There is such undeniable quiet beauty in this drama rendering it such a joy to watch. But paired with a story where characters engage in behavior that isn’t acceptable in society increases the difficulty for me to write about it. It’s shallowly dismissive to say that watching Secret Love Affair equals condoning adultery or not watching it means having high moral standards about marital fidelity. Dramas are a form of entertainment and watching it doesn’t require the viewer to subscribe to the subject matter or the viewpoint. The conundrum with SLA is starting to bubble to the surface, which is the drama is not skirting around the very real crossing the line that Hye Won and Sun Jae have done by tumbling into their illicit romance, but then they are the only likable characters in the drama so we don’t want them hurt. When I say hurt I really mean it in the most serious of consequences since adultery in South Korea is actually against the law. That means Joon Hyung can sue Sun Jae for seducing his wife and effectively ruin his future, since a criminal record is pretty much a brand in that status conscious society.
Similarly Hye Won has a long way to fall if her infidelity were discovered, but unlike Sun Jae who is all raw love and innocence and guilelessness, Hye Won is better equipped to fight for her life. But if I were to wish the two of them to get away with it, where does that lead this story? As an viewer we watch in the now and thinking about the end, enjoying the process of watching two people fall in love and thinking about where they will end up after surmounting the obstacles before them. I honestly don’t know where these two will go. Hye Won divorces Joon Hyung and marries Sun Jae and they have a unconventional Autumn/Spring gender reversed marriage where she works in the arts and he’s a famed pianist one day? I really don’t think so, this drama doesn’t promise rainbows and unicorns. I actually think the most practical ending is that the secret love affair ends and becomes an unforgettable memory in each other’s mind. This drama is really so beautiful to watch but also hurts me so much to think about, pushing my own views against wanting two lovely people to be happy but knowing they will have to pay a steep steep price for it.
Episode 9 recap:
Hye Won is waiting and the cab she called pulls up outside Sun Jae’s apartment. Hye Won opens the door to get in which is when Sun Jae steps out on the ledge. She looks up and exchanges a look with him before getting into the cab and it pulls away.
Sun Jae sits in his room and reads her text “I’m going to work now, this is my personal cell so save the number separately. I really like your home even though yesterday when I went in alone I was a little afraid.”
We see Hye Won holding an umbrella under the misty rain slowly walking up the steps to his apartment. Her text continues “It’s steep and dangerous, plus it’s raining so it’s also slippery. Every step I climb I wonder whether I should go back.” Hye Won hesitates but still continues. “At that moment I thought to myself that it doesn’t matter if I slip and fall and break my leg. I’ll just tell a lie to others. Thinking that, I carefully climbed all the way up.”
Hye Won navigates the tiny steep steps and arrives at his floor. “I navigated those steps and walked through the dark narrow hallway. Thinking that if I passed here I would be going into your home and that made me happy.” Hye Won almost trips and moves something aside on the ground before arriving at Sun Jae’s door. She opens it and walks inside the dark room.
Hey Won turns on the lights. “After I turned on the lights I almost cried. This is home. This is what a home ought to be like. I am usually standing, and sometimes have to sleep in my high heels. But in that moment I felt like this place is free for me. I even said a thanks to your mom and then I comfortably walked in. But I knew this could not be revealed to anyone, so I started tiptoeing. Even though I’m someone who lies all day, I can’t be like that to you as well, right? I need to be careful so I became childish. I also want you to be careful, but is that thought also childish?”
Sun Jae reads this and wipes his tears away. Hye Won continues “I found ramyun so I ate it, but was afraid the sound was too loud to wake you so I ate it up on the roof. I haven’t eaten anything that tasty in a long time. I remembered what you said about practicing until your joints almost tore off to reach a state of utmost bliss. To give the greatest love. I finally genuinely understood what that means. I live my life very strangely so I don’t dare say I love your home or I love you. But I will try to learn from you.”
“So Sun Jae, the Sun Jae who doesn’t really know German or English but is so very intelligent, in this world this is called adultery. It is something that can harm you, and it is a crime. You need to have the wisdom to protect yourself and keep yourself safe. Let me handle all the ugly matters. That is my specialty. Now brush off those goosebumps and have some breakfast.” Sun Jae can barely hold it together as he finishes reading that lengthy text. Hye Won puts on her makeup in the back of the cab, seemingly an old hand the way she is so good at it, but that’s because she’s good at everything that is for show. She pauses and actually seems distraught.
Joon Hyung gets dressed in the morning and takes note of Hye Won’s bed that is already made. He hears from the housekeeper that Hye Won is having breakfast at the Chairman’s residence with that demon family. He casually asks if she saw Hye Won leave and the housekeeper did, Hye Won apologized for disturbing her so early in the morning as she left the house. Joon Hyung says nothing and sips his coffee.
Hye Won rushes into the kitchen to help make breakfast. Her friend who is Madam Han’s secretary asks if she slept at her maiden home last night? Hye Won says no since it’s only her brother-in-law there. Secretary points out Hye Won is wearing the same outfit as yesterday so Hye Won quickly makes the excuse that she wasn’t paying attention and put on the same outfit. Jeez, that is a weaksauce cover, girl.
Hye Won and the Secretary wait for the Chairman and Madam Han to come down before sitting down to dine. Madam Han shows off her spanking new bauble ring that is a gift from the Chairman. Discussion turns to Young Woo’s clothing company and how it will likely take a few months to get on track. The Chairman just wants Young Woo to work hard and take it seriously but Madam Han snarks that working hard is not Young Woo’s style. Talk turns to how Hye Won is being over-extended on all sides and the Chairman worries that she’ll get overworked. Hye Won thanks him for the concern but will handle it for now until the project gets on track.
Sun Jae goes to replace the broken light bulbs in the stairwell and then spray cleans the entire area with a hose, all to make Hye Won’s future trips easier. He gets ready to go to class when he picks up a book on Western musical history and remembers Joon Hyung mentioning how he’s weak in that discipline and needs to learn it as well to add to his piano playing range and understanding. Sun Jae puts that book away and goes to search the internet for “adultery”.
Madam Han is in the same car as Hye Won and her Secretary headed somewhere. Hye Won reports to Madam Han that she already told the Chairman to accept foreign investment into Young Woo’s new company, said foreign investment to secretly come from the overseas company she set up for Madam Han registered in Singapore. Madam Han is assured and compliments Hye Won for being so truthful with her. Hye Won thinks its normal to doubt others. Madam Han looks at the investment amount and then pinches Hye Won’s thigh with a smile warning to keep her updated on this.
Madam Han suddenly brings up Lee Sun Jae and wants to have him get double eye lid surgery before the upcoming showcase. Hye Won is aghast and says Sun Jae’s eyes are very pretty and it’s an Asian type of pretty which the Westerners like. The Secretary sitting in the front passenger seat visibly has an odd look as Hye Won is jabbering on about how Sun Jae doesn’t need the surgery. She ends with him needing to focus on practicing right now. Madam Han merely smiles.
Da Mi gets a text from Jung Ho about how Hye Won is well-known in the musical world and frequents the beauty salon. Da Mi clicks on the article he sent with the text and sees a picture of Hye Won.
Madam Han is dropped off at the beauty salon and she invites Hye Won to get her hair done as well but Hye Won declines because she has other matters to tend to. Madam Han walks into Da Mi’s room to get her hair washed. She first makes a call to Dean Min ordering that Lee Sun Jae be handled solely by Oh Hye Won rather than have him go between her and Kang Joon Hyung. Chemistry is as important as talent. Da Mi washes Madam Han’s hair and gets complimented for having very strong hands. She wonders why she never saw Da Mi before and hears that she was recently moved to this room.
Sun Jae stands outside Joon Hyung’s office and hesitates repeatedly but then Joon Hyung comes back and tells him to come on in.
Dean Min is watching Sun Jae’s audition performance when Joon Hyung arrives. Dean Min compliments Sun Jae as very talented and even better is that he’s unique in his style. He compares Sun Jae to Jackson Pollack were Sun Jae a painter. Joon Hyung agrees and says Sun Jae has a very keen sensation. Director Min asks about personality and looks and Joon Hyung assures him Sun Jae is very polite and handsome.
Dean Min brings up whether Sun Jae is getting training now and hears Joon Hyung is alternating with Hye Won. Dean MIn suggests having Hye Won solely hand Sun Jae’s training. Dean Min claims this is all his ideas and gives the reason being he doesn’t want Joon Hyung to focus too much on one student plus he feels Sun Jae’s playing style reminds him of Hye Won when she was just getting good. In that respect, Dean Min feels Sun Jae is more compatible to be taught by Hye Won.
Joon Hyung doesn’t think this is Dean Min’s “suggestion” and Director Min admits Joon Hyung can ignore him and do as he wishes but then he needs to deal with the consequences. He assures Joon Hyung that he can drop in on the rehearsals from time to time and treat this as a couple’s project still. Dean Min teases that Joon Hyung might be thinking of other thoughts such as a prohibited romance. Joon Hyung quickly says that isn’t it.
Sun Jae waits for Joon Hyung to come back and he asks how the practice went with Hye Won yesterday. Sun Jae says it didn’t go well since it was the first. Joon Hyung brings up having Hye Won solely teach him so that he can focus on the upcoming performance showcase. Sun Jae has to restrain his happiness and thanks him before quickly leaving.
Hye Won arrives at work and plugs in her second phone. She then heads to see Madam Han’s secretary who says “you have to raise another child”. Hye Won grouses that one Kang Joon Hyung is enough and hears the bombshell news that Sun Jae is now full her teaching responsibility and Joon Hyung is out now.
Hye Won meets with Madam Han and tries to decline this task saying she’s not suitable for it. Madam Han thinks she is and so does Director Min, so Hye Won needs to just act like she’s helping Young Woo while Madam Han will also lower the workload she gives Hye Won. She wants Hye Won to focus on developing Sun Jae since everyone has such high hopes pinned on him. Hye Won accepts the task and walks out with Madam Han staring at her. After she steps out the door, she visibly sighs and her Secretary friend notices it.
Hye Won goes back to her office and shares her worry with her secretary that Sun Jae needs a string accompaniment for his score. She’s hidden her secret phone between two newspapers and pulls it out to see a text from Sun Jae “I’m heading over now.”
Sun Jae arrives at the music room where Hye Won is waiting for him in front of the piano. He asks if she’s doing well and she says “fine.” She asks if he came from school while he points out she didn’t go home yet with the same clothes on. Hye Won laughs that she’s worried about seeing Joon Hyung and whether he’ll bring up the staying out all night. Sun Jae is happy he gets to see her everyday now and she asks if Joon Hyung was mad. Sun Jae left before he got mad but he made a mistake and said “thank you” to Joon Hyung on his way out. Hye Won gapes at him.
Hye Won reminds him that there is a security camera in the practice room so they need to keep their distance from each other. Sun Jae suddenly darts outside and goes to the guard room to ask him to turn off the camera in practice room 3 because it distracts him from his practice. The guard says the other practice rooms have it on and no one minds, explaining that this is to prevent theft. Sun Jae refuses to leave so the guard calls to speak with management and is patched through to Madam Han. She hears that Sun Jae went to specifically request the security camera turned off. She thinks he’s got quite a personality and agrees to it.
Hye Won is surprised Sun Jae went to do that and pulled it off. Sun Jae can’t fight with those dirty things on her behalf so he can only do what is within his power. Hye Won notes that he was touched by her love note. Sun Jae confesses it was like an earthquake in his brain and asks if she just confessed her life to him? Hye Won tosses a pillow at him and chuckled but he warns her not to shake him otherwise he might erupt. Hye Won wants to hear what he’s thinking.
Sun Jae knows he can’t hug her in public even without cameras because that’s adultery. Hye Won starts laughing so hard her stomach hurts, what with talk going from confessions to adultery. Sun Jae knows she’s laughing at him. Hye Won says there is more, she can’t even buy him nice clothes otherwise people will say she’s buying herself a boy toy. They sit there in awkward silence for a few moments until Sun Jae remembers something and pulls out a little bottle Hye Won left at his place. She asks if there is any problem leaving it there. Sun Jae darts over to take it back but Hye Won says he needs to start practice.
Sun Jae brings up a book he read that he thought was on music but it turned about to be about a girl who lives with a guy before they are married. Hye Won cuts him off and directs him to practice. She can’t play accompaniment for him every time but she brought something pre-recorded that can be alternated with her playing. He finds out Hye Won played it when she was around Sun Jae’s ago, it was a present for Professor Jo when he was practicing for the national competition. Sun Jae hears that she’s close with Professor Jo and his wife.
Hye Won tells him to practice today using it and she’s off. Sun Jae asks if she’s going home and Hye Won murmurs “yes.” Sun Jae plugs the Hye Won recording in and listens to her play with a smile on his face. He then plugs in headphones to listen.
Hye Won calls Joon Hyung to invite him home for dinner. He wonders why she’s in such a good mood and hears she’s trying to improve their interactions. Hye Won cooks with the housekeeper who is happy for this rare occasion to cook together. Hye Won feels like she needs to add some life in the air to make it feel like people actually live in this house. Hye Won checks with Joon Hyung on which wine to open and then they sit down for dinner.
Talk turns to what happened today, with Hye Won assuring Joon Hyung that Madam Han takes interest in him. Joon Hyung wants to know if Sun Jae said anything? Hye Won says Sun Jae is happy that Joon Hyung will be checking in on him from time to time. Joon Hyung finishes his glass and pours himself the rest of the bottle. Hye Won asks if he wants another but he declines.
Sun Jae is home practicing with earphones on playing Hye Won’s recorded accompaniment.
Hye Won is getting ready for bed when she notices Joon Hyung’s prescription bottle. She heads down to her office to call their mutual doctor and ask if his prescription strength has changed recently? He used to have the same prescription as her. She finds out that Joon Hyung has the same problem as her which makes her laugh since she didn’t know men could have it as well. She promises the doctor she’ll be by in a few days for a visit.
Hye Won turns on her IPad and gets to work on scrolling with the endless accounts she’s managing for the Seo family. Her phone buzzes and she first picks up her work phone only to then turn to her personal phone.
Sun Jae is waiting near Hye Won’s house and smiles when she walks up. She warns him that this is breaking the rules but puts on the helmet he offers her and gets on the bike behind him. Sun Jae is all smiles as he rides his bike through Seoul with Hye Won behind him. She tells him “let’s go to your house” and he happily agrees.
Hye Won and Sun Jae walk into the dark apartment and there is a moment of silent awkwardness as Hye Won takes her scarf off. Then Sun Jae walks forward and kisses her before pulling her into his bed alcove.
Sun Jae and Hye Won sit on the roof, he’s holding her as she nestles in his arms. He wonders what she’s thinking and she’s thinking about habits. He assumes she’s worried he’ll get used to her but she’s thinking the opposite.
Suddenly Jung Jo calls out “Sun Jae!” which leaves the two lovebirds scrambling. Hye Won tells him to go down and handle it and he’s dead if they are discovered, reminding him to hide even her shoes. Sun Jae heads down and quickly hides everything before opening the door for Jung Ho and Da Mi. We see Hye Won hiding under a tarp when suddenly she freaks out before there are fighting cars. Jung Ho goes up on the roof to shoe them away while Hye Won crouches to stay hidden.
Sun Jae gets serious and tells Da Mi that he has never seen her as a woman. Da Mi’s face turns upset while Jung Ho looks awkward. Da Mi knows it but she’ll still be pissed if Sun Jae has another woman. She knows Sun Jae has never done anything untoward to her and it’s all been her one-sided feelings. It was because of Sun Jae that she left the girl gang. She knows how hard it is to meet someone who changes a person.
Even if she used her entire life to repay Sun Jae it’s not enough, he is her everything. So she decided to like him. Sun Jae thanks her for helping him in school but it’s enough now and she can stop. If she continues it’ll be hard on their friendship, Jung Ho and Da Mi are his only two friends and he can’t lose them. Da Mi smiles and says she understands which is a relief and surprise to Jung Jo that they reached an understanding just like that.
Sun Jae rushes up to the roof to look for Hye Won after the coast is clear and finds her hiding underneath a tarp filled with junk. He notices she’s all messy and takes her hand to lead her back. Hye Won is washing up in the bathroom while Sun Jae takes her shoes out and puts it down ready for her to slip into. He marvels at how this is what it feels like to be almost discovered. Hye Won scoffs and says this is just a little rain but now the gates to Hell are opened. She sees him staring earnestly at her and tells him to close the bathroom door so she can use the bathroom. He closes it and assures her adorably that he won’t listen. Hye Won asks him to call her a cab using her cell phone. Sun Jae grabs her purse and takes out her cell.
Hye Won arrives at work the next morning and finds out from her secretary that Young Woo is looking for her and waiting for her at the beauty salon to deliver the accounts. Hye Won realizes that she left her work cell with Sun Jae but luckily he’s in the practice room and can hand it back to her in time. Hye Won’s secretary notes how weird she’s getting lately.
Sun Jae practices the piano.
Hye Won reports to Young Woo about the infusion of capital into her new apparel company and how money will be coming in from an overseas company in Singapore. Young Woo asks who owns that company and Hye Won brushes it aside as stockholders and then tells Young Woo to ask the Chairman for more money if she needs it. Young Woo threatens to cut off Hye Won’s precious student Sun Jae but Hye Won informs her that Sun Jae’s scholarship money has been pre-approved for all four years. Young Woo wants Hye Won to get plane tickets to the fashion capitals of Europe for her and her boy toy. Young Woo warns Hye Won not to let her catch the secret funds she’s managing for Madam Han.
After Young Woo leaves, Da Mi stops Hye Won to thank her. She has learned that Hye Won is the wife to Professor Kang Joon Hyung and also works for the Seohan Arts Center. Hye Won sputters a little and asks how Da Mi knows who she is? Da Mi introduces herself as Sun Jae’s girlfriend and bows in thanks to Hye Won before walking away.
Thoughts of Mine:
I think it was easier to simply absorb the beauty of SLA in acting, directing, and character interplay when it was just the unexpected connection of two souls in Hye Won and Sun Jae. But once they actually cross the line and engage in the affair, it becomes harder to ignore the ramifications of what they are doing both in the dramatic narrative (vis-a-vis the other characters) as well as in the real life ethics of our own opinions and perceptions. I’ve grown to like Hye Won and love Sun Jae, and the drama shows us that she’s in a loveless marriage while he simple means well without any strings attached. That means I’m starting to get more and more worried about the fall out of their affair as it’s clearly people are starting to notice odd behavior from Hye Won as well as Sun Jae taking risks like asking the guard to turn off the security camera recording.
Joon Hyung is not a husband we want for Hye Won, but he’s still her husband under the law. Unless we see that she was forced into that marriage, it’s clearly a show she made and had been living with for god knows how many years. Ten? Fifteen? The story not giving them children takes away one big potential victim in the love affair fall out, namely the innocent children, but that still leaves the union Hye Won chose teetering at the brink of her emotional awakening. Do I think she ought to divorce Joon Hyung before starting with Sun Jae? Of course I do, no one can have an opinion otherwise that isn’t an excuse for adultery. She loves Sun Jae? Fine, then end her current commitment to her useless whiny husband and go for it with the boy who is serving his heart on a platter to her. But of course she can’t and we see the layers and layers she’s got resting on her shoulders. The precarious balance could topple with one misstep.
Hye Won is a wonderfully written character because she’s not meant to be wholly sympathetic. She lies like the best of them (doesn’t even blink an eyelash) and it’s clear she’s willingly chosen her current lot in life so that she can stay in the world of music. Choice is such an important factor in life and K-dramas tend to idealize characters as black or white by claiming someone was forced into a situation. Hye Won is a lovely shade of gray, so nuance that she doesn’t even realize who she is inside and what she desires until Sun Jae awakens that in her. She can appreciate the beauty in the simple unadorned life living in a top level ramshackle apartment eating ramyun.
But can she afford to throw it all away for that kind of happiness? She has twenty years of life experience ahead of Sun Jae, a boy so young and inexperienced he actually needs to look up what adultery entails. It hurts that he just wants to love her but everything about her from her married status to her jaded self-control to her immense pressure filled life screams “this will not end well.” I honestly want them to just be music piano teacher-student for now until they can be together, after Hye Won is divorced and Sun Jae an established pianist. That is when they have some control in their own lives, because right now all that sneaking around is so disconcerting to watch because I expect the other shoe to drop at anytime.
Click here to watch Secret Love Affair.