A Koala Discusses Secret Garden

I’ve been watching Secret Garden for the past 9 weeks. It’s been both the best of dramas, and now, the worst of dramas. It’s taken me this long to write about this drama again because it’s been that aggravating to watch. One minute I’m consumed by the raw emotion, the next minute I am underwhelmed by the verbal showmanship. I don’t care if Kim Eun Sook thinks SG is her piece de resistance, this drama was a giant step backward from her depth and range in City Hall.

How did a drama I anticipated to such a degree piss me off in the end? Let me count the ways. Perhaps my rant is motivated by Koalas living in forests with eucalyptus trees, and secret gardens aren’t our natural habitats. Or really it’s just because the drama tries so damn hard to be cool, and in the end forgot that a memorable drama needs to tell a heartfelt story.

To the screenwriter who wrote my favorite drama of all time, you confirmed for me why it’s okay for me to be bipolar about your dramas. While I love City Hall and like On Air, I absolutely hated all three Lovers dramas. SG will probably rank right in the middle, and that is fine with me. Unlike City Hall and On Air, I find that SG has no purpose or motivation. It’s an exercise in futility masked by dexterous verbal jousting and completely bolstered by Kim Eun Sook landing a sizzling cast of actors.

Unlike the Lovers dramas, this story isn’t so much about a pair of lovers as it’s about a highly choreographed mating dance that would never work if Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won weren’t such natural stars and exhibited such potent chemistry. If I imagine any actor I didn’t much care for (and didn’t have the acting range and gravitas) in the roles of Joo Won and Ra Im, immediately all the cracks and flaws shine through. Let me put it this way, in City Hall and On Air, prior to watching those dramas, I didn’t love the actors in the former, and had merely liked some of the actors in the latter. After watching those dramas, I ended up loving and connecting with all the leads characters in those two drama, and all the actors concurrently therewith.

I think I am jumping ahead here, so let me take a step back and parse SG from the very beginning. From the outset, I accepted its fantasy premise and whimsical touches. I loved the first 4 episodes. Truly madly loved how it all started. I immediately felt the chemistry between Binnie and Ha Ji Won, and I found their characters quirkily amusing and fascinating. A Kim Eun Sook classic touch – she really does her preparation in constructing lead character prototypes.

I was smitten upon first watch, mainly due to my love for the three lead actors, and partially due to my residual affection for Kim Eun Sook after City Hall. Then the body-switch happened, and I found the shenanigans funny and the premise adroitly executed. I even loved all the magic veil unswitching that allowed us to see their original bodies reacting in a certain scene. Suffice to say, I really did genuine adore this drama and didn’t care much to parse too deeply into the things that certain of my drama friends found unsatisfactory with SG at that point. I enjoyed it, that was enough for me.

And then it crept up on me, like a rash that started off a tiny little bump and then gradually spreading until the itch became impossible to ignore. When SG hit episode 10, after the last scene rolled, I sat there thinking: this drama is halfway done, but what was the point of all that transpired up til now? I, with an infinite ability to justify shit that I love, couldn’t find a single purpose for this story. That is the moment where I couldn’t find my honest emotional connection with this drama anymore.

I took a break after that, jumping back into SG after a few weeks had passed, watching it with fresh eyes and an open mind. Perhaps Kim Eun Sook needed such a long step up period, and the latter half of the drama would show hand masterfully and everything would click into place. My optimism was misplaced. While Kim Eun Sook did lay all the clues from the first episode onward for the big-melodramatic-life-or-death-choice to come, she ultimately shot herself in the foot.

In electing to create such a fantasy premise, which I accepted without overanalyzing, she was unable to stay within even her own scattered mythology. While I loved that Joo Won made a selfish and selfless decision for the woman he loved, it was all negated not half an episode later by complete and utter WTF-kery that didn’t even make sense within the SG fantasy context. How the fuck did dead-daddy switch their souls in the dream world, when they’ve been switching based on drinking the flower wine and the rain in the real world. Where is the consistency, woman!

Furthermore, where are the STAKES in this damn drama? I wondered what the point of SG was, and I’m still looking for that. But adding fuel to the fire is that I am now looking for stakes, and find none. Joo Won’s big grand sacrifice was reversed by magic hoodoo that doesn’t even make sense within the magic jibber-jabber of SG. All the tears and amazing acting of Hyun Bin was just to emotionally pillage my sympathy for his character, only to turn around and mock me for falling for such superficial plot progress that is immediately reversed.

I don’t want SG to have a sad ending, so it’s not the happy resolution of the big life-and-death choice that pisses me off. It’s how easy and meaningless it all becomes only you wave the wand of dead-daddy’s all-powerful magic shower of roses over the OTP. It’s the very definition of deux et machina if ever there was a plot device constructed as such. Who cares how they got switched back (AND Ra Im woke up from her coma, natch!), it’s magic, yo! *excuse me while I headdesk over here for a few minutes*

I find SG very shallow because of its very elaborately constructed pretentions of grandeur. It ambitiously tries so hard to be clever, to be edgy, to be subversive, and fails at all of that because Kim Eun Sook simply didn’t have the solid story construct down to accomplish all. For example, in episode 13-14, Ra Im suddenly went from her usual no-no-I-don’t-want-to-be-with-you to an about face and runs off to be with Joo Won at the party. I would have done a facepalm if I weren’t so enamored by the subsequent sexiness at the party and the woo-hoo kissing that happened thereafter.

Which gets me to the crux of my quibbles with SG – ultimately I find the drama a pointless showcase for Kim Eun Sook’s penchant for quippy dialogue and flashy constructs. An empty piece of entertainment, made fascinating to the viewers (myself initially included) because of a great cast, good execution, and a fresh new hook with the body-swap premise. If I take Kim Eun Sook’s dialogue out of context, it’s gibberish. If I take the characters out of the drama, they are two-dimensional and frankly quite unpalatable.

This is not to say that SG is not heads and tails a better drama than most of the romantic comedies and melodramas out there. The last two cute little dramas I enjoyed, Playful Kiss and Mary Stayed Out All Night, are comparatively written by grade schoolers if I were to stack them against SG (and the M3 script was written by a pair of grade schoolers who take the short bus, if I may be so blunt). The problem is that SG is written by a self-aware high school student who thinks her screenplay stacks up against NYU theater department graduate dissertations. It doesn’t, because the depth is missing, and that is where the disconnect occurs for me.

PK and M3 may objectively suck, but at least it doesn’t try to parade itself around like the Emperor’s new clothing. This is the first time I really felt that Kim Eun Sook wasn’t trying to tell a story that she connected with and believed in, but was instead presenting some sort of look-how-witty-I-am drama production. Unlike in City Hall (and to a lesser extent, On Air), I didn’t feel her genuine heart was in this drama, leaving the end result a soulless experience for me to watch.

I don’t fall into the I-hate-everything-Kim-Eun-Sook writes category of drama watchers, and SG is hardly going to tip me into that side either. She was always hit or miss with me, and SG is neither a grand failure on par with the Lovers trilogy for me, nor did it evince her maturity with City Hall and On Air. I did enjoy so many moments in SG, and even with the paucity of heart in the writing, the actors sold me on their parts.

None more so than Yoon Sang Hyun as Oska, our resident dim but warm-hearted little over-the-hill Hallyu star. I’ve been a Yoon Sang Hyun fan since he stole the drama in Queen of Housewives (literally, the man stole an entire drama from the rest of the cast, and thank goodness he did), and his performance in SG makes me thankful that he got such a plum role to showcase his comedic timing and thrumming emotional depth.

Kim Sa Rang was also another shining star for me. This is the first time I’ve ever seen her act, and not only is the woman unbelievably statuesque and gorgeous, she really dug into her role as scorned haughty princess with a broken heart Yoon Seul. I adored her bitchiness, and I melted for her sadness. She made a great secondary OTP with Oska, and sometimes was just so much more fun to watch onscreen when she sparred and parried with Yoon Sang Hyun.

But I can’t say enough accolades for Hyun Bin’s performance as Kim Joo Won, stunted little man-boy with neuroses and a reality-disconnect greater than the Grand Canyon. It’s not Binnie’s best performance, but he was always spot-on, even when his character was written more for show than depth. He made Joo Won more complex and three-dimensional than on paper, and that is solely attributed to his acting prowess. I literally could not breathe during the elevator claustrophobia scene, and his final drive into the storm had me sobbing even while I raged at Kim Eun Sook’s contrivance.

