There are so many recently premiered K-dramas I’m watching right now but none have ignited the urge to recap until today when it was love at first sight with tvN‘s My Secret Hotel. I found the drama stylish and quirky, lovely to look at and with an interesting story to boot. The two leads in Yoo In Na and Jin Yi Han are rock stars right off the bat with their chemistry and how each seamlessly nails their respective characters. The divorced couple get back together trope is so stale at this point in K-dramaland it’s easy to trip over the carcass of one left and right. It’s still a bizarrely improbably concept that rarely happens in real life but if you strip away the marriage-divorce and just take it as a couple who had a really bad break up and haven’t gotten over each other then it becomes much easier to stomach.
The delightful previews for MSH actually delivered in the real deal as the first episode hooked me with the cold open that lands us right at the commencement of leading man Hae Young’s upcoming second wedding which was planned by his ex-wife Sang Hyo. She’s professional and emotionally real, the type of leading lady I can root for because she’s not written to be extreme in her personality or thought process. I spent all of episode 1 already dying to know what exactly went wrong with the shotgun marriage between Hae Young and Sang Hyo, not to mention why she’s suddenly back in Korea and he’s marrying a total spoiled diva child when everything seems to be going swimmingly for him. Folks who watched jTBC‘s Secret Love Affair will find many of the interior scenes in MSH very familiar but this drama skews towards the macabre bubbly with a side of melancholy. I loved every minute of this first episode and couldn’t wait to start writing about it!
Episode 1 recap:
The drama opens on The Secret Hotel in metropolitan Seoul. Hotel event wedding manager Nam Sang Hyo confidently strides through the hotel, pausing to check her reflection and fix her name tag, before entering the kitchen to remind her flamboyant head chef Andre Hong that the meal must be perfect with over 1000 guests expected. Andre is confident he’ll deliver and barks orders at his staff while Sang Hyo walks by the main hall and immediately notices that the received flowers should be placed not in the order of arrival but coordinated by complementary design. Her staffer Gyung Hee immediately sets about fixing the flowers according to Sang Hyo’s suggestion.
Sang Hyo enters the main ballroom where the final preparations are underway for the upcoming lavish wedding. Sang Hyo looks around and mentally checks off each item as ready. She wonders where the ice sculpture is and finds it unfinished in the stairwell and hears that the hotel ice sculpter Manager Hwang is currently MIA. Sang Hyo orders him found and brought back to the hotel otherwise he’s fired.
The guests enter the ballroom and one particular elderly gentleman notices there are red splatter dots on the glass partition in the ceiling. He looks up perplexed. Outside in the hallway a wedding guest is making a ruckus over her purse allegedly getting stolen and demands the cops be called and the thief apprehended. Sang Hyo tries to calm her down and finds out that she’s the bride’s aunt, reminding auntie that she would be ruining her niece’s wedding by calling the cops now. Auntie is all smiles and agrees to wait until after the ceremony to call the cops.
Hotel employee Heo Young Mi rushes up to inform Sang Hyo that a problem has arisen and it’s surprisingly not the bride but is instead the groom. The groom Gu Hae Young lounges in the waiting room looking totally hung over and/or reluctant. Sang Hyo brings him tea that she claims can help revive and calm him down. Hae Young sniffs the tea and mutters that he’s just hung over and isn’t nervous or excited in the least.
Sang Hyo tries to remain professional while Hae Young decides to bring up how this different this wedding is, planned to the T by Sang Hyo and not some impromptu ceremony to get married. Sang Hyo looks Hae Young in the eye and says she tried her best in planning the wedding. Before Hae Young can say anything he’s called out as the wedding is about to get underway.
Hotel staffer Jang Gi Chul is trying but still can’t reach the ice sculpter. All the guests are asked to sit down as the wedding is about to start and the old gentleman grows more and more alarmed as the red dots increase in the glass above. Hae Young walks into the ballroom and looks at Sang Hyo intently one last time before striding down the aisle. Sang Hyo thinks to herself that it’s finally the end for them.
Hae Young walks down the aisle and doesn’t look happy in the least. He pauses right before reaching the stage and looks down to see a drop of red land at the tip of his shoe. The glass above shatters and a body falls through and lands right in front of Hae Young. All the guests scream and run out of the ballroom while Hae Young stands there. Only Sang Hyo runs the other way towards Hae Young. They stare in horror at the dead body and then turn to stare at each other.
Flashback to two weeks ago and the hotel management is in a meeting to discuss the problem with their low occupancy rate hovering around 60%. Turns out there is a rumor that getting married in The Secret Hotel leads to the newlywed couple divorcing within three months so the decreased in events has led to a lull in guests General Manager Jo Sung Gyum tells his team to find a way to counter the rumor and get their hotel occupancy back up once it starts holding more weddings.
All eyes turn to wedding coordinator Nam Sang Hyo who confirms that a study done of the couples who married at the hotel in the last year reveal a 27% divorce rate within the year. This study was supposedly conducted confidentially so Sang Hyo doesn’t know how the rumor could have gotten started. Sung Gyum tosses the morning paper at her with the headline about The Secret Hotel’s wedding curse, the very secret report she claimed was confidential. This all started because she did the study but the general affairs manager backs Sang Hyo who recently took over the wedding department three months ago so doing a study to understand her job is to be expected. Sung Gyum ends the meeting with an abrupt statement that he’ll be watching how Sang Hyo cleans up the mess. PR manager Yeo Eun Joo finds his attitude totally sexy since he’s basically chewing out her rival Sang Hyo.
Hae Young is at a team meeting with his architectural firm employees and everyone is waiting for his feedback while he nonchalantly plays with video games on his phone. He derides all the offered designs as suitable for dog hovels or copied from others hence his disinterest. He warns his frustrated team to not leave the job until they come up with a good design. A woman jogs her way to Hae Young’s office and barges into the team meeting to confront him about his wedding invitation that she just received. She claims he has to take responsibility for her which makes Hae Young spit out his drink.
Hae Young sits with the woman while his team eavesdrops for the juicy gossip. Hae Young asks the woman why he needs to take responsibility for her and she stammers until finally claiming that he was so sexy and wonderful that she fell for him. That’s why he needs to take responsibility for her. Hae Young’s team is disappointed it wasn’t some pregnancy scandal and instead something so lame. Hae Young sniggers and admit he wronged her but then he also needs to take responsibility for many women who fell for him. He orders her to leave but she refuses since she’s liked him for 8 years.
Hae Young freaks out when she brings up “that woman in Las Vegas” eight years ago and why he didn’t pick her since he really like her? Hae Young shoves her out of his office and locks his door on her. After she leaves Hae Young wonders why something so long ago was brought up? He then wonders how “she” would react if she learned he was getting married? Probably like a hopping mad rabbit. If he knew how to find her then he would definitely mail her a wedding invitation just to see her reaction.
Sang Hyo is in the CCTV room going through surveillance footage trying to find a purse thief. Turns out that at each wedding in recent months there will always be one or two people who claimed to have gotten their purse stolen. Sang Hyo is called away to meet with Sung Gyum who asks if she’s upset that he called her out at the meeting? He did it to make sure people know that he is fair and harsh with his discipline, especially with subordinates that he considers on his side. Sang Hyo is surprised to hear that and Sung Gyum assigns her the task to find out how the confidential wedding survey got leaked.
Sang Hyo suggests that Sung Gyum to try not to make it so obvious that he doesn’t get along with the general affairs manager. Sung Gyum wonders if it’s that obvious and suggests dinner with Sang Hyo tonight to discuss it if she wants to offer him such advice. Sang Hyo is shocked but leaves quite giddy to get asked out.
Sang Hyo returns to her office to find her her colleague Gyung Hee taking another call from a wedding client who wants to cancel the upcoming wedding and is fine paying the penalty. PR manager Eun Joo comes by to announce that she wants to do a promo showcasing a couple who will be holding their wedding at the hotel. Sang Hyo suggests getting a top 1% couple getting married at their hotel rather than a top celebrity where all the focus will be on the famous couple. Gyung Hee suggests the daughter of a beauty maven who is marrying a Harvard-educated overseas type and the trio deemed this pair perfect for the publicity. They know the daughter is pretty but no one has seen the groom before.
Eun Joo is perfectly timing her presence around the elevators to try and run into Sung Gyum and gets really excited when she spots him walking up. She then feigns perfect timing before getting into the elevator with him. Eun Joo makes small talk about how working and living in a hotel makes it hard to feel like one is getting off work. Sung Gyum says he goes out to eat to consider it leaving work and Eun Joo tries to maneuver a dinner date with him. Sung Gyum explains he has a previous engagement and the door opens to show a smiling Sang Hyo waiting for him. Eun Joo stares at Sung Gyum and Sang Hyo walk off, with Sang Hyo relishing the moment as she pauses to make a big deal about brushing imaginary lint off his jacket. Sang Hyo makes an eating victory gesture to Eun Joo while the receptionists change their bet on which of the two ladies will come out on top.
During dinner Sung Gyum thanks Sang Hyo for her earlier advice and plans to take it to heart. He asks if she’s been married before since her English name is Samantha Richardson? Sang Hyo explains she was raised in the US which leads to Sung Gyum wondering why she quit a high ranking hotel event planning director job in the US to come back to Korea? Sang Hyo claims she just wanted a change and asks why Sung Gyum came to the hotel since it was rumored he was a high powered recruit. Sung Gyum claims to have his own reasons.
Sung Gyum solicits Sang Hyo’s opinion about the meal here and explains he brought her to try out this chef’s cuisine as he’s thinking of recruiting the chef. He wonders if Sang Hyo thought they were on a date and she quickly says no.
Sang Hyo goes to the her boss Manager Lee to ask for Manager Hwang to be fired since he’s impossible to work with. Manager Lee won’t fire him but promises to move him elsewhere.
Young Mi pops by to ask how Sang Hyo’s dinner with Sung Gyum was last time and warns her that someone is pretty pissed. Eun Joo walks over to call Sang Hyo to join her to meet with the bride-to-be. Both of them make a quick prayer that everything will work out for their hotel.
Bride-to-be Jung Soo Ah laughs about the two hotel managers wondering about her future groom and promises that he’s handsome, smart, and tall. Hae Young walks into the meeting and Sang Hyo’s eyes widen and she quickly ducks under the table. She composes herself before standing up to offer a smile and handshake to Hae Young. He’s dumbstruck but gets himself together to shake her hand back while thinking back at how he was just wondering what Sang Hyo’s reaction would be if she knew he was getting married.
Hae Young lays on the sofa sleepless and wondering why Sang Hyo’s reaction to his upcoming marriage wasn’t shock. He downs his beer and cuts himself on the can in frustration. On Sang Hyo’s end, she’s sleepless in bed as well but bitching out Hae Young. She thinks he must be feeling bad about having her plan his wedding and continues to toss and turn in bed.
Sang Hyo is doodling in her notebook at work when Gyung Hee hands her the file on Hae Young and Soo Ah’s wedding. Sang Hyo suggests working on another couple and mutters that if he had a heart he would change the wedding location. Gyung Hee is confused so Sang Hyo claims her intuition tells her this couple will cancel the wedding. That is exactly what is happening as Hae Young informs Soo Ah to change the wedding venue. Soo Ah doesn’t know why since the venue is top notch and the staff is very capable. Hae Young retorts to a confused Soo Ah that the woman isn’t capable at all and she looks very stubborn to boot. Soo Ah refuses since the invitation has been mailed and sticks her tongue out at Hae Young.
Soo Ah informs Sang Hyo the wedding is on and the interview can go ahead. Sang Hyo can’t believe the groom is okay with it since he didn’t appear to like the hotel but Soo Ah laughs that her oppa will do whatever she wants.
Sang Hyo storms back to her office and pulls off the binder containing the contact information of the wedding couples while muttering about Hae Young being such a heartless bastard. She calls Hae Young out to meet. Sang Hyo enters the coffee shop where Hae Young asks why she wanted to meet but keeps his head down to play with his phone game. Sang Hyo snatches his phone away and hands him a list of venues that he can book a wedding within the next two weeks. Hae Young flips through the list and tosses it aside to ask when Sang Hyo came back to Korea and why she can’t even greet him properly.
Sang Hyo tries to keep calm and tells him to promise her that he’ll change the venue. Hae Young finally laughs and she doesn’t see anything funny about this. Hae Young does, he can’t believe this is how they meet again after 7 years. He doesn’t see anything wrong with her planning his wedding since no one knows they were once married. That marriage was a joke anyway, with an impromptu wedding and a newlywed life that was a nightmare. Sang Hyo looks hurt and tears come as she hears him talk about this past this way. Hae Young stops joking while Sang Hyo tells him there is no need to discuss their past in those terms. She leaves while Hae Young scratches his head and wonders if he really hurt her by saying that?
Sang Hyo sits alone at the bar thinking back to what Hae Young said that their married life was a nightmare. She downs a drink and hears her name called. Sung Gyum sits down and asks if she’s a frequent customer here? Sang Hyo admits she is and so is Eun Joo and then asks Sung Gyum why he is purposely flirting with her and making their working relationship murky. Sung Gyum claims he’s not and Sang Hyo changes the subject to how she doesn’t like weddings yet finds herself planning weddings for others. Sung Gyum asks if this is the lament of an old maid but Sang Hyo just cries and downs her shots. Sung Gyum quietly keeps her company.
Eun Joo is all dressed up and arrives at the bar excited to have been called out by Sung Gyum. Her excitement evaporates when he explains that Sang Hyo is passed out drunk and he doesn’t want to take her back to the hotel lest others misunderstand. Sung Gyum and Eun Joo cart Sang Hyo back to the hotel together. Eun Joo goes to get a hotel key while some employees gather to watch the show in the lobby.
Sang Hyo perks up and claims she’s totally fine now but she’s still drunk out of her mind. She falls into Sung Gyum’s arms and then cups his cheeks for being so nice. She asks him to marry her and everyone staring gasps in shock. A pissed off Eun Joo screams at the other employees to get the room ready and carry Sang Hyo off. Sung Gyum brushes off the marriage proposal as Sang Hyo being drunk but she tries to dance for him to show that she’s not drunk and then asks him again to marry her.
Sang Hyo declares that she’s going to get married, she’s going to get married first if even a day earlier! Sung Gyum just stares in amusement and says nothing. Eun Joo rushes to drag Sang Hyo off but she sits down and refuses to leave until she hears Sung Gyum’s response to her proposal. Does he want to marry her or not? Sung Gyum stares at drunk Sang Hyo and just smiles and Sang Hyo takes his smile as agreement. Sung Gyum stares at her and then says sure, let’s get married. A shocked Eun Joo drops her things on the ground while Sang Hyo falls into his arms and thanks him for marrying her.
A hungover Sang Hyo wakes up the next morning trying to figure out what happened last night. She gets ready for work and fixes herself up in the elevator mirror. She steps out of the elevator to find Gi Chul welcoming her with loud applause for go brazenly proposing to Director Jo Sung Gyum last night. Sang Hyo finally remembers last night’s drunken proposal and claps her hand over her mouth in mortification. She staggers off and bangs her head against the marble pillars wishing to go die while screaming at Gi Chul to get lost.
Sang Hyo then encounters a furious Eun Joo and tries to run the other way only to run right into Sung Gyum. Her attempt to escape fails as he calls out to her. Sang Hyo sits in the hotel garden just kicking her heels while waiting for whatever Sung Gyum has to say. He asks if she can work today after drinking so much last night? Sang Hyo tries to feign ignorance about last night so Sung Gyum smiles and asks if she doesn’t remember proposing to him last night.
Sung Gyum can’t believe she doesn’t remember asking him to marry her, or that she kissed him. Sang Hyo tells him that she proposed but there was no kiss so he can’t make things up. Sung Gyum wonders when they’ll get married and Sang Hyo apologizes for last night and says it’ll never happen again. Sung Gyum teases his disappointment since he thought it was for real and tells her to not drink so much again. He walks off and a furious Sang Hyo blames it all on Hae Young.
Hae Young keeps mulling over how he made Sang Hyo cry by joking about their nightmarish married life. He calls Soo Ah to announce that the wedding venue must be changed.
