye Won’s innate connection with music requires that she live in the rarified and dangerous world of Seohan. I watch Sun Jae get scouted by Joon Hyung and Hye Won and a part of me thrills for the discovery of his talent, and another part wants him to run the hell the other way and play for youtube kicks for the rest of his life. There is nothing free in this world, and the price Sun Jae has to pay to step foot into Seohan starts in this episode in a devastating way and it’s clearly just the beginning. That’s what make his attraction and connection with Hye Won feel like the least illicit and dirty part of his entree into formal music training. It’s the pure meeting of the human soul bound by their mutual love of music.
Episode 3 recap:
Joon Hyung sits in the car (safe from the danger of mice!) and takes out a wet towelette to wipe his hands. He’s like a scardy cat manchild with piano talent, not sure if one cancels out the other in terms of his appeal. Sun Jae deposits Hye Won in the bathroom so that she can soak her super glued sole in hot water and then he brings her bean oil and explains it’s good for breaking up glue. She should scrub it with bean oil and then wash her feet in soap and water. Suddenly Sun Jae hears noise and it’s his girlfriend Da Mi and buddy Jang Ho coming into the apartment but Sun Jae swiftly blocks them at the door and shoves them out before closing the door. He notices Hye Won’s pumps and gingerly turns it so she can put it on as she’s leaving.
Hye Won calls from the bathroom asking if it was his friend? Sun Jae says they left and Hye Won mentions how the bean oil works wonders and she got the glue off. Sun Jae apologizes for being so nervous so Hye Won wonders if it was right for her to come. Sun Jae is very happy she’s here and he can’t quite put into words his nervousness, but his eyes stare at Hye Won scrubbing her sole and he swallows.
After Hye Won cleans up, Sun Jae grabs her coat and she asks if he’s telling her to leave? He’s not but assume she’s leaving since Joon Hyung is waiting for her outside. He offers to go play for her tomorrow instead. Sun Jae holds her coat expectantly and she takes it, reminding him to call tomorrow before he comes. He asks for her cell number and she tells him to call Joon Hyung since he will be Sun Jae’s professor.
Sun Jae blurts out “no” and says he wants Hye Won to be his music professor. He feels it was destined from their first meeting. Hye Won’s eyes open wide but says nothing. Sun Jae explains that he meets all sorts of people in his messenger job daily and he never feels anything for them and they feel nothing for him. That’s normal. But when he met Hye Won, she asked about his life, she wanted to know more about him, she played with him. That day was like a rebirth for him, a rebirth for his soul. Holy….my gut is clenching.
Hye Won tries to laugh it off as him being overwrought and rather cheesy, but Sun Jae is dead serious. The way his eyes look at her, directly and unflinching, she absorbs it fully.
Da Mi and Jang Ho are sitting with Sun Jae’s mom and discussing that he had someone in his apartment. Jang Ho jokes that Da Mi needs to marry Sun Jae soon before something happens. Sun Jae sends Hye Won off and then everyone runs out to see who the guest was but the car has driven off. Da Mi tries to kiss Sun Jae right then and there but he shoves her off and goes back inside. She screams at him and warns him never to do this again.
Sun Jae sits in his room and looks at Hye Won’s business card. Boy got the number in the end. Sun Jae gets online and messages his “hyung” about meeting a true musical savior today. She said he could read and understand music intuitively. He has submitted his application to Seohan Music University where the person’s husband is a professor, but Sun Jae considers the person his true teacher. Hye Won asks who the person is and Sun Jae writes “Oh Hye Won, do you know her?” Hye Won laughs out loud at the small small world and realizes she’s been online with Sun Jae since before she even met him.
Hye Won writes back that she doesn’t know Oh Hye Won because she’s just a college student. Sun Jae tells hyung to do some reading up on Hye Won, she’s very talented, a bit severe but passionate about music, and very very elegant. He admits that he’s totally smitten, even her feet is lovely. He wonders if it’s normal to be attracted to a woman like this? She asks if he’s attracted to her feet but Sun Jae says it’s to her scent, it’s so intoxicating he feels dizzy. Hye Won sniffs herself and Sun Jae asks for advice since he’s playing tomorrow for her. Hye Won tells him to just drink water beforehand.
Hye Won asks if Sun Jae is entranced by that woman and Sun Jae explains it’s not as shallow as that. More accurately – his soul has been taken captive by her. Hye Won writes back “soul”? Sun Jae expands the captivity and says it’s his heart and body as well. Hye Won tries to reign him back and ask if this isn’t too over. Sun Jae doesn’t think so and wonders if his hyung has played Schubert’s Fantasie as a duet with a girl before? Hye Won asks if he played with the woman already? Sun Jae did and when she asks how it felt, Sun Jae says “It felt like an orgasm, even if I’m still a virgin so I’m not totally clear about things like this I don’t think even an orgasm could be as powerful as that”
Hye Won flashes back to to her playing the piano with Sun Jae and the rapture they both felt. Sun Jae wonders if a real physical orgasm can even match up to what they felt that day while playing together. He gave his everything to that goddess, does she even know? Well now she does. Hye Won orders him to drink ice water now and then go to sleep. She logs off and looks rather affected. She turns the IPad and checks herself out in the reflective surface.
Joon Hyung is already snoring away in his bed but Hye Won is in the bathroom painting her nails. In the middle of the night before bed. Yeah, I think a hot boy ogling her feet would do that. Hye Won goes to sleep and we see that she and Joon Hyung have separate beds. She tosses and turns and sits up and looks over at Joon Hyung. Then she runs off to the bathroom to remove the freshly applied lacquer.
Chairman Seo is getting dressed and asks Madam Han what his schedule is for today. Lunch plans then afterwards to Chairman Chen’s to listen to him play his musical collection. She’s off to the spa and will meet him afterwards. She picks out a tie for him and then asks if she can get rid of one of the company trusts. He asks what it’s for teasingly and she sasses back that it’s for buying chocolates. That’s going to be some hella expensive chocolates.
A young girl is playing the piano while her teacher stands behind her to provide guidance. She is Jung Yoo Ra and her teacher has her play using just her right hand and then tells her to do it over again.
Joon Hyung walks to the room peers in the window and the teacher comes out to talk with him. He asks how it’s coming along and the teacher says as long as she doesn’t lose her qualification then that’s enough to skate through. Dean Min and President Lee are both needing this girl to get accepted but this teacher is pissed since she’s clearly not qualified. Joon Hyung reminds him that the school needs this type of students, and to accept her presence in exchange for true talent to attend the school. Yoo Ra’s mom arrives bearing gifts and both professors are immediately solicitous of her.
Dean Min briefs Madam Han on the upcoming entrance audition and they’ve arranged it so they can get their talent Lee Sun Jae into the school. Plus their professors will be sitting in of Professor Jo’s students auditions. Madam Han asks if Sun Jae is the real deal and Dean Min pipes up that he is and even he’s shocked at what raw talent Sun Jae is. If the school develops one Sun Jae it’s worth more than taking out 100 commericials. Hye Won is pleased this audition year will have true talent and kids from powerful families, which rather even outs the score. Madam Han tells them to get Sun Jae to their side immediately after the auditions.
Sun Jae and Jang Ho arrive at Seohan University to get Sun Jae’s test badge and hear about the audition process. We see rich girl Yoo Ra sitting close to Sun Jae and Jang Ho notices that she’s decked out head to toe in riches. Da Mi is at work and thinking about Sun Jae’s audition.
Dean Min sits with his professors to talk about the students who are already guaranteed entrance and how to make it look like their audition was aboveboard. Professor Jo doesn’t like it one whit but Joon Hyung points out that he’s not the only one with an educator’s pure heart and dedication. How could he be sure those students won’t be well once they get in.
Yoo Ra is calling her mom to pick her up and Jang Ho keeps trying catch her attention. He tries to converse with her about how her audition is scheduled right after his buddy Sun Jae. He introduces himself as a student in economics and then confirms with Sun Jae that his mentor is Professor Kang Joon Hyung. Yoo Ra isn’t really interested in talking with him. Jang Ho says most playing is of pretty low quality these days and Yoo Ra snarks that she plays at that level as well before getting into her mom’s car. Mom immediately asks if she met Professor Kang?
Sun Jae goes to the arts center and is brought in to a practice room to wait for Hye Won. It’s raining outside so Hye Won walks Madam Han out and declines the spa outing and explains she’s meeting with Sun Jae to get him ready for the audition.