Ha Ji Won’s Gil Ra Im was the sole weak link for me in this drama. Her character was the least fleshed out, and she was so reactive most of the time that it became a cake-walk for Ha Ji Won to play her. I felt like half the time Ha Ji Won was mailing in her performance (the crying, the angry, the distressed – she’s done it elsewhere and done it so much better than in SG), or she was trying something new that didn’t quite work (her performance as Joo Won was unconvincing to say the least). Not to say Ha Ji Won’s performance wasn’t good, but when I know she’s capable of great, I’m just sad the drama didn’t stretch her talents more.

I don’t think SG was a waste of time to watch, because when it was entertaining and riveting, it kept me glued to the screen and clapping my hands like a trained seal. It was only when the cracks were impossible to ignore, and I took a hard honest look at the entire production, did the enjoyment become clouded by an overarching sense of disappointment.

Kim Eun Sook is capable of telling a tightly plotted story, and grounding in a meaningful purpose, whether to talk about the state of K-drama production or a look at municipal Korean politics. In SG, she neither created a love story so wholly about love itself that a plot-driven background is not needed, nor did she construct a story solidly that it can balance a gimmicky Cinderella story with a greater narrative.

I don’t need a magic eight ball to tell you that SG will have a magically happy ending. Maybe some more tears first, but ultimately it’ll all be set right, and maybe a few more coincidences and happenstance moments will be unearthed to make us believe that Fate always intended for Joo Won and Ra Im to be together. I’m fine with that, and will happily watch the last two episodes this weekend.

I wished my feelings going into the finale were akin to that of Joo Won as he drove into that storm, unconscious Ra Im by his side, his heart on his sleeve. That type of raw feelings with respect to a drama should have been here (I watched the last two episodes of City Hall with my gut in my throat), but Kim Eun Sook went for easy solutions to complicated actions that appear to have no consequences, so how can I genuinely care about what happens to Ra In and Joo Won?

In the end, I am happy that all the lead actors chose to do SG. Binnie needs a huge hit before he leaves for MS, and I’m not such a project snob that I need my fave actors to eschew mainstream fare for indie credibility. Ha Ji Won proves once again that she is a ratings queen, and has a very savvy eye to selecting projects. I think SG will be the biggest boon to Yoon Sang Hyun’s career, with his endearingly adorable character and pitch-perfect performance a solid stepping stone in taking his name-recognition to another level.

While I don’t regret watching SG, that doesn’t negate my critique that the drama had ambition and drive, but no heart and soul. It’s akin to watching a race car doing stunts on a track, and discovering that it was robot controlled, as opposed to a real driver inside using his talents and putting his life on the line for that daredevil performance. The former leaves me appreciating an empty show of skill, the latter leaves me breathless with awe and emotionally engaged in the spectacle, because there is a beating heart behind the wheel, and he’s going for broke right before my eyes. SG had moments of emotional clarity, but as a whole never achieved raw story-propelled honesty for me.


A Koala Discusses Secret Garden — 67 Comments

  1. I agree with everything you’ve said in this discussion. There’s no doubt that the actors are what are elevating this drama beyond mediocrity. I feel a little twinge of sadness for the potential this plot had, though. With the premiss and the actors, SG could have been truly great.

  2. Very thoughtful review.

    I don’t actually disagree with anything you say. SG is very flashy, and hides it’s antarctic sized plot holes behind awesome acting, witty dialogue, and incredible cast chemistry. However, as much as I wished that the plot made more sense (or any sense), I’m still enjoying SG because of the characters and the actors behind them.

    Objectively, I know SG is probably not as good as City Hall, but the former entertains me while the latter I found to have some delusions of grandeur that turned me off. At the end of the day, SG is about a boy who loves a girl, and a girl who loves him back. I don’t think KES was going for anything other than her brand of dark humor on the tried and true cinderella story. Is SG an amazing piece of art? No, but it’s entertaining as hell, and that’s good enough for me.

  3. OMG, bb! I thought we were going to clash on this, but we really, really don’t. I agree with pretty much everything I read (I didn’t read the whole thing cos I’m still behind -I’m waiting WITHS2’s subs).

    hen SG hit episode 10, after the last scene rolled, I sat there thinking: this drama is halfway done, but what was the point of all that transpired up til now?

    I can’t write anymore about this because 1)it’s late, 2)it’s freezing cold and I’m about to hit the bed and 3)I really don’t have the energy to talk about SG. I thought I wanted to talk about it and IIRC I even asked you to talk about it, but now that you did, I feel drained because seriously? I’m sooo disappointed and I feel silly because I sort of want to drop it, but I can’t bring myself because this is most likely Binnie’s last project before he starts his military service and I’ll most likely go into withdrawal sooner if I skip SG.

    OTOH, the other day I had to marathon ep 10-16 of MNIKSS because after watching the latest SG, I was like, OMG what’s the point? I need something with a little substance. I’m saving CH for later for I’m dead certain that when I’m done with SG and Athena with villain!CSW, I’ll need to rewatch CH from the very first ep.

    And another thing. See, while M3 was messier in term of story-telling, plot-development and, well, everything if you compare it to SG, I enjoyed M3 a loooooot more and yes, I can see that Binnie and HJW have great chemistry and I dont’ want to say that SG is as bad as Pasta was (that is, the only thing that still keeps me watching is the chemistry between the leads) because that would be a little unfairl, but man, maaaaan, it’s soooo difficult to feel this disappointed and still keep on watching.

    Okay, I’m fairly sure the last paragraph doesn’t even mean anything. *tries to send you the whole message through her mind*

    • *Giggles maniacally* For some kismet of a feeling I got, I knew deep down you were as disappointed with SG as I was, and that my little diatribe to SG would actually echo your thoughts. *HUGS* I feel the need to rewatch MNIKSS as well. Go get some sleep, sweetie, and chat more when you catch up. Don’t drop SG, because Binnie does some stellar acting in the recent episodes. Worth watching just for that. Honest.

      • Babe,
        I’m the project snob, but I don’t have this intense a hate on KES before SG, I’ve tasted every single one of her stuff but the signs, irking this IS trainwreck a coming miles away is all there, esp when KES has the expense of a great and popular cast. I’m totally giving up my watch of CH as personal vendetta (CH ep1-4 sucks, I’ll keep saying it! nananananaana). Thank you for being sweet and encouraging before this airs. I was a mess. I’m fine with binnie doing a mass hit, romcom, even an mnikss2, but we know this is so not, and that, I’m still pissy (at binnie)

        I only liked ep1, 2 without buts, fr then on I had to delusion myself giving drama hope and be lenient. I too am tired and have nth much to contribute in any discussion. But coming full circle, this is quite close to what I expect of SG all along. KES, I will hate and wanna BIHF, binnie will again prove himself he can act to the newbs (but really arent we past this point already binnieboy?!) YSH, like and please pick a decent drama ahjusshi! HJW, I’m soo soo disappointed, may not be entirely her fault since her character is so poorly constructed. SIGH.

      • I hoped we’d agree, but there was this nagging feeling of, “what if she loves it and I’m, like, ‘but it’s meh *pouts*'” especially considering my LJ flist seems to love it and the ratings are what they are? I was baffled, to say the least.

        I won’t drop it. The acting is really top-notch, but I wish I’d FEEL something for the characters because at this point, I’m usually at least fond of them or, more often than not, completely head-over-in-heels-in-love with them and I cry and laugh for and with them, but so far? With SG? That hasn’t happened yet. I’m…mildy interested, true, and I’m afraid what little I DO feel for them, it’s going to be pointless because the story is what it is. You know?

        Haha. Rest? Clearly you do not know me too well… yet. It’s almost 5 am and guess what I did from 2am until, well, 5 minutes ago? I worked. Because I’m an idiot who works when should be resting and sleeps when everybody else is up. And then I get scolded because, “it’s 9AM why aren’t you up yet?” And I’m like, “but i went to bed 2 hours ago? WTF?” /rant. Sorry, when I’m tired, I rant. A lot. Ahem.

        Re: MNIKSS. I think I’m going to rewatch it from the beginning. Either that or CP. I’m saving CH for later, when Athena ends, but I did say that already, didn’t I? *facepalm x infinity* Also? I SO love my dvds. I need to buy the ones for CH because I haven’t done that yet and I feel stupid. Seriously, how can I not have them yet? Why didn’t I buy the director’s cut? Oh yeah, no money. Fuu. Ah well, I’ll def get the regular version soon. o/ I NEED IT, BB!

        *re-reads comment* OMG I sound drunk! :////

      • WORD? I write 2000 plus words and you write ONE? Twinnie, help me out here. I can use your knives on KES for posterity.

        I can debate CH-is-awesome with you for all eternity (if you even finished it, LOL), but damn is SG pushing all my dislike buttons.