Sang Hyo returns to her office to find Manager Hwang there sharpening his ice pick and chews him out for finally showing up at work. He points his ice pick at her and asks if she caused the mess of proposing to Sang Gyum because he wasn’t around to keep her in line. Sang Hyo screams at him to keep that ice pick away from her and he snarks back that he’ll never hurt her with this. As he’s walking out he tells her that Gu Hae Young just called to call off the wedding at the hotel and is coming by soon to sign the cancellation papers. Sang Hyo mutters to herself that Gu Hae Young at least has a shred of decency.
Manager Hwang is carving an ice sculpture when the General Manager comes by to chide Manager Hwang for not watching out for Sang Hyo at work and pissing her off so she wants him fired. Manager Hwang doesn’t care and wonders how Sang Hyo will react if she knew who both of them really are. Manager Hwang turns and cackles maniacally.
The hotel staff is still gossiping about yesterday’s drunken marriage proposal in the lobby. A jealous Young Mi asks when Sang Hyo wanted to get married and hears she asked Sung Gyum to marry her as quickly as possible. One staffer heard that the heiress just cancelled her wedding at the hotel so that date can be given to Sang Hyo and Sung Gyum. They walk away and we see Hae Young has overhead this whole conversation.
Sang Hyo happily greets Hae Young and hands him the cancellation contract. Gyung Hee tries to ask Hae Young to reconsider but Sang Hyo screeches at her before switching to a soft voice that this decision must be respected. Sang Hyo places the contract before Hae Young who thinks to himself “So you proposed? You’re getting married?” and keeps staring at Sang Hyo.
He picks up the cancellation contract and informs Sang Hyo that she heard wrong because he’s not cancelling the wedding here. He tears up the contract and asks Sang Hyo to take good care in planning his wedding. Sang Hyo angrily glares at him.
Thoughts of Mine:
I’m pinching myself that there is a new drama that actually gets my recapping urge all revved. I’m watching plenty of current airing shows, many of which are quite entertaining, but recapping needs more than the urge to talk about a few developments here and there. I’ve got to want to be all in and My Secret Hotel flips that switch for me mostly due to the OTP. Yoo In Na is hit and miss for me but she’s as wonderful here as she was charming in Queen In Hyun’s Man. Nam Sang Hyo is eminently rootable, professional without being cold, capable without being robotic, and emotionally offbeat enough that I’m not always certain how she’ll react in any given situation. In short she feels lively and sparks onscreen so it’s a pleasure spending time with her. The first episode doesn’t reveal too much about the world of The Secret Hotel but just enough to whet my appetite. Sang Hyo’s rivalry with Eun Joo is nice balanced so isn’t too bitchy and both ladies are good at their jobs so it’ll be a treat seeing how they jostle to get ahead. I loved the cold open and how the wedding allows us a glimpse into Hae Young’s reluctance to get married and Sang Hyo’s admirable attempt to just do her job while being slightly wistful about moving on fully. The drama sets up the divorced OTP so well, showing us how they still affect each other but not throwing shade at either by hinting at why their shotgun marriage didn’t last. It leaves plenty of room for reveals and two leads that are easy to like individually and together.
Second male lead Director Jo Sung Gyum is neither here nor there for me, I like Namgong Min but he’s coming across as purposely shifty in intention and confusing in action. Namgong Min does this type of character well and I enjoy watching him even if he’ll likely never be a serious contender for my affection. Hae Young is a total riot to me, from the way he plays video games and acts dismissive at work but the way his employees totally clamor for his approval shows that he’s good at what he does. He appears to be a lady killer but not a womanizer so one wonders how he fell for Sang Hyo, and why he seems still hung up on her even if it’s a form of trying to annoy her. I find Sang Hyo and Hae Young’s convos hilarious and touching because it’s still there is something unresolved and it’s equally present from both sides. Both are professionals but being around each other appears to bring out their juvenile sides to a degree where it makes their back story more interesting as to what they were like before and how they ended up here now. The falling dead person murder mystery is merely touched upon in the cold open and I like the stylish way it was presented but have no expectations that it’ll be all that serious or dire a narrative driver. Whatever side stories and thriller elements are compiled to move the plot forward, unless it’s complete rubbish I think it’ll work for me as long as the writing continues to nicely develop the colliding second chance between the leads.