Professor Jo sits and watches the video of Sun Jae playing and calls Hye Won. She teases that he’s clearly interesting in snatching up Sun Jae but he should be happy he already has Ji Min Woo. Professor Jo is tempted by Sun Jae but will not do it out of respect for Hye Won since he can see that she’s the one who is Sun Jae’s mentor and not Joon Hyung. Hye Won says she’s just helping a bit and it reminds her of the past and the world she inhabited. Sun Jae’s earnestly makes her want to help, the way he is desperate for approval from the first true teacher in his life.
Hye Won runs into the security guard escorting Sun Jae and asks if he got nabbed again? The security guard saw Sun Jae pacing back and forth in the security camera feeds and Sun Jae explains that he went to the bathroom and came back to find the door to the practice room locked. Hye Won says the code was written inside the room and Sun Jae looks like a little boy chastened. Hye Won opens the practice room but asks if he ate dinner yet? Sun Jae hasn’t and she berates him for not eating and preparing himself for tomorrow like she told him to. Sun Jae’s head drops and Hye Won sends him off to eat dinner, and eat it slowly, while she waits for him in the practice room.
Sun Jae goes down to the cafeteria and grabs dinner while Hye Won lays down on the sofa and takes a nap. Sun Jae takes his time eating like she ordered and when he gets back to the practice room, he sees Hye Won sleeping and quietly walks in. Sun Jae leans down wanting to take her pumps off but hesitates until he finally leans down and does it. The security guard notices what is happening in the practice room in the CCTV feed and calls Hye Won worried about her. Hye Won answers the phone and assures him that nothing is going on and Sun Jae is a friend who is here to practice.
Poor Sun Jae is facing the wall and looking very nervous. Hye Won asks if he did anything strange, like dancing? The security guard rewinds the video of Sun Jae trying to take Hye Won’s pumps off and chuckles over it. Hye Won gestures to the CCTV cameras and asks if he can’t see it, and doesn’t he remember that when he came last time it was the camera that caught him playing the piano that day. Sun Jae hurries over to the piano to play for her.
Da Mi is apologizing and crying and her boss says she doesn’t have to come to work tomorrow. Turns out she lied that her mom died to get tomorrow off so she could accompany Sun Jae to the audition. She calls Sun Jae but he’s in the middle of playing and doesn’t answer.
Hye Won listens to Sun Jae play and grabs a stick to tap the ground which gets his attention and he stops. She yells at him for being nervous so his pose is wrong right off the bat, leading to his speed getting faster and faster. Sun Jae tells her to hit him then. Hye Won wants him to straighten his back up and he asks if she wants him to strip before she hits him. She stares and asks if he’s jumbling up his ambition and desires and fears all together. He’s going to have to carry all that into the audition so she’ll teach him all she knows and the rest is up to him. He needs to start by slowing down his playing speed.
Sun Jae undoes his belt and then Hye Won inserts the stick into his shirt to keep his back straight. She teaches him breathing methods which is when Joon Hyung comes in. Sun Jae wants to stand up to greet him but Hye Won shoves him down and adjusts his back straight and tells him to play again. Sun Jae plays while Joon Hyung stands by the piano to instruct him.
Practice finishes and Joon Hyung offers to drive Sun Jae home but he says there is a direct bus and runs off. Joon Hyung reminds Sun Jae to play the same way tomorrow. Sun Jae runs home to kick box at the punching bag outside. His mom asks what he’s doing but he’s so embarrassed and frustrated he’s letting off steam this way. Sun Jae goes down to the kitchen where his mom is cooking a meal for him tomorrow. Sun Jae looks for the hand warmer but mom says she threw it away. Sun Jae says she needs to buy another one if she threw the old one away.
Sun Jae flops on the bed and thinks about what Hye Won said and is so frustrated he buries his head in the pillow. Mom walks over asking why he’s ignoring her right now. She worked hard to raise him to adulthood. Sun Jae knows but isn’t in the mood to talk and flops back on the bed.
Joon Hyung and Hye Won discuss having someone pick up Sun Jae but Hye Won worries about traffic so she texts Sun Jae to take the subway. Sun Jae washes up and asks Da Mi where his mom went? Mom ran out to buy a hand warmer but it’s so early all the stores are still closed. She found it finally and is rushing back right now. Sun Jae is on the phone with her and we see Mom running through traffic to get home as soon as possible. Sun Jae tells her to walk slowly and be careful, which is when he suddenly calls out “Mom, Mom?”