        Edit: hahahaha, twin power activate! You posted your long comment as I posted my comment asking for a longer comment. Sigh, SG has made me daft.

        And no, the first 1-4 eps of CH were brilliant, in hindsight. I’ve rewatched it after finishing the entire drama, and works even better in context. Neener neener. But still love you lots! 😀

      • Thank you, mookie!

        Re: CH. Can I say something? When I watched CH the first time around, you know what didn’t work for me in ep 1-4? All the fat jokes or, well, all the jokes (ie the smelly hair?) at expenses of Mi-rae, who, sure, wasn’t exactly the brightest tool in the box, but was it really necessary the treatment she got? I thought the writer really did push too hard on those topics. I almost, almost dropped CH because of that. It was too much, imho, and it wasn’t even sutble or, you know, funny. When I did rewatch the series, although I could appreciate the overall storyline in hindsight, I still found the jokes atrocious. Say, if she had written half of the jokes that eventually made it on air, I would have looooved every single thing of CH.

        Still, CH is #1, along with CP, in my list of favorite kdramas. HA! SG doesn’t even compare, sorry!

  4. i dont know why but i just love it, although they are too much cliches , i really love them they make me laugh they made me cry and dream 😛 , sorry to desagree this time

    • I’m happy that you like SG. Honestly, dramas are for each person’s enjoyment. If you liked it, that is the most important thing.

    • Your twinnie has to get up at 3 a.m. tomorrow to catch a 6 a.m. flight to Philly. Is. Not. Pleased. Perhaps I was overly harsh to SG and KES? Nah, she deserved it, especially for emaciating and overworking Binnie. For that she deserves some public flogging.

      • O CRAP!! and Philly of all places?! (no offense to Philly lovers out there… ;P)

        Thing is I cant even rem what transpires in 8, 9, 10, 12 of SG, but it’s also around 8 or 10 for me that I gave up hoping this wont be shiteous?!

        TC, safe flight, and back home in no time!

      • Nah, she deserved it, especially for emaciating and overworking Binnie. For that she deserves some public flogging.

        SHE TOTALLY DOES! I’m STILL worried he’ll keel over. Whenever he’s on screen, I keep thinking, “okay, this is it. He’s gonna faint. Wait for it, wait for it. It’s gonna happen in 5…4…3…”etc. If I could send him cookies, brownies and an IV drip, I’d do that. Also? OMGGGG, he’ll need rest before the service but what if he goes right into it after finishing SG? Seriously, SO WORRIED HERE.

        And chingoo, get some rest and have a nice flight, okay?

  5. While I love all shades gathered under the speculative fiction genre, fantasy is the one I find most troublesome; it can easily turn futile or cringeworthy. Watching Secret Garden I feel as though it’s the work of a contemporary fiction writer who decided to shake things up with a trendy bit of supernatural, after all how hard could that be? Eeesh.

    Yoon Sang Hyun’s Oska is my favorite character. SG hasn’t become a total cringefest for me but on the whole I gotta agree with the koala.

  6. Yep… I’ve said some of what I’m about to type in soompi and I’ll say it again. The thing with SG, is that behind all the quirky set-ups is still your forever-old rich guy poor gal plot. It took me a while to pick this up (shame, I know) and I was a tiny bit disappointed. But I chose to let it go because I was still thoroughly entertained. And then it went makjang on me. WTF! I’m not asking for laughs all the time, but makjang is clearly misused in this drama. I was totally on board with the subtle melancholy in previous episodes. Like the way JW takes solitary walks on his vast property, or even the drug talk he had with his mom that shows how emotionally abandoned he is. But what? They threw parental-forced-separation at me. Then a car accident. Then a coma. Then selective amnesia round 2. Makjang is a genre of its own. Few has been able to use it sparingly in a non-makjang without leaving a bad taste in my mouth. You really have to commit to this stuff to make it work. For example, RI’s father’s death over JW’s life could’ve been a major conflict but they arrived at the knowledge so late in the plot. Real makjang would’ve dwelled on the guilt oh so bad but this is makjang fluff therefore writer had not the backbone to pull that crap. So then all the angst arose only from Wicked Mother of the East + RI’s coma death pending, which is oh so lame on the makjang meter.
    So, I agree with you. SG is mostly fluff with little substance. At the core is still the courtship between a chaebol and a poor woman, with no real conflict. I still love JW but I wish I can say the same about the entire drama.

    P.S. when kdramas want to drive their point home, they DRIVE their point home. The ineo gongju reference could’ve been toned down. If i hear bubbles one more time… f%#@$.

  7. Consider all these came from the person that thought m3 &pf kiss was decent …. Ill think about this as a joke ,ok? M3 was a train wrack and such a boring drama arguing the Most boring k drama I ever watched… Well I wll think of these as your personal bad taste..

  8. I’m sorry I’m disagree with you. Eventhough some part will be very strange and weird, but I think, we already know that it is ‘fantasy drama’. So we can’t protest and compare with real condition. I just enjoy how Ra im and Jo woon built their relationship. This drama is better than M3.

    • I don’t disagree with you at all. SG is a much better drama than M3, objectively in every which way. And SG is indeed a fantasy melodrama that I never asked to be grounded in reality. Heck, dragons can show up and JW and RI can suddenly develop the ability to teleport and I wouldn’t have a problem with it as long as Kim Eun Sook created a believable basis for her concept.

      I merely asked for the story to remain consistent within its own constructed fantasy mythology, and ground the relationship between the OTP in sincerity rather than flashy and oft-used Cinderalla tropes masked with a bang-us-over-the-head symbolism of Mermaid princesses and bubbles. When you create a fantasy trope, but then rewrite the rules (or worse yet, make up new rules along the way), then as a writer you’ve completely been consumed by the beast you have created.

      It’s like the Lion Tamer getting eaten by the supposed Tamed Lion.

    • Butting in because it’s late and I can’t be held responsible for my actions and Koala, who’s a friend, is not going to hate me for spamming her journal. I hope. *bites nails*

      The problem I have with SG is not the fantasy element though it wasn’t used to its full potential imho. It was, well, almost everything else except the acting and the cinematography.

      Now you want a cute fantasy romcom which not only is, as Koala beautifully put it, consistent within its own constructed fantasy mythology, but it’s also witty and which ALSO takes kdramas’ overused cliches and reverts them, reinventing a Korean myth in the process all the while making it all believable? Watch My girlfriend is a gumiho and then compare it with SG. There’s an abyss between the two. Mind you, I’m not saying MGIAG is flawless, far from it (omg, the Hong sisters and their love for fart jokes, jfc!), but as far as the fantasy element goes and all the other things Koala said? Yes, there is an abyss between the two imho.

  9. *nods*

    Yeah, what you said. I was telling my roommate last weekend that the character interaction/dialogue is great, storytelling not so much. But I’m fickle enough that Joo Won at the end of episode 18 won me over again. It’s Joo Won and Oska that keep me around. I don’t care for Seul much, and Key Lime is meh.

    And for as much as I’ve enjoyed each episode individually (except for 17, which didn’t make me cry, I was annoyed for 75% of it and underwhelmed for the last 25%), I don’t think I can rewatch it.

    I still want Oska socks though.

  10. Thanks for writing this, koala! Finally, you speak!

    After reading posts and comments on Dramabeans and here, I find that I am still evaluating my thoughts. My experience with SG mirrors yours: I found the first four episodes intoxicating, erotic, tense, romantic, and thrilling. It was beautifully shot and had all the makings of a perfect rom-com. I was in, seat-belt on, sunglasses perched on head, giggly and happy.

    Like you, my disappointment set in around the episodes w/the switch when nothing of importance happened. I was expecting the switch to allow Key Lime to make dramatic changes to the dysfunctional family (to inject some heart into the cold materialistic family), to the company (inject heart into soulless store, and in the process thwart evil manager), to the social strata (bring some heart to the world of snobbery and narcissism). That is, I thought this would be Key Lime’s drama.

    What I got instead was the lowest common denominator you would expect in a gender switch trope: gross generalizations and stereotypes about male and female anatomy. That disappointment never went away.

    Now, I realize that this was a rom-com or rom-melo, and not some social commentary piece on society and culture. But I was set to believe that there would be more social commentary because the first four episodes — and even the very first episode when we meet Key Lime — are about the rich-poor divide, snobbery, and KL fighting back against women who don’t want her in their rich exclusive lounge, etc. THAT should have been the conflict, not some tiresome mother and a magic-happy seemingly-omnipotent dead father. Relying on a dead guy with endless power for a plot results in, well, no plot.

    I think KES does have some talent in writing adult romances between jaded people. The scene in On Air of the two leads walking among cherry blossoms, with the male lighting up the blossoms with a flashlight, is a great quietly understated scene. Same in City Hall.

    For some reason in SG, the writer never allowed Key Lime to accept JW’s love. KL remained resistant and annoyed throughout. So a large component of my anger at the drama comes from my being cheated out of a crucial plot in a romance–the receiving of love. KL never opens up and receives JW in her life. That slow thawing/opening is the best part of romantic comedies, and I was never given this. I mean, she was still scowling at JW in ep. 16 over something or another. Maybe ep. 19 and 20 will have her KL giving back…finally?

    And I don’t even know what’s up with episodes 17-18. I mean, like, what-the-what. What the-. wut is dis i dont even.

    All that said, usually I quietly drop a drama once it gets boring/annoying/repetitive/headmeetdesk-y. I dropped SKKS after 12 episodes. I even quietly skipped a couple of episodes of M3, when I knew that even the beautiful faces of JGS and KJW couldn’t save me from snarling at the screen. So the fact that every Sat and Sun I have religiously gotten up to watch SG says a lot about its hold on me. JW is a great character. He is unapologetically self-centered, and the humorous interactions between him and Oska, between him and Philip Lee’s character, between him and the Action School Guy, between him and Secretary Kim, etc., are all perfect. The dialogue was fast, witty, intelligent. The scenes alternated nicely between heartfelt and quiet to fast and furious. So all of these quirky moments, I guess, added up to make it worth my time.

    Getting to watch Hyun Bin on the screen is such a treat. The drama IS beautifully shot. The relationship between JW and Oska is fantastic.

    So, as this ends, I guess I’m happy to have been on the ride.

    • Can I just say this (and KES proves my opinion time and time again – even with CH and OA) – KES *hates* her heroines (and this corollary is true with all her dramas except Lovers in Prague, where she hated the second female character only).

      There. I said it. KES writes amazing hero/anti-hero as hero male leads time and time again. I stuck to the end of that fraking shithole of a hell drama Lover’s in Paris because the only person I liked was the male lead character (this was back when I didn’t hate Park Shin Young). The heroine in LiP was a nervous biddy of a mess.

      Lovers – don’t get me started – damn I hate the weepy-ass heroine, but loved the gangster male lead with his cheating cheater of a cheating heart ways.

      CH – Suh Na fans are going to be pissed at me, but I have to say it. Shin Mi Rae is the weakest character in the entire drama for the entire first half. If you discount KSA’s fierce acting, then MR doesn’t shine. But KES totally made the second half her story, so I forgive her there.

      OA – singlehandedly KES created two of the most unbearable female characters in the history of drama. I learned to appreciate them, but only because two awesome male leads loved them. And I wanted my super awesome PD and Manager-nim to get their happy endings, even if it was with certifiable bitches.

      SG – Ra Im is a cipher, as a character she is as ephermal and transparent as the Mermaid Princess. The weakest character in the entire drama, and I’m even counting side characters as Secretary Kim and Ah Young. Only momma Satan is even more one-dimensionally written.

      End rant. I’ve always felt that writing men was KES’ strong suit. She writes unbelievably complicated and mesmerizing male characters. Which is why ahjummas lap up her dramas like cat to cream.

      • I agree with you 100%! I couldn’t get through Lovers in Prague nor Lovers in Paris (I cannot believe that you sat through it! You’re patient and forgiving!).

        Ugh, the female characters in On Air were…just…repulsive. Just ugh. Sadly though, I had to admit to myself that there were kernels of truth in her portrayal because women are women’s worst enemies, and in competitive situations, are vicious toward each other.

        I am intrigued by your review of Shin Mi Rae. I found her strong throughout. Her emotionally honest expression of her crush on a hot guy, all while holding down a billion jobs, even while being essentially a coffee maker–and mocked for it–at the office, all belied her strength. So that when the change came about, I found it entirely plausible. But I can see where you’re coming from. She is almost a caricature during the first few episodes.

        Lime is not even a character worth writing about in the comment section of a blog post 😀 . Goodness me. What a useless character. She had no role other than to buffer JW-Oska interactions. One of the worst female leads evah. Which is heartbreaking because she was great in the first 2 episodes. Good thing I’d seen HJW in Damo and What Happened in Bali; otherwise, I’d be all like — why is she even allowed to star in dramas?

        Truth be told, really, are there many k-dramas w/great female leads? MNIKSS is the only one that comes to mind. All of the women in that drama were fully developed, carefully characterized, and given their own spaces. I can’t think of very many other dramas that do this. (I thought Coffee House did a good job last year w/the female lead. But then, it was my fav. drama last year — out of the three I managed to finish!)

        “unbelievably complicated and mesmerizing male characters”
        Beautifully put! JW, even without Hyun Bin projecting him, would be a mesmerizing character. He and Oska got layers — hell, even Emo-Boy got layers — that none of the female characters were even allowed to imagine! Boo.

        Anyway, have a safe flight and a pleasant trip. If it’s a trip for work, then treat yourself to a nice meal on your per diem. If it’s for pleasure, enjoy a philly cheese steak, then visit the market next to the… Marriot Hotel? (dunno what it’s called–but i stayed at the hotel next to the market–Lousy memory, I haz It)…and fill up on yummy samples.

        Finally, as usual, I loved your review of Secret Garden. I love how non-snarky you are in your writing. You pointed out all the flaws as your opinions and also showed how much you had invested in the drama. I really like your emotionally honest style of writing!

      • Thanks, Kitteh (for the ever genuine compliments). 🙂

        As for another drama with well-written female characters, I have to recommend The Woman Who Still Wants to Get Married. I liked all four female leads, who are sometimes shrewish, sometimes waspish, sometimes bitchy, but always felt real.

        Another reason why as awful as the ladies were in On Air – in the environment of the K-ent world, I *could* accept they actually exist. Especially Kim Ha Neul’s haughty self-deprecating portrayal of Oh Seung Ah. Self-deprecating only because she really is supposed to be that kind of diva in real life.

        MNIKSS remains a gold standard in writing a honest to goodness human female heroine. Everything about Samsoon yelled out – this is who I am! take it or leave it, suckers. Damn, I love her.

      • Every word you just said on KES, my lovelychingu Twinnie *I lurrve youuuu*, is exactly y I disliked and now HATEEE KES. I was fine with shrugging it off as it’s me not her as so many of her dramas are so loved by most and hailed as brilliant (hehe)

        But I just cant get into anything when the heroine is not my thing at half way point. Whatever rocks our boats, right?

        Sere, exactly my biggest complaint on CH 1-4. KES likes to suck the bone dry when she thinks she’s hitting on some funnies and when it starts out really cringing not. It’s extremely hard to sit through. Watching CH1-4 is like sitting thro a sitcom equivalent of SAW. Country dim bumpkin doesnt need to be all samsoonish, SAMSOON is not a dim country bumpkin and she’s funny as hell, so it gave me a double whammy when SunAh is totally redoing mannerisms and everything fr the playbook of SamSoon as her MiRae.

        It didnt pain me with mybinnie in SG at all, I understand perfectly what a career and money making juicy role this is for him with his looming MS, and how essential it is to maintain his A-lister Hallyu star status, that’s reality, I get it. He did go with the crazy idea of a Skeletor look and actively go lose wt for an KES role (huh), but all in all he walked off unscathed at least.

        The HJW fangirl in me is RAGEY though. I’ve not seen H!J!W! in a role I dun even care a bit, so as much as I screamed and kicked, I can easily not watch SG on my free will, that was my plan if it’s only hyunbinnie+KES. But I’m very good at my simply maths, I’ve do my drama math with all my fingers and toes, there’s no no NO!!! way I can not like HJW in this role, it’s fail proof even with Ms Kim’s treatment. I’m wrong, and very sad.

        It’s safe to say, if KES didnt get HJW and HB on board, SG wont be as unbearable atm. With a less popular star reprising roles the whole of Korea (and the Kdrama watching world) want to watch them redoing for the rest of their lives(HB as samshik+TW; HJW as ChaeOk+SJ) *BUT not me!!* she does have to clock in some decent work and I admit she can be decent, just not for the entirety of a drama run. After ep1, 2 she’s ready to perch on her sunglasses, seat beat in just like Nom_Kitteh and rest of us and giggling all the way to her bank. And she’s absolutely right, she really didn’t have to do any work, those stars carry the show and is shit proof, that’s her WHOLE point of drama. HB and HJW to an extent r shitproof in romcomfantashitmelo. It’s also back to the point y this is a ‘great’ casting of HB vs JH. JH has no silly romcom ‘hero’ phenom under his belt. IF he’s casted, KES wont get to do her thing. SG is exactly what she set out to do, she wont be hearing us SCREAMING our shitshit this is shit, she has locked in a golden rating, her stars walked off as loved if not more. She’s even more powerful to do more of her shit the way she wanna. I wont ever have any dilemma with future KES’ dramas. She’s writing, I’m not watching. She’s happy and rich. I’ll move onto, very far fr her, my own fangirly pastures.

      • @Kitteh and Koala.

        Word, word, woooord on Sam Soon. A heroine who was realistic in so many ways and she kicked ass. I feel like I know RL Sam Soons and I’d like to think one myself and that’s just great! It doesn’t hurt that the story of MNIKSS is cute.

        Re: The woman who still wants to get married. I have to agree with Koala on this. Give it a try, Kitteh, cos it’s a really nice kdrama. I was SO suprised when I watched it. It’s a little gem, imho.

        Re: KES. At this point, I’m inclined to think CH was a fluke for her. >_> *hides*

        @mookie. Dude, I’m not asking for subtlety. She hammered the point home, gah! I’m fairly sure I’ll be staying away from her dramas from now on unless trusted friends rave about them. And? I’ll wait till the show is almost over to start it because, yeah, well, look at SG!

        that’s her WHOLE point of drama.
        HAHAHAH. AHAHAHAHAHAH. It is and it’s sooo sad. I wonder if Binnie and HJW hadn’t been cast for SG, would it have been such a big hit? Wait, what I’m saying. Of course it wouldn’t have been. That’s why I’m STILL watching it.

  11. I am going to de-lurk and comment – I haven’t watched many kdramas (SKKS, PK, MSOAN, MNIKSS, CH, and a few others), but I will say that I have enjoyed SG more than the rest of them. Has it had moments that seemed stationary – yes, but it did not feel stagnant to me. Have I questioned the character reactions/actions – once or twice. Do some plot points seem recycled? Yes, but originality is rare in entertainment of any sort. The acting is great, the music is better than most, the cinematography is also better than most. I guess I would ask – with fantasy, melo, romance – what was everyone expecting? At times I’ve wondered if the OTP is really Oska and Seul. Oska is on a path to redemption and forgiveness and JooWon experiences a sort of meta-rebirth that allows him to be free of the PTS he experienced after the accident. And from the start I felt that there were overtones of Pride and Prejudice sprinkled all over this story. I find it interesting that the writer seems intent on showing the growth and maturity of her male characters and her females are more stereotypical roles. Okay, that is all for the ramble.

    • I’d say that the order in which you watch kdramas and the number of kdramas you’ve watched are going to shape the way you see all the others kdramas and form your opinion on them. There is a huge difference if you’ve watched 10 or 100 kdramas imho and what kind of dramas you’ve seen so far.

      I’m still a newbie with only 4 years of active watching and though I can’t remember how many dramas I’ve watched, I can safely say SG has disappointed me in many ways. Maybe that has to do with the fact that I was very hyped up about it (I mean, come on, Binnie in a romcom after all these years? HJW as the other lead?), but maybe that’s not, not really. I’d like to think I can judge a drama based on what I see and feel when I’m watching it and SG kind of wasn’t what I expected in many regards.

      The acting? is great and the only thing I don’t have complaints about. The OTP? Is cute. The chemistry between the leads? Sizzling hot! BUT, the script? Meh. The directing? Passable. The cinematography? Nice, but I’ve seen better. Music? Again, nice, but I’ve heard better. Overall, it’s not even the sum of all these elements that does it for me. It’s whether I think the story is believable (and it doesn’t matter if it’s fantasy or a makjang or whatever. I’m NOT talking if the story is “realistic” or not, but if I can suspend believe long enough to say, “okay, I can buy it” which, I’m sorry to say, I did a few times with SG already, but then the writer kept changing the rules of her own universe, kept throwing curve balls at me and I’m just not into inclined to do suspend belief again, not even once) or not and whether the characters touch me in a fundamental way.

      I guess I would ask – with fantasy, melo, romance – what was everyone expecting?
      IDK. Something else. I think KES tried to cram too much? IDK, the thing is, it could have worked. It could have, that’s why I’m so D: over it.

      OMG why can’t I shut up tonight?

      • LOL, Sere, babe, I think I opened the SG floodgates. Bring on more discussion! Grist is good, especially if it can temper my feelings and make me see an alternate perspective.


        I’m not asking for originality in my dramas for me to consider it quality entertainment. My barometer is simple: either take a tried and true formula and do it better, or take a creative idea and execute it with flair and competence.

        SG fails on both accounts. Every Cinderella story in K-dramas pretty much is predicated on P&P. Heck, Park Kyu is the K-incarnation of Fitzwilliam Darcy! (the hero in Tamra the Island). But SG had so much potential, and KES was too ambitious for her own good.

        If she had pared down her script and kept with the central love story, even with her whack-a-mole fantasy construct, I would have bought it hook, line, and sinker. Except she threw in Mermaids, evil mommas, amnesia (the first and the second time with JW), all of the plot devices that serve to detract by what could have been a very captivating love story predicated on Fate and Magic.

        Sometimes less is more, and this is one time I think KES overreached and lost me as a viewer.

        Thanks for delurking and sharing your thoughts. Never let another perspective make you feel defensive about your enjoyment of SG. I know people who enjoy it even now. Like or dislike, as long as you are happy with your opinion.

      • @ockoala
        Bring it on, bb! *g* However, it’s past 6:30am and I’m drawing the line now so I just know that I’ll miss all the fun. Again. Ugh. *sad panda face*

        I just hope I didn’t sound condescending or I-know-better-than-you in my previous comment because that wasn’t my intention. It’s just that I’m so bitter! I really did NOT think I was this upset about SG until we started talking about it. 🙁

        I think we need a Binnie picspam or something. You know, to cheer us up?

    • I really like your comment!

      You’re right about Oska and Seul. They really grew as a couple, as characters. Their storyline is also complex and complicated. JW-KL, in contrast, are static. And you’re perceptive — after only having watched a few dramas (but some good ones, though! — to notice the maturity given to the male characters while the female are kept shallow. That is the writer’s trademark, and to be honest, many K-dramas (and most of the world’s entertainment) leave female characters woefully undeveloped.

      “I will say that I have enjoyed SG more than the rest of them.”
      I will say this not just to you, but to all who are enjoying SG: Don’t ever feel the need to defend why you’re enjoying the drama, and try, if you can, to ignore or brush off others who are criticizing the drama. Which means, feel free to skip my comments!

      At the end of the day, it’s just you, the drama, and the honest emotions the characters bring out in you. That’s it. So I’m glad that you’re enjoying the show. If it makes you happy, then that’s all that matters!

      • For the record, I composed and posted my comment w/out having read Sere’s and Koala’s!

      • Which is to say, my original comment was directed at mj.

        Now I’m spamming koala’s site. Sorry!

        I don’t understand the HTML tags. To quote, do I do this: blah blah ?

      • Yeah, what Nom_Kitteh said. In the end, it’s only you and the drama. If you liked it, good. If you didn’t, that’s okay. If others loved it and you hated it or viceversa, no need to defend yourself or the drama. You like what you like and you hate what you hate and you are going to watch kdramas you’ll love and others you’ll hate with a burning passion of 1000 fiery suns and others that will just drive you mad or upset you deeply. That’s how it is.

        So yeah, if you like SG? Good for you and I say that sincerely. 🙂 I hope I didn’t sound condescending with my previous comment.

      • Sere, you didn’t sound condescending at all! I hope my response doesn’t make you think that I thought that. (hugs if I made you feel that way 🙁 )

        Also, I did put HTML codes before and after “blah, blah” !

        Imma jus gonna slink away nao for not knowing how to quote or put things in italics and for posting comment after useless comment on koala’s pretty site.

      • Love the comments and totally agree that there are dramas that appeal to viewers for many reasons. I am still rather irritated with myself after spending so much time watching Playful Kiss – other than gorgeous leads, I can’t find much to recommend it.
        But I do enjoy all the suggestions for other dramas to watch, and the civilized debates. Thanks for the suggestions!

  12. Waaahh.. i dont know if i had to agree or disagree with you koala dear?!?!?!?!? i had this bittersweet feeling everytime im watching SG, so i guess im stocked in the MIDDLE =)

    differ from M3> atleast at around epi 4-5 im aware that the plot will going to be a big big frustration for the viewer’s side… a suicidal move for the drama itself, so i just make myself entertained (squeeing over MG+MR cuteness to the highest level) and ignored those negative feedback and bad rating, for short im prepared for the worst, but with the SG , the situation is the other way around… i had a huge expectation with this drama > from the title (i love the title) to the cast (kyaa…lead and secondlead) to the writer and finally the story plot…

    But when i reached the first part of exchanging body/soul… i gawked and bored in lots of scene that ive almost GIVE UP a lot of times and DIED in every episode, however, i cant explain further but in every last 20 mins before the ending of each episode my soul was revived and back to being ballistic and bitting my finger nails again and cant wait to watch the next one…

    Hyun Bin is the best thing for me in this drama…he made me cursed him like hell at the beginning and fall for him at the later part and in epi 17-18… i just cried a river… like me watching A Moment to Remember and The Man form Nowhere…God i will definetely miss him after the drama ends!

    This is also one of the million reason why i prefered watching JDoramas rather than Kdramas > the draggy moments are insanely nuts! and when the time you already love the drama (like M3) the slow and ridiculous ideas of the story will blast to you like you want to go buy a ticket to Korea and directly kill those people who is in charge of the f***ing script and the director as well!

    Anyway… im still hanging for SG because i cant stop thinkng how good Hyun Bin and how Cool Oska is! plus the OST is magnificent !

  13. hi. I’ve always been a lurker here to read your views, as i’ve been getting tired of dramabeans lately maybe because they kept bashing SKKS which for me is one of the most enjoyable drama I’ve seen, even if the last episodes has gone South and relied on fanservice, I still felt it could have been better for the story if it has been extended for a better closure of the plot.

    Sorry for rambling. I love SG, but I’m really glad it’s ending next week. I think after ep6, it has been a really slow ride for me. The actors are really what kept me hanging into the show, cos they make the story work even if most of the time, the plot has me going like Where the H*** is this leading to? I’ve mentioned this before on Soompi, but I really felt like the writer has been going round in circles with the story. the switch has left me with some good laughs, but up till now, I still don’t see the point of it. Lime’s dad was sorry on the first switch and said it’s to save his daughter’s life, and I thought I finally got it when JW decided to act the altruistic lover, but then on the next episode, the changed back again and both woke up okay. So I got lost again. it’s so pointless. I rest my case.

    Plus one thing i laugh about dramas is when they don’t research medical conditions. She’s been in a coma for almost a month so she should be weak and flaccid after waking up. But lol, she immediately ran out in her hospital gown, hacked a taxi and went to JW’s house. She really must be super girl.

    Sometimes I think that maybe, SG is originally meant for 16 episodes that’s why it’s been so draggy halfway through the episodes. I still enjoyed it a lot. It’s been an emotional, albeit a long lazy ride for me. it gave me one of the best drama kisses ever on screen, and the actors are superb so I think it’s worth rewatching, even if I have to skip a few draggy episodes.

    • “Sometimes I think that maybe, SG is originally meant for 16 episodes that’s why it’s been so draggy halfway through the episodes.”

      Agree. But then the writer crams 6 episodes-worth of story in two episodes, which only makes me wonder why she drives the story this way. It reminds me of Ra im driving Joo won’s convertible a short distance (and really fast, too), stopping abruptly then going for the finish line at breakneck speed again. Much as I hate weepy melodramatic scenes, she could have fleshed out the conflicts presented in Ep 17 more. Argh.

      • IKR. The conflicts from ep 1 have been so repetitive and except for JW’s quirky, rather insane attitude, plotwise, it follows all the kdrama recipe so it’s so easy to guess what will happen next.

  14. ockoala, just want to say thank you for your honest, non-snarky opinion about SG. been really curious what you think about it and now finally its here. hee. 😉

    i guess i went into SG with no expectations whatsoever, except that i adore Binnie and HJW, that SG really blew me away and had me at hello. i judge my dramas based on my emotional reaction towards it, and SG for me is like falling in love with reckless abandon…i feel lightheaded and giddy each and every time. like i just lost my mind but i don’t really care because it feels so good. and i’m aware of its imperfections but they don’t bother me one bit.

    i know RI is/was not allowed to develop fully as a character and i would have wanted more for HJW, but again it doesn’t matter because when JW looks at her THAT way, i’m lost. and i’m willing to believe that his love is enough for me to love her too. *sigh*

    and because this needs to be said: ep 18 just cemented my adoration for Binnie. seriously the guy needs an extra check for playing all 3 characters in one episode so spectacularly. his cheeky 21 yr-old JW is the best thing that happened in like, ever. and for even for that alone, SG is tops in my heart.

    • again it doesn’t matter because when JW looks at her THAT way, i’m lost.

      And that’s the power of Binnie for you! *g* I love that guy. He’s…lakjsdlasdalsdha

      • @sere, yessss…and just in case i ever suffer from memory loss in the future, i’ll say this now:

        Binnie, i’m your fangirl for life. its non-negotiable.

  15. I love this entertaining drama! The couple reminds me of pride & prejudice(first impression) novel’s, their interaction… it feels like my heart is always pounding really hard. 😀
    And I can very much understand their problem. The rest, I don’t really care. 🙂

    I also loved Ha Ji Won in Hwang Jin Yi, good to see her again playing! I am impressed by Hyun Bin, he’s so into this character, I’ve never seen him before this drama, but I’ll look forward to see him again.

  16. I have to admit, i could not go beyond Ep.4 for both PK and M3. And left out so many drama last year when it was about to end. Secret Garden is in a strange category. It totally won me over till Ep.10. But dang!!!! It was not moving forward. The whole swapping thing was wearing me out, it was repetitive. But i stick around, i had too i love the cast. It was impossible to leave JW and Oska. The fear that i will have to drop another drama went down completely when Ep.17 1nd 18 came along. Oh boy!! I am so super excited. Now i want more. Now i am definitely buying a DVD of this drama.

    About the writer. I love her previous work (City Hall in particular). But with SG, she’s is damn lucky with her cast. She got a gift from drama gods. About the cast, do i have to add more…. I love love 21 yr old Hyun Bin. Joo Won as 21 yr old surpassed my noona love for Moon Jaeshin. Am so glad Oppa Binne is 28 in real life.

  17. hi ockoal , sorry to tell you that I don’t share your view concerning SG , personally I think this drama is one of the bestest Kdrama I watched so far and all the characere’s antics and mostly JW’s antics will be stuck in my mind forever , all the actors did a good job and Binnie was rocking , he took the charactere to another level of adorableness ( at least for me ) and I’m glad that I knew such a talented actor whom saddenly has to be MIA for two years .
    agree that the show has some flaws but for me the cutiness of the characteres made it all for me .
    and I can say that for me SG and M3 can’t be compared , the first is really way better than the secon which I stopped watching from epi 6 and I couldn’t continue after that ( sorry M3 fans no offence it’s just my personal POV )
    for me SG and JW/Binnie are on the top of my best drama and best male charactere’s for the time being and maybe for the future too ( at leats for sometimes )
    I’m going to miss secret garden and JW

    • SG is also one of the best dramas of 2010 for me. I’ve dropped so many dramas on 2010, including PK and M3. i never planned to watch m3 but since it was in my harddrive for my sister’s viewing pleasure, I watched it anyways, but I stopped after ep 6. I usually try to hang on for a couple more episodes when I find that the drama sucks in hopes that the drama can redeem itself but i really didn’t find anything to grab my interest with PK and M3.

      I don’t agree that it’s the worst drama ever but u have to agree with koala’s statement:

      Joo Won’s big grand sacrifice was reversed by magic hoodoo that doesn’t even make sense within the magic jibber-jabber of SG. All the tears and amazing acting of Hyun Bin was just to emotionally pillage my sympathy for his character, only to turn around and mock me for falling for such superficial plot progress that is immediately reversed.

      Jw’s sacrifice really made me cry a river, but I really got so effing confuse when the switch was resolved by the Dad. I’m still confuse for the reason of the switch. But we still have 2 more episode so I’m really hoping things could be cleared up this weeked.

  18. Hey, saw your post and just wanted to put in my two cents. I saw many posts criticizing HJW’s performance but I thought it was very good. I am normally a heroine type of viewer. If I don’t like the female lead, I will not be able to continue watching the drama regardless of how much I love the male lead. And I really love HJW as Ra-Im.

    Here’s the thing. Ra-Im as a character was indeed under-developed and inconsistently written. One minute she is a kick-ass stunt-women and the next, she can’t even shake off JW’s hand grips. But HJW manages to sell me on her performance. Not counting her action scenes (which I love), she is a very expressive actress who can handle both emotional and comedy scenes well. I think she is especially good at acting with her eyes. As Ra-Im, her eyes are somewhat sad and pensive but as Joo-won they becomes arrogant and haughty. Biggest weakness so far I think is her crying scenes. I thought she did well as Joo-won really, better than HB as Ra-Im. Others will probably disagree with me but views on subjects like acting are always subjective. All I can say is, before SG I don’t even know who HJW is, I only know the two male leads but now she has a fan in me.

    Anyway as a newly-minted fan, I probably should go watch damo since so many other bloggers are raving about her performance in it.

  19. Why do i feel like you when it comes to SG?

    I can’t point the exact episode or scene when my heart started to lose the magic of SG. There were huge laughs, can’t deny that. Even in episode 18 when the melodrama was in full swing I was laughing my head off when Jong Soo was hugging Ra-Im in Joo won’s body then his evil mom suddenly rushed inside the hospital room. The look on her face – it was hilarious! SG excels in this kind of hi-jinks. But after all the laughter, like a clown with a sad face, I revert back to pensive thinking: What is the point in all this?

    Of course, its all about the age-old mating dance beautifully performed by HJW and HB, they all say. But spending all 20 episodes and employing body-soul switches, magic potions, amnesia at the flick of a finger with no rhyme and reason. It kinda gets into your nerves and makes you want to cry, sob, wail, flail your arms and do all sorts of things to vent your frustration. Ha.

    I think this becomes the problem when the lead character has neurosis. It becomes contagious and affects all the others, haha!

    Anyhow, I never really got hooked into the other works of this writer that I’ve seen so far…now SG just showed me that I’m not missing a lot by not checking out the others. Still I’ve resolved to watch til the end…if only to see if story will redeem itself in the end and anticipates any big laughs they may still have for us. 🙂

    Thanks, Ockoala! This site is cool!

  20. I actually like SG but after the last episode, I kind of wondered what happened to the writer that things have to end up like that. :/ After making me cry rivers on episode 17th, the next episode made me regret that I cried. T.T

    I think the drama should just be a 16-episode drama instead of 20. There are too much things that can be omitted to make the show much better. Oh well, I’m still going to watch out for the last two episodes wishing that it would be much better. I really hope so. T.T

  21. in the end the little mermaid is the dead father. he always appears and dissapears like bubbles. with no sense at all. I was expecting something much bigger at 18th episode and the writer ruined everything but ok. Let´s see what is happening next.

  22. gotta say, your review is the closest we have to an objective review 🙂 I like that you acknowledge SG’s strengths yet point out its weaknesses, not being blinded by fanatical tendencies for the actors/characters. My dislike for SG is not as intense as some of you here – I recognize all its flaws, and darn how I wish RI’s character showed more of her badass stuntwoman sides and had just as many quirks as JW. I like it because it’s SO entertaining, it’s quite ridiculous, although admittedly it has been not as addicting in the past few weeks.
    I think the point of the drama (in the writer’s mind) is RI-JW’s eventual happiness together, but like you said, she over-reduced (if there is such a word) the potentially delicious conflict (rich-poor, he likes tacky tracksuits and expensive flowers she doesn’t, his phobia, etc.) to the trite parental disapproval. I never like and understand that aspect of kdrama – ok, seriously, you are two mature adults, surely you can do something about this? also, seriously, kdrama parents, relax – but accept it anw for the sake of drama enjoyment. Just, unlike other rich-poor Cinderella’s story, this story PROMISED so much more! We have magic! We have phobias! We have stunts! None was used wisely other than to give the drama some uniqueness, some edge. Sigh.

  23. I don’t want to write a dissertation, but it may be time! I’m not a lifelong k-drama viewer, but I’ve got 6 years of heavy drama watching under my belt at this point (has it really been 6 years since EotS? oh my). And I’m perfectly capable of loving shows that are bad or fluff or both. I’m also perfectly capable of watching shows for the pretty or the outright wack. (Case in point – Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge – nuff said!)

    I reserve my disappointment for shows that could have been great, but shot themselves in the foot. In SG’s case, I fault the writer, because the direction and acting are both outstanding. The poor editors and music directors – the last 2 episodes are the fault of the system, not them, assuming they were the same ones who did the early episodes. I hope the latest ones get cleaned up for the DVD and international release.

    One of the pitfalls of trying to write magical realism is that the magic has to be internally consistent. MGIAG – consistent. SG – not so much. From the beginning, the story had little magical things which were awesome – the petals, the painting, etc. Ah Young has dreams that are premonitions – check. Once you get to needing the magic wine for the body switch you can’t really go back to fixing things with a dream (and lordy, how this writer does love her dreams). I don’t care if you have to send Oska back to Jeju to pray in a temple and then find the mystery restaurant but I call no fair on the quick fix of the dream.

    Acting – outstanding. Production – I know $ matter, but to quote Elvis, “a little less conversation, a little more action please.”

    I said going in that my price of admission was HB fangirlling at YSH. So, on that level I’m happy, because THAT was epic. And admittedly I’ve also said I’d switch teams for HJW. Still true. Both she and HB were rocking the personality switches. YSH, I’d watch him play Oska forever. I love that character, which is clearly an offshoot of my Kimutaku love, but hey I have issues. I also adore Ah Young and Sec. Kim (want to freak out? Watch Ajussi and then come back and watch him here – that’s just wild). So, we’re talking some powerhouse acting going on, and the writing of the actual lines is snappy and cool.

    It’s the plotting, not the dialogue that is the issue. So far, JW’s sister and grandparents are characters that are clearly underused and probably going to be used as fixers in the last 2 episodes. Either that or writer-nim just duffed those roles. I can almost forgive the laughable medical nonsense because it’s dramaland, but it got a bit silly, no?

    The Wish Upon a Star machine? Ok, writer – Seul first mentions it – JW uses it – so I’ll give you credit there, but cheap fix #2 coming up. I can see that one a mile off, and if it isn’t used I’ll be wondering WTH it was doing in the other episode except as a fake out – but fake outs have to be good ones, like the bench kiss. Me, I’d have been happier with a sleeping beauty kiss or a kiss at midnight at a ball (and thank the heavens Ra Im isn’t the type to throw herself in the water to drown to force JW to remember her….because that really WOULD send me over the edge). Srsly writer – you’ve got a world of fairy tales, pick one and go for it.

    To compare the other works by the writer – I love City Hall. But the first 2 episodes in particular, are….not so great. If KSA wasn’t able to pull off the impression that she’d been purposely hiding her light under a bushel due to spending most of her energy trying to keep afloat and so not wanting to rock the boat then that would have fallen flat as a pancake (hey, now THERE’S a series of mixed metaphors).

    The Lovers series ::shudders:: Hand to heart, if a LiP ending EVER happens again, I will commit violence upon my computer. I couldn’t even finish On Air, which is saying something, since I have a high tolerance for dreck. When a show gets to the point where I am watching for the chemistry between the actors (Pasta, I’m talking about you) then something is wrong. SG hasn’t quite reached that point, because I still DO want to see what happens, and fortunately HB and HJW have enough chemistry to power a nuclear power plant.

    Am I still watching? Yes. And I’ll be watching raw but not live this weekend.
    Will I be taking my phone to the place I’m supposed to be this weekend and stream it there? Probably not, it can wait until I get home, a striking contrast to how I felt about the early episodes.
    Am I still enjoying it? Yes. But I reserve the right to snark – we snark because we love.
    Do I still adore the actors (and have a real love for YSH now)? Yes.
    Do I wish shows like this one could be completely in the can before air? Oh YES!
    Is this a BAD show? No.
    Is it good? Yep. I’d rate it as good.
    Could it have been great? Yep. And that’s what burns.

    • This. Everything. THIS! *nods head and claps hands* You said what I wanted to say in a much more articulate way.

      I’d add that I still feel disconnected from SG in a way I wasn’t in earlier eps, but yeah, everything else you said? I second it. Wholeheartedly.

      Could it have been great? Yep. And that’s what burns.
      And yes, it burns. So much. /o

  24. why do i love Secret Garden?

    is it because of the story? to be brutally honest, NO.
    is it because of the directing? PARTLY YES
    is it because of the cinematoghraphy? YES!
    is it because its has a regular drama cliche? PARTLY YES

    well, i did love SG because of its wonderful cast and its endearing leads HA JI WON and HYUN BIN. if these drama were headline by other actors i might just drop after few episodes. but the wonderful chemistry of the leads kept me from going.

