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Secret Garden (2010)
Genre: Romance, comedy, fantasy, melodrama
Broadcast: SBS, Nov-2010 -> Jan 2011
Kim Joo Won, eccentric chaebol heir to a hotel business, meets no-nonsense stuntwoman Gil Ra Im, who lives on the other side of the tracks. Sparks between them are immediate. But can they overcome the class differences? Can they deal with the mysterious force that swaps their souls? It’s a mix of genres, and was a huge hit with 30%+ ratings.
Secret Garden basically aks the question: “Can two people build a relationship based on attraction alone?” And, boy, do these actors have chemistry. Thus the first half of the drama is full of the mating dance: encounters, overtures, rebuffs, and banter. Of course, the body-swapping adds to the confusion as the two leads (hilariously) adjust to each other’s lives and bodies. The second half of the story rather abandons that in favor of melodrama. Overall, it’s still a good love story and great comedy, but the plot is a bit oversimplified.
The strength of the writing lies in characterization and dialogue. All four lead characters are well drawn, unique, and far from clichéd. Dialogue is sharp and witty; some of my favorite parts of the drama were the many scenes where Joo Won and Ra Im engage in sharp repartee. A host of entertaining secondary characters keep you laughing.
Hyun Bin as Kim Joo Won: This drama is arguably Hyun Bin’s show. He brilliantly portrayed his characters’ eccentricity, sometimes veering near abrasiveness but always conveying his honesty. When Kim Joo Won falls in love, he doesn’t hold back, and Hyun Bin really went for it here. What really take the cake are his body-swap scenes – where he makes you laugh till you cry.
Ha Ji Won as Gil Ra Im: Korea’s national female action star is well cast as the stuntwoman here. Although her character was a little bland in comparison to Hyun Bin’s, she turns in a solid performance. Like her co-star, she rocked the body-swap scenes.
Yoon Sang Hyun as Oska: As a slightly dim, aging pop star with a soft spot for little cousin Joo Won, Oska ended up my favorite character. He’s got enough immaturity to get laughs out of you, but he’s a caring elder-brother figure to Joo Won too. Yoon plays him well with all his comedy and poignant moments.
Kim Sa Rang as Seul: Oska’s fiery old flame. She’s the typical bitchy second lead in the first half, but Kim plays her with gusto and really turns kick-ass in the second half. Watch for her epic drink-off with Mother-in-Law, as well as her “I’m the crazy bitch in this town” speech.
The cinematography is excellent, and the visuals are gorgeous. The director incorporates nice little touches – for example, whenever Joo Won thinks of Ra Im, a little ghost figure of her appears and walks next to him, matching his steps. The OST is well done, too – mellow and sometimes melancholy.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
1) Chemistry. This drama would have been nothing without it. Let’s just say Hyun Bin and Ha Ji Won could have written the textbook on “Chemistry with Your Co-Star”. Note: the sit-up scene, the dressing-room scene, and the café scene.
2) The body-swap. Both of these actors give it their all as the other sex, and the result is hysterical.
3) The secondary couple. They have enough plot to be a main couple in another drama, and they’re well-played, with some very cute and funny moments.
4) The infamous tracksuits: Kim Joo Won’s designer pride and joy. It’s parody gold, which explains why I’ve also seen them in at least three other dramas after Secret Garden.
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