The 2014 Soehan University auditions start and number 124 Lee Sun Jae is a no-show when roll call is taken. The audition performances are blind as the pianist plays behind a curtain for the judging panel of professors. Joon Hyung and Professor Jo sit down next to each other. Professor Jo tells Joon Hyung that he’s looking forward to hearing Sun Jae which is when Joon Hyung is informed that Sun Jae is a no-show. Hye Won calls Sun Jae but keeps getting voicemail. She goes to his apartment and finds it empty and locked. The professors skip over number 124 and wonder if Sun Jae is too nervous to come. Professor Jo wonders if some unforeseen thing happened. Dean Min and Madam Han are both informed that Sun Jae missed the audition.
It’s Hye Won’s secretary who finally tracks down Sun Jae and brings Hye Won to the memorial hall. Sun Jae sits inside staring at his mom’s picture as she’s passed away. Hye Won can’t bear to face him right now and hands the condolence money to her secretary to pass on. She passes by Da Mi sobbing outside while Jang Ho keeps her company and notes that this will make Sun Jae’s life so much harder going forward.
Secretary hands Sun Jae their condolences and reveals that Hye Won came as well but is outside. They tell Sun Jae to be strong even though it’s so difficult. Sun Jae watches as his mom’s coffin is cremated and cries and cries.
Sun Jae sells the piano and packs it onto the truck, but the owner nicely offers to sell it back at the same price if he changes his mind. We see Sun Jae in the back of a truck heading down to the countryside. He’s at a school pasting flyers on the billboard and sees a banner for new student auditions. He’s passing out mail in the office when another employee tells Sun Jae to work late for him tonight since he has a gathering to attend. Sun Jae notices an envelope from the Seohan Arts Center addressed to him.
Sun Jae opens the envelope up back in his room that night and it’s a book on Sviatoslav Richter. He flips through it and there are passages underlined already. One is fro his teacher telling him to come back. Because of the word of a teacher, a student went back to school because the teacher said he’s the best student he ever had. Another passage says that a musician can practice anywhere no matter what happens. Sun Jae reads this and cries.
Hye Won arrives at a club and walks into the room right when Young Woo is kissing a young male escort. He leaves and Young Woo tells the manager to bring the rest of the guys in. Young Woo wants to make Hye Won on her side starting with dragging her down into the muck with her. Jang Ho is at this club auditioning as an escort and tells Da Mi he has to go in. Jang Ho walks into the room with the rest of the newbies and faces Young Woo and Hye Won. Hye Won is interested only in her cell which Young Woo confiscates. The guys are introduced and Jang Ho says his name is Justin which Young Woo finds adorable.
Hye Woo tells the guys to leave because she has something to say. When the guys don’t leave, Hye Won smashes a beer bottle and says she’s just this type of noona. Young Woo asks if she’s crazy! When they are alone, Hye Won reminds Young Woo that she believes in toeing the line and won’t cross the line of morality and ethics. She warns Young Woo that if she continues then it will be used against her in the future. Young Woo scoffs that she has plenty of ammunition on her side, such as Teacher Baek’s student getting admitted because anything that woman asks for her husband makes happen.
Hye Won warns Young Woo that before she can even touch that, President Lee and Young Woo’s husband will align against her. Young Woo knows it, and knows they are thousands and tens of thousands of times more vicious than her. Hye Won sighs and tells her to clean this up, there is nothing worth a romance that is paid for. Young Woo knows and she wants love too but she’s so lonely. Does Hye Won know how she feels? Hye Won downs a drink and says this is a sickness and Young Woo needs to cut off her men and go seek some help. Young Woo turns and says she only has Hye Won before passing out.
The hosts carry Young Woo out to her car and she’s drunk and howling for her boy toy. Hye Won watches Young Woo leave and Hye Won tells the guy who was kissing Young Woo that if he doesn’t want anything to happen to him then he needs to not see Young Woo in the coming days and she also suggests he leave this circle. She gets in her car and the driver notices that she’s still alert. Hye Won needs to wait until Young Woo gets home and calls her to make sure all is fine before she’s done with her work for the day. The driver thanks Hye Won for always calling her but Hye Won thanks her back.
The driver parks Hye Won’s car in her garage and gets paid before leaving. Sun Jae has driven a truck back to Seoul to see Hye Won and we see the truck parked outside her home. Hye Won gets out of the car and she’s uncomfortably buzzed. She is closing the garage door when a man’s voice calls out “It’s me.” She asks who and hears back “Sun Jae.”
Hye Won re-opens the garage door and stares in shock as Sun Jae walks in. She looks relieved to see him and notices he’s a bit different, asking if he grew in such a short period of time. Sun Jae isn’t sure either but he probably did. Hye Won asks if he received the book and read through it. Sun Jae read the sections she highlighted. She asks what he thinks? Sun Jae is wavering even though he thought it was over already. Hye Won wants him to waver because it’s too much a waste of his talent to give up the piano.
Sun Jae claims he’s doing well and is here to tell her not to send such items in the future. She knows he’s lying and he easily cops to it. He’s lying because it’s hell no matter what. Hye Won puts her hand on his cheek to comfort him but it makes it worse and Sun Jae asks her not to do this. They stare at each other and then Sun Jae pulls her in for a tight embrace and says “I’m going crazy.”
Hye Won tells him to let go and he lets go only to then pull her in for a ardent passionate kiss. Hye Won struggles but Sun Jae has her head pined. She finally pushes him away and tells him to head inside with her.
Thoughts of Mine:
This drama feels like an art house movie, which is a rarity in K-dramas and perfectly suited for this particular world envisioned. I can’t say Sun Jae’s lower rung society existence, with its mice-infested apartment dwelling and a musical heart nourished by downloading sheet music illegally, is actually all that bad when the alternative he’s being offered is the dirty dealing world of Seohan Music University. You know he’s going to have pay a steep price once he steps foot into its halls, but then again what thing of extraordinary worth comes easy. If Sun Jae wants to become a trained pianist rather than a dabbler, then he’s going to have to take that leap. We say in this episode that he’s paid the first price in the death of his mother. Of course it was an accident, and Sun Jae wasn’t even being a particular whiny or demanding son when he groused about her not buying another hand warmer. It’s just the very thing kids say to parents on a daily basis, except here it became the cause to bring about her abrupt and completely unexpected passing. As a character she’s not particularly ingrained into the storyline so that her death leaves an impression with the viewers, but this devastating event will clearly play a pivotal role for Sun Jae going forward. Now he’s really all alone in the world, a maybe girlfriend and a good buddy is not substitute for a mother. He’s already placed Hye Won on a pedestal, but I think the pulsing connection he has will her may spiral out of control because he no longer has a motherly presence to ground him going forward. He’s on his own and asked to make difficult decisions in a dangerous world. Hye Won will become his only trusted source, a mother substitute, a mentor, and a woman who entrances his soul.
When Sun Jae arrived to get briefed on the audition process, the way his eyes lit up in the bright light of day to see the University made me wish that he was being offered the keys to something beautiful and pure. But we know his talent is being appreciated for what it can bring to the denizens of Seohan, he’s a bargaining chip in the form of raw genius. He’s a raw diamond that everyone views for what the value is after it’s polished, but Hye Won views for how beautiful it already is and what she can do to accentuate the existing beauty even more. Untried and untapped Sun Jae already rocks her world with both musical connection and unbridled appreciation of her as a woman. He calls her a “goddess” and I don’t even blink an eye or think he’s using a manchild’s view of the fairer sex to describe her. In his limited world view, she is everything beautiful and alluring. On top of that, she gets him and that is what makes her transcendent in his eyes. I wasn’t wowed by the kiss because it wasn’t meant to make me feel the stirrings of romance. It wasn’t even passionate, and definitely not reciprocal. It was urgent and propelled by need and pain, and I actually like that they got it out of the way so they can move past the undeniable frisson of interest in each other and deal with Sun Jae’s future. I’m not sure if losing his mom meant that he should just chuck music out the window but I was fine with him stepping away from the edge of the precipice. We all know that dangerous path that awaits him with great glory should he succeed, but he is still so innocent when it comes to the price of music. He’s seasoned to the world as he knows it, the view in as a messenger boy touching all walks of life, but Seohan is it’s own unique beast and so far only Hye Won seems to be both within the fray and above it effortlessly.
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