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Friday, November 19, 2010

First Impressions: Secret Garden (2010)

Secret Garden
20 Episodes
Nov 2010 - Jan 2011

We are introduced to Hyun Bin first, and he’s a bit of a head case. Literally. He’s working through some issues in his personal life, one of which is some kind of certifiable disorder that probably ends with an “—ia” at the end of the medical diagnosis. He also has quite the imagination and it often runs away from him. But he’s carefully keeping that under wraps. Being perceived as a lazy rich kid riding his family’s wealth does bother him some (the fam owns a luxury department store – I’m gonna associate Loel to Nordy in my head), but that false perception is considerably less worrisome than the thought of his real secret being found out by the ambitious underlings eager to oust him. Like in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s famed book, The Secret Garden, we have a protag who has some serious problems and the tendency to escape them through the power of his own mind, which allows for a blending of fantasy and reality. There are also lots of pretty garden scenery, too, as he lives in the most gorgeous house ever (although with all that water, I’d worry about the bazillions of mosquitoes that must populate there during the summers). 

Hyun Bin’s character is the kind of overly smart guy that baits people into word traps and then insults them very cleverly (“Do you keep that head stuck there just to add extra height?); he’s a dutiful heir and goes on blind dates set by his mother diligently if somewhat robotically; he is also typical of the entitled in that he carries a bloated opinion of himself which he knows is protected by the thickness of his wallet. Despite all of the above, he is not dislikable. His honesty is refreshing—off-putting, but still refreshing. He isn’t, however, unaware of etiquette or proper social behavior, he simply believes he is too important for such rules to apply.

When he clashes with Ha JiWon’s stuntwoman character, who has an abrasively charming personality equal to his own (she’s the kind of gal who uses another woman’s purse as a trashcan), he’s immediately smitten by her and he doesn’t spend very much time in denial about it either. As Ha JiWon’s action school boss describes perfectly of Hyun Bin’s interest in her, “He’s not strange at all. He’s a man.” That’s right, Ha JiWon is heading-turningly beautiful. Fact.

Speaking of Phillip Lee, who is Ha’s boss and second love interest, he is the typical second lead, handsome and nice and secretly in love with his employee.

There’s a third guy, too, a singer/actor played by Yoon SangHyun, who also happens to be Hyun Bin’s cousin and life rival, and being rude is clearly a family trait. By the by, Ha JiWon harbors a major crush on this playboy celebrity.

Last, we have Kim SaRang, a woman who has some gold-digging tendencies. She has romantic history with Yoon SangHyun, but sees Hyun Bin as the way into a better, more financially secure future.

There’s some body-switching that will also happen, or so it’s rumored. This is a romantic comedy with extra emphasis on the comedy.

First impressions
I did not love it, but I loved the actors.

At times Garden felt too eager to please and the character introductions felt like they were being rammed down my throat, but luckily, the acting felt nuanced even when the script did not. It was over the top and insanely unbelievable, and this tone of mixing action within romcom within fantasy was not exactly well done, but the show saved itself by being uniquely and prettily edited. And therefore interesting. Ha JiWon and HyunBin are trustworthy leads so I have every faith they will eek out as much juice as humanly possible from this half-bent storyline.

A few annoyances that tried to pull me out of the drama before I could even take a swim? Generic costuming: does every female action star post-Tomb Raider need to be a clone of Angelina Jolie’s Laura Croft? Ugh. She is not the paragon of all female action stars. I know they wanted to get the setup out of the way quickly, but cheap associations do not always make good ones. Actress glorification: now, I love Ha as much as the next drama fan who considers her their favorite female actress, but there were moments when the drama veered way too far into the “Let’s Bask in Ha JiWon’s Beauty” territory. We all know she’s a gorgeous woman, no need to bathe her in a haze of soft light so frequently, let’s talk more about why else she’s a great female lead, hm? Particularly why she’s fabulous in this drama, and not just cash in on the pretty or her real life awesomeness. Balladeering: isn’t it far too soon in the game to be offering us the sad sack ballads? It’s not “love” yet, is it? But more like “wow, she’s totally hot” kind of interest? I don’t like the musical cues telling me I’m supposed to already believe that our Main Boy looooooves the Main Girl after less than five hours in each other’s company. I’m just sayin’. Let’s save some of that great emotional crying music to correlate with the actual scenes, please.

A few things I loved right off the bat? The show did an excellent job creatively allowing us to enter Hyun Bin’s mindset. It was entertaining, charming and most importantly, gave good enlightenment into his character. I also liked that HyunBin was neurotic but self-aware, willing to own his feelings for this brassy woman instead of wallowing in denial for 10 episodes, as most kdrama men are wont to do. He screams like a little girl but acts like a hair-pulling boy, trying to get the pretty girl’s attention on the play yard. She, on the other hand, is the uptight, prissy girl with pigtails who happens to also be able to kick a boy’s butt into the sandbox. She’s always been stronger than most men and lived life treated accordingly, but Hyun Bin trots up out of nowhere and garishly treats her like a woman, which annoys her, but also forces her to notice him. It’s an interesting dynamic. Ha JiWon is a woman living in a man’s world. She’s vulnerable and soft-hearted, but that isn’t a part of her public persona. That part she keeps guarded.

I am looking forward to learning more of her past and seeing how her energy will match Hyun Bin’s.

The previews for future episodes hint at more ludicrous scenarios to come, including Hyun Bin in a wig, so the show will likely get funnier, as everyone already knows this is some kind of body swapping drama. Garden also gave us good reason to believe there are dark pasts yet to be revealed for all of our leads, Yoon SangHyun and Kim SaRang as well.

So far so good. Not great, but good enough for the first two hours.


  1. It is nice to hear something else but praise about Secret Garden

  2. Wow great, its beautiful video and i'm already curious this secret garden

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    "Few friendships would survive if each one knew what his friend says of him behind his back. " -- Blaise Pascal

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  3. Translate from: English
    I like her in the Korean movie Called secret garden. She was cute, sassy, and adorable for that movie.
    she's a very talented artist
    thank you for sharing information


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