2013’s Secret Korean Revenge Drama Review
I’ve finished this drama just yesterday, after watching it in 3 days. A bit of a background – this is my second time seeing Hwang Jung Eum and Ji Sung together. The very first one is Kill Me Heal Me which is one of my favourite dramas. I loved that one and I also found out before that this was their second time working together. I’ve seen pictures of this drama on the Internet but just never felt drawn to watching this. The posters seemed intense – korean revenge drama, enemies to lovers?
After many times of seeing it on Netflix and wanting something different to watch after My Ahjussi, I finally decided to give this a try. Honestly, the dark vibe put me off watching this in the first place- but seeing my drama choices this year, I seem to be enjoying the dramas that are a bit darker. I’ve done the recap for this one – I was at a lost whether to do a review because I felt like I’ve fleshed it out a bit already in that. But still – I want to just write the stuff I liked and didn’t like before this drama fades into memory.
In a short summary of what I thought without spoilers, this drama used a simple plot of betrayal and lies but made it so effective. It was really good when it was good but fell a bit short on the last half. I was honestly quite impressed at the script in so many parts – they made it work where it would’ve been ridiculous instead. I’ve sympathised with our lead, Yu Jeong, so much and hated Do Hun in the end. I was so impressed and drawn by the first half that I was so disappointed by the let down in the last half.
I felt like they were definitely able to do more than what they did at the next half. Saying that, despite the stretched plot, one of the saving grace of this drama was the ending. Mostly everything, if not all, was wrapped up nicely in the end. It had an amazing start and was able to pick itself up at the last few episode that I was able to forget the misgivings in between.
This drama, although not perfect, did an amazing job at the characterisation, most especially of Kang Yu Jeong and Ahn Do Hun . Coupled with the brilliant actors who played their roles to their full potential, this is one drama I’m glad I saw if only because of the characters. And as to this drama’s weak points – it was definitely the build up of romance – or lack- thereof. As for a Korean Revenge drama you’d have expected a fiercer take on the romance.
BUT, they were mostly good on their own and the drama made you understand and agree to the characters’ fate and conclusion in the end. It was able to redeem itself on that part that I am able to forgive the lack of development on that side of the story.
Would I recommend it? Yes. Seeing as you’ve read this review – it must mean that you’re really contemplating watching this drama. If so, that is enough to see it now. By the time you see the flaws I mean, you might most likely be too far gone into the story to even consider quitting. Secret Korean Drama was dark, full of tragedy, the hurt of betrayal. It is one Korean revenge drama which took it time to really satisfy, and when it came it really did. It definitely made me say a confused and unbelieving What? in some parts but it had managed to pull me into their world. And if a drama manages to do that, isn’t that an accomplishment on its own?
Secret Korean Drama – the beginning:
Okay, I’ve got to say that the beginning or the first half of this show was really addictive. I’ve stayed up a bit later just to finish I think it was, episode 4 or 5? that night. How funny that it started with Yu Jeong (Jung Eum) at the court, sitting at the defendant side. It reminded me of Ji Sung’s drama of the same name. I honestly thought it would be one of those makjang stories – where things are taken overboard and just doesn’t make sense in the first place. However for this one, I can understand why Yu Jeong has done what she’s done. Maybe even just making a fool out of herself, trying to believe that it wasn’t them who caused the death of another. But it is so annoying that Do Hun, couldn’t and didn’t confess to his crimes at first. Had he done it, well, we wouldn’t have this korean revenge drama story but at the same time, one thing has escalated to another. Making everything impossible to salvage.
I guess looking back now, I can now see Yu Jeong’s foolishness but at that moment when I was watching it, I get her. What was even more amazing or rather for me, a bit surprising, was the fact the Yu Jeong got pregnant and had given birth. At the time, I thought they’d just end it with a miscarriage. A typical plot and honestly, how were they going to make it work with a child? After though, I can say that that’s one of the moments I loved in this show – when she had her baby. Jung Eum managed to express the joy and the motherly love. It was so convincing and she’s really pulled it off. The baby was very cute too.
By this point,, things have moved on pretty quickly. Ji Sung’s character, Min Hyeok, was ruthless in his revenge. Knowing that it really wasn’t Yu Jeong’s fault, I had to keep reminding myself throughout the times he made her suffer that HE did not know. That alone made his actions make perfect sense, if not justified it.
Do Hun’s betrayal
I think what hurt the most was the fact that Do Hun drifted away from Yu Jeong. It was hard to think how he could get on with his everyday life knowing full well he was guilty. Not being able to see your child and letting the woman you apparently loved suffer for your crimes. This guy was really good in his portrayal. To be honest, I liked his character more than Min Hyeok’s in a sense that he was more dimensional. He wasn’t all bad. He wasn’t your typical bad guy who had it all – the confidence, the power, the strength.
And I think that’s what made his character interesting. I was annoyed by him at first but later on – with his display of insecurity and feign of confidence – we were able to see more through his facade. This guy – what made him turn his back from the person who was so devoted to him? Who spent the past seven years, helping him, paying for his college fees when he couldn’t? He was so good at looking like a pitiful person – one who felt as if he had no choice but to do what he’s done. At every turn, he’s washed himself off of taking responsibility for his actions. As Yu Jeong had said,
It’s never your fault is it? Your parents, me and rich people are to blame.Nobody else but you put you in this position.”
That quote sums him up. He was always quick to exclude himself from being the reason why things went wrong. His display as an insecure person, masