International Dramas: ‘My Secret Romance’

Promotional image of Sung Hoon and Song Ji Eun. Copyright goes to ‘OCN’ and ‘DramaFever’.

Hi! It’s Annie!

I am admittedly starting to really run out of dramas to watch on Netflix. I hope more are added soon! There are a number on the streaming service I still haven’t watched, but I’m really into lighthearted romances so I’m a lot more hesitant with any of the ones with darker themes right now. Though I did love ‘Vincenzo’, so I may eventually give some of those a chance. This drama won me over with the pastel themed holiday-type photos Netflix has been recently advertising it with. (Yes, the photo that I used is from these!) So, I finally gave this one a chance after seeing it in my recommended shows for what feels like forever. It’s not a super recent K-Drama, but it isn’t an older K-Drama either which kind of surprised me. While the drama does deal with a lot more recent progressive types of thinking, it also has a lot of the cheesiness that I expected from dramas more around the era of ‘Boys Over Flowers’. This drama did end up having some of that cute charm; but there were several things that soured it for me a little bit. And yay to more second lead syndrome! I’m just going to get into it, but bear in mind that this will have MAJOR SPOILERS in it. This is your only warning!

Summary: Yumi stays at a fancy hotel after attending one of her Mother’s weddings and while there meets a “busboy” named Jinwook. Both are unhappy with their current lives and find solace in each other after a series of odd events, leading to them sleeping together. Years later, Yumi finally lands the job of her dreams at a company that she soon finds out is run by Jinwook, who was never a busboy at all.

The Delicious:

The Places- I always absolutely love it when a drama gives the audience places that feel cozy and familiar. The best example of that in this is the bookshop and brewery that the second lead, Hyuntae, runs. He says earlier on that he opens it when he wants and closes it when he wants, so it’s mostly open at night because, like me, he’s a night owl. With the cozy atmosphere covered with plants and books, it’s the perfect place for the main character to spend some time decompressing. The night aesthetic and the bright lights of the shop just add to the comforting feeling of the hole-in-the-wall type place, and it absolutely helps that it’s run by a sweet second lead who wears all of those cozy looking sweaters that second leads wear. The show also spends a lot of time at a very pretty resort right on the beach, which is another escapism place that made this show worth watching. The beach, though being by what looks to be a very tourist-y area, is usually pretty private and has plenty of rocks to climb on. This show succeeded in making me want to go to so many of the places that they showcased.

The Female Lead- Yay! Another drama where I actually liked the female lead! There were times where she felt a little weak within the plot, but I also think the drama did a good job in keeping her strong and letting her make decisions for herself. She holds a lot of, understandable, past trauma with her Mother. The drama doesn’t seek to completely undo the trauma that was done, but instead justifies the main character for the decisions that she makes. Yumi is very sweet to the team she works with as well and tries to make everyone feel included. She wasn’t an original character by any means or one of my favorite female leads, but I think she pretty well remains strong throughout the show. The show doesn’t dumb her down or make her the damsel in distress for the main male lead. And I liked that it showed her interest in her job despite not knowing everything about it yet. She wasn’t perfect and it was relatable to show the learning curve of a career.

The Second Lead- Once again, second lead syndrome hit me hard here. And this is also one of the few times that I thought the main female character would have been better off with the second lead. He was really supportive, helped her take care of her family, and even stepped up to the plate to push the main lead towards her in the end. He also was a published novelist who wrote about travel who was on the lookout for someone to travel with. Sign me up! He had a very bright and sweet personality, almost every character in the show would go to him for advice, and he wore all those cozy sweaters. I seriously don’t know how you don’t choose this man. I know that I usually go for the sweet ones, which is probably why I suffer from second lead syndrome so often, but this was ridiculous. Not only because this guy was so irresistible, but also because the main lead was not my favorite for a variety of reasons that I’ll go into later. But how can you not go with the big brother type, sweater-wearing, cozy, travel writer? How??? Yumi is always more comfortable and even playful when she’s with Hyuntae and is more flustered and annoyed with Jinwook. There wasn’t a decision here.

The Side Characters- Though we didn’t get much of them, I really loved the other food workers working with Yumi. They were super supportive and very cute and they were never ill used or annoying. I liked Jinwook’s assistant in his absolutely garish suits and his crush on one of the women on Yumi’s team too. When Yumi eventually decided to leave her job, I was honestly more distressed at her parting with her team at work. The karaoke night they all had to say goodbye to her was so sweet! Again, there really wasn’t much of them at all, but I didn’t feel that there was a need for them to show up more than they did in this drama with the way the plot was set up.

