Disclaimer: I’ve been hesitant to start this series. Before anyone starts throwing day’s old rice in outrage at me, there’s a good reason. I promise. Ever since I started k-dramas back in April of 2014, I’ve noticed that Secret Garden is on the top of many favorite lists — along with other popular dramas such as Lie To Me and Coffee Prince. So, why have I hesitated for nearly a year? To be completely honest, it was the summary. As I’m a huge book worm, summaries make or break a lot of what I choose to read. Dramas aren’t much different. So, when I discovered that this drama would involve the main leads swapping bodies, I wasn’t feeling the urge to whip up snacks and binge-watch Secret Garden.
Luckily, I saw it again on my most recent search on Netflix, and I thought, “Why not?” Like many dramas before, I’ve experienced a lot of good dramas with terrible summaries and a lot of bad/just-okay dramas with awesome summaries. It’s really hard to predict what you’ll like and what you won’t by a summary or concept alone, but I have to be honest: I understand the appeal of Secret Garden. And this is quite impressive as Rob Schneider’s body-swapping role in the American movie Hot Chick has made body-swapping roles uber creepy and bizarre for me ever since.
Not that anyone needs the mental image, but here it is anyway:
Secret Garden is the story of Gil Ra Im, a young stunt woman who is pretty, strong, and likable. In the first episode, we see that her work isn’t easy at all. It’s hard and grueling. Even Joo Won questions why she’d ever want to work in such a profession, but he just couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that she loves being a stunt women. Ra Im lives with her best friend in a pretty shabby-looking apartment. In my opinion, the place looks much worse on the outside than on the inside. It’s a small place, but the people who live in it make it feel like such a warm, cozy space.
Ra Im is the delightful kind of person that it’s almost impossible to hate unless you’re Joo Won’s mom that despises Ra Im because she’s not filthy rich and from a well-connected family. (Yep, it’s one of those mom’s — just like I suffered through Boys Over Flowers every time that Gu Jun Pyo’s mom was determined to destroy Jan Di.) Because of Joo Won’s mother’s tactics, there are a few times that Ra Im waves the white flag and retreats, which really upset me at times. I understand why she did what she did. It was selfless and beautiful the way she wanted to protect Joo Won from his scheming mother.
Joo Won is the CEO of a luxurious department store. He’s cold, prickly, claustrophobic, filthy rich, but he also loves to read and has a pretty awesome built-in wall of books. Also, he has a thing for sparkly, sequin track suits that were apparently hand-stitched by a designer in Italy.
Another thing to note is that Joo Won is constantly in a battle with his older cousin, Oska, who is a famous singer. The two are always trying to outdo the other — whether it’s “who has more” or “who gets the last word.”
I really loved the fantasy element of this series. While it does require you to suspend disbelief, the concept wasn’t too far-fetched. It was fun to see Joo Won and Ra Im swap bodies. Also, who cried by the bucketfuls when Joo Won drove into the rain with an unconscious Ra Im so that they could swap bodies and she could survive? Joo Won could, quite possibly, be my favorite male lead to date.
But let’s take this all from the beginning. When Ra Im was seventeen-years-old, her father, a fireman, responded to a building on fire. While looking for survivors inside the burning building, he finds twenty-one-year-old Joo Won trapped in an elevator with a leg injury. The sad part is that most of the elevator has passed the opening, and there’s only a small space to crawl out. Because of this, Joo Won’s leg injury keeps him from escaping. Seeing this, Ra Im’s father enters the elevator. He gives Joo Won oxygen and talks to him for a bit. When it’s time to get out, he puts Joo Won on his shoulders so that he can crawl out of the opening.
This reveal happens at the very end of the series, so we unfortunately know that Ra Im’s father is going to die — because it was pointed out that he died while saving another. Unfortunately, as Joo Won tries to help Ra Im’s father out of the elevator, his movements make the elevator creak and shift. He knows it. We all know it. The elevator isn’t going to hold his weight for long.
It’s a horrible moment when the elevator creaks again before falling. He doesn’t even stand a chance because the elevator bursts into flames on impact. Cue the ugly crying. Guys, I did a lot of ugly crying throughout this series.
I love, love, love Ra Im’s father. Even in the afterlife, he is determined to bring his daughter and Joo Won together. I mean, I still wonder what struck him to want to pair up the two in the first place, but he must have sensed something when he was with Joo Won in the elevator. Either way, I am so happy that her father meddled and found a way to bring them together. I feel like Ra Im’s father can rest easy knowing that his daughter is fiercely protected and loved by a great man.
Also, Ra Im’s wonderful dad more than made up for Joo Won’s terrible mother. I’m left to wonder just how differently things would have turned out if he had saved Joo Won and managed to escape the elevator. Would he have introduced Joo Won and Ra Im? I don’t want to focus on the what if’s, but it’s an interesting angle to explore.
Once Joo Won was able to remember and confront that painful day, we discover that he’s no longer afraid of elevators. But I really do wonder if claustrophobia can be really treated that easily — especially since we saw his anxiety and fear skyrocket when he was in the tiny dressing room with Ra Im at the department store. If confronting and dealing with the past was what cured him, good for Joo Won.
Oska was an interesting character, but I often felt a bit bored by his story line. I think he’s a great person, and I love what he did for Joo Won and Ra Im, but things got a bit eye-role worthy between Oksa and his ex. It was all a misunderstanding, jeez! Leave it to a k-drama to milk the drama out of something that could’ve been resolved in five minutes if people would, well, actually communicate with each other.
Although, I did adore the little role with Lee Jong Suk. I mean, I’m just captivated by everything that actor does. He has a good ability to make each of his characters different from the last. Part of me wishes his role in this series was larger.
Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won were perfect for their roles and no one can convince me otherwise. I mean, not only did they have to play their own character, but they had to play each other during the body swap. The reason I was so impressed is because both Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won had each other’s character’s mannerisms and ways of speech down pat. It was never hard trying to figure out who was who. A++
I feel the story about Joo Won’s accident was a bit rushed. I would have loved to see how the fire broke out and how Joo Won ended up in the elevator in the first place. This is mostly because I crave details, so it’s not that it detracted from the actual story. In k-drama land, sometimes there is no winning over the mother. Unfortunately, even after Ra Im has 3 beautiful children with Joo Won, there is still no light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to his mother. She obviously didn’t approve of the marriage. Also, the grandfather said he wouldn’t approve of the marriage until his daughter approved of it. So, in the end, they had no one’s approval, and that kind of sucked. No, it really sucked.
Why do k-drama parents and elders always have to be so difficult? I wasn’t expecting a perfect ending, but I was hoping that Ra Im and Joo Won’s mother would have been able to find some middle ground after multiple years had passed. I’m hoping that, one day, Ra Im will gain their approval. In time, they will slowly thaw and grow to love Ra Im just as Joo Won did.
I enjoyed Yoo In Na and Secretary Kim together — mostly because Secretary Kim is so skittish and awkward. As far as romance goes, I wasn’t really feeling a “love connection” with them, which the drama seemed to really push for. Otherwise, I had fun watching them interact.
Final Verdict: Great k-drama for binge-watching. Secret Garden is heart-warming and even more endearing and lovable when the entire story comes together. There is a magical, whimsical quality to this drama that you won’t be able to soon forget. Despite all odds, two people who suffered a lot in the past came together and fell in love. And, at the end of the day, I am a total sucker for a love story with a happy ending.
There is no way that my jumbled, crazy review could do this drama justice, but know that the story is actually a lot better than the summary implies. If you’re looking for beautiful music, good acting, and a great, layered story, this is a perfect place to start for a weekend drama marathon.