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE HYUN BIN here! even though he seem thinner than the usual but he totally fits the bill of being Jo Won! And Ha Ji Won rocks being a kiss as* girl!
    and special shout out to Yoon Sang Hyun for stealign the spotlight once in a while with his in depth emotions and funny antics. and did i mention i love Jo won and oska’s love and hate bromance? its so entertaining to watch!

    with 2 episodes to go, i dont wanna care anymore about the story itself to be honest, i as long as i can see my wonderful leads together, im good!

    i just hope for a finale that the wonderful cast deserve!
    see yah at the end secret garden!

  25. I thought I was the only one quickly losing interest in this show but then I read the last few recaps at Dramabeans and this entry and realized I’m not alone! I never LOVED the show to begin with but the beginning episodes were cute, Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won were hot, and there were some truly LOL moments. But then I started wondering just where the hell this show was going and realized I really didn’t care anymore and felt no excitement each time I watched a new episode. It almost felt like a chore I had assigned myself just because I am anal and HAVE to finish every show unless they are just excruciatingly painful to watch. So I will most likely finish this show but I’m not expecting to really enjoy it or even feel emotionally invested in what is going to happen to these characters. But at least I know Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won will look good! Oska is pretty cute himself too minus the hair.

  26. Well, sorry to disagree, but didn’t the writer herself say from the very start that SG is her “light” show, and how it was especially written for the family for their fun-time together during weekend? As a result, I get it that SG is not as “matured” as CH or OA (for me, those two’re way more serious and smart in the land of romcoms). That’s why I simply watch SG with a lighter mode, just to have fun, and it really works for me. Thank you writer nim, please write me another one 🙂 Ooops…, sorry Ockoala :))

  27. :pokes at this post:
    Yeah, way too heated for me…
    I’m ashamed that my mother and sister are more current than I am. I haven’t been in the drama watching mood–Variety’s where I’m at, so I’m still at ep 10.

    I’m ashamed.
    But I’ll pick it up soon…

  28. Hi Ockoala, always LOVE your review 🙂 *Suscribing*

    And thank you so much for this, i was so excited when i found this one particular post. Because this is the only drama, that i watch religiously currently. it is an easy watch drama and it’s HA JI WON. Never been a fan of Hyun Bin, but in SG, acting-wise, he is SO good. It’s such a treat to see their hot chemistry. Oska is so cute. Kim Sarang becomes one gorgeous lady 🙂 (watched her last time in IJUKSA).

    However, SG makes me crazy -_- Plot-wise, it drives us nowhere until last few episodes? and BAM! Eps 18 left me speechless -_-
    At this point, i don’t even care to whatever happen in the end. Well, no, i care. A tiny bit. Please do NOT make them die/’only in a dream ending’, dear writer.

  29. At this point I’m watching SG b/c Hyun Bin’s acting his heart out, the show is just so easy on the eyes, it’s entertaining, and I really do love Oska. However, SG is kinda souless. At this point in the show’s run my heart should be breaking because its ending soon, but I’m just calmly enjoying the ride.

  30. You’re right. The plot-WTF-ery of ep18 is truly epic.

    But the show lost me long long ago. The Plot Crazy was just the nail in the coffin. After the Plot Lazy – the lack of progression and recycling of affecting scenes, and the headdesking fact that even after literally living in each others’ skins the protagonists did not gain an iota of understanding or empathy for each other (a most egregious waste of a fancy plot device).

    I can put up with facile plot turns if I’m invested in a story. Logic fail is not a problem if a story is carrying me along. And I’m not at all adverse to fantasy elements. But if I’m not connecting with a story or its people, even the most beautiful tear-jerking scenes and affecting acting leave me unmoved.

    SG was love/hate whiplash for me from the start. I was quite dazzled by the sheer beauty of the cinematography and the lead actors, and mildly charmed by the fairy-tale vibe and lush soundtrack. I enjoyed the Binnie/HJW scenes for their sheer hotness. But at the same time I detected from the start a whiff of chicanery and insincerity, of sleight of hand and manipulation.

    Who is this Ra Im? Apart from the fact that she looks and moves like a badass action actress, I only know that she is a martial arts exponent who cowers before alpha males, and that she is a normal person who is hardworking, who has pride, who has dreams, and who cries. Other than these universal points, I don’t feel I know who this woman is. I don’t see anything that can make her catch a man who has everything and that can induce an entitled man to give up all his privileges in life. The only thing noteworthy about her is that she bears an uncanny resemblance to a hot actress named Ha Ji Won (even to the extent of being her stuntwoman).

    And I just can’t care about this Joo Won. Apart from the fact that he looks like an emaciated version of a well-loved romcom star, I only know that he is precious, self-absorbed, supremely inconsiderate, and borderline-Aspersers in his dysfunctional behaviour. He’s not even average; he’s worst than average in his arrogance and thoughtlessness. I couldn’t stand the way he bullied Ra Im; causing her distress, invading her privacy, disregarding her feelings, humiliating her in public, jeopardising her career. Now, I know this is fantasy-life (not RL where JW could be slapped with a restraining order for actionable assault and battery), and this is not the only story on the planet to throw us the old “this love is epic because it conquers even this asshole” trope. But I just couldn’t buy it this time because I find JW so objectionable and without a single redeeming feature, but at the same time I sense that the show is premised on my finding him dreamy. This makes me suspect that the show is banking on cheap wish-fulfilment – rich handsome man falls in love with everygirl who redeems him – and is expecting me to swallow it unquestioningly.

    I can buy that JW becomes obsessed with Ra Im. People like him are frequently obsessive-possessive. But I can’t compute his inexplicable character-transplant to become all of a sudden noble and self-sacrificing. I can buy the saved-by-the-love-of-a-good-woman trope if it is set up right, but in the case of JW it just feels to me like an empty plot device. Just what does he see in RI, apart from physical attraction? What prompted his feelings, apart from morbid fascination with the poor, or pity? I have no idea. And what made RI fall so hopelessly in love with this utter bastard against her better judgement, apart from him being rich and handsome? I have no idea.

    For me, SG is a miss. I can’t buy the Deathless Love. I feel that SG is essentially empty. It has a beautiful exterior, but an empty interior.

  31. Ha! I just found this so I’m going to write anyway even though it’s month old! 🙂

    SG is the first Korean drama I’ve ever watched and made me a fan of Korean dramas instantly. I do, however, agree with basically all the things you say and it makes me a bit sad. I think SG would’ve been so much better with little bit of plot tightening and HUGE rewrite of Gil Ra Im’s character. Kim Joo Won as a character is great or at least Binnie (what a nice nick name, I’ll use it from now on) makes him great. While he starts as spoiled brat for whom everything has a price and money is a way to impress people, he develops a lot during the drama. At first he just seem to want to own Ra Im but at the end he is ready to make ultimate sacrifice for her. He just grows up so much in just 20 episodes, so much more than many people do in their whole life. And his falling for Gil Ra Im is to some extent plausible – she’s something he cannot get, a puzzle he has to solve so he chases after her and while chasing falls in love.

    But Gil Ra Im on the other hand… What a paper character. I was so disappointed that lead lady was such a weak cry baby. As you say she’s mostly just reactive. Only in the very end does she stand up a bit for herself but it doesn’t really save anything anymore. Her hurt is understandable considering how Joo Won treats her, especially in the beginning, but while she’s supposed to be this though stunt woman, in reality she’s more like a ball that bounces around without it’s own direction. She just doesn’t seem to have a personality and her falling for Joo Won isn’t done very well. First she doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, then suddenly she’s like “oh, I came here to surrender myself”. Ok, that might be ok, IF IT WEREN’T reverted in the next episode! So back “I’m a good girl and not gonna do anything with you” mode. Could you, like, decide!

    Seriously, it’s Kim Joo Won who is 100 times more interesting than Gil Ra Im. And I just feel it shouldn’t be so in romantic drama. Leading lady should be interesting and have a distinct character of her own. In SG this is reverted completely. While I do love Kim Joo Won, I think he could’ve done better in his choice of mate. 😉

    Oska and Yoon Seul are both great. Their love story was actually more to the point than the other one. Boy meets a girl, boy does something stupid and looses his girl, years afterwards they meet and fight a bit until they reconcile and everything is sweet and lovely. There’s no such inconsistencies or plot jumps and holes like in the story of Joo Won and Ra Im. They are both unique characters as they own and gain a greater understanding during the drama. Especially I love how Oska understands his past neglect of Yoon Seul. You can actually see that he feels himself the pain that he caused for her. It’s pretty moving. I loved the scene where there’s some newspaper stuff going on and Seul acts like Oska would’ve acted years ago. That look on Oskas face when he realizes the hurt Seul had felt – because he feels it himself. Wonderful scene.

    Puuh. I had to say this to someone! I don’t know any other Finns who are addicted to Korean drama so I have to find other forums to lighten my heart. Thanks!

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