The Over-Done:

The Main Male Lead- I know that the whole “falling in love with the boss” thing is super popular, but I personally think it can get really complicated very quickly. For one, this creates a boss-employee dynamic, which is an unbalanced power dynamic. I’ve seen some shows subvert this by adding instances where they aren’t quite boss-subordinate. The employee might actually be on a similar level to the CEO, or is working in a company or department that is more adjacent to the CEO’s company. Or even that the employee is only working at the company for a limited amount of time because their career is actually in something else. This drama didn’t take any of those routes. This was straight up boss-subordinate and, even worse, the boss character decides to take advantage of his situation at every moment possible. Jinwook realizes that Yumi is working for his company by chance, and makes her work overtime to hand-make individual meals for him and then deliver them so that he can see her and punish her for leaving him before he woke up after they slept together. If that isn’t taking advantage of your position of power, I don’t know what is. Especially because of how much he sends his food back to be remade and consistently makes her work after everyone else has gone. This is straight up harassment. Could you imagine if a CEO of an actual company slept with an employee and then punished them at work for what happened that night? I’m sure it’s happened before, but I don’t see how you can paint this in any sort of positive light. On top of this, Jinwook also demands that Yumi eat with him (essentially go on dates with him) and threatens her job if she refuses. How is this romantic?? Jinwook needs to be in jail! He’s also a pompous brat for most of the series and doesn’t actually seem to learn. It almost feels like they purposely created a toxic male lead to show off how adorable their second lead is.

The Other Love Interest- The male lead, being rich, has a female love interest that his family expects him to marry. Of course, she’s rich and pretty and really mean to the main character. They tried to do a redemption story with her, but I just didn’t feel that it worked out at all. I usually love redemption stories! She was constantly putting down women that were poorer or “less pretty” than she was and she never really seemed to learn from it. At the end of the show she ends up with the second lead, and this is a storyline that I usually like. I like when the second lead actually gets to find love too. But the issue was that she wasn’t nearly good enough for him. She was still really bratty and insulting. I understood that she felt crushed that the only guy she ever liked didn’t like her back, but that doesn’t excuse her hateful actions towards other characters (mostly other women) in the show. I’d love to see more shows without female characters tearing each other down for not being “feminine” enough. I’m really sick of seeing female characters fight over a guy, too.

The Last Couple Episodes- This seems to happen a lot where I don’t really like the ending of a K-Drama. I’ve said before that romance shows in general seem to not know what to do with themselves once a couple actually gets together. They like the idea of the chase, but writers don’t seem to think that showing the audience the couple just being a couple is interesting enough. This drama was another example of that. After Yumi’s Mom makes a fool of herself on television in which she reveals the secret relationship between Yumi and Jinwook; Yumi decides to run away from home. Eventually Jinwook finds her on the beach they met at, but she, once again, leaves the next morning before he can wake up. She decides to go back home, has a really bad fever for a while, and then finally gets back together with Jinwook because her Mom tells her to do it on TV. What? Also, can we talk about the fact that even Hyuntae knew where Yumi would be and he literally has to spell it out to Jinwook in order for him to find her? And they really put her with Jinwook at the end?

Progressiveness- I never thought I would be putting this in a review. Essentially, Yumi is ashamed of her Mother for a variety of reasons, but the main reason is that she was made fun of because her Mother starred in an adult film. The Mother is shown to be so proud of this adult film that she decides to show large screenshots of it at her wedding. There’s a lot wrong with all of this. Sex workers have to deal with enough as it is. What we’re not going to do, is use a large platform to shame sex workers. Most of them would not want screenshots of their work shown to all their friends and family, but many of them also would not be ashamed of their work and we should not shame them for it. If they were going to cover this topic, they needed to do it with care. Because of how much this show addressed rich people and how much they spent on this show, it really did feel like they were punching down. The show spent a lot of time really trying to progressively address sex, but they seemed to catastrophically fail every time. Whether it was the shaming of sex workers or the fact that they claimed to be progressive but frequently danced around the topic of sex. The characters in the show talk about how having one night stands should not be frowned upon, but the main character is extremely self deprecating for having had one at all and the show refuses to really talk about the incident. If you say that you’re going to be progressive, actually be progressive.

As you can tell, I’m pretty split about this drama. Is it one I would watch again? No. But it had a certain charm to it! There were things about it that I liked, and things about it that I definitely did not. I didn’t find it to be all that romantic, for one because of a lot of the dancing around important topics, and the whole boss thing for another. But it’s a cute world to live in for a while as you’re watching the drama. It’s not something I would really recommend, but if you want to watch it, go ahead! It’s not (all that) offensive! But it’s also not very original and not the romantic escape I was hoping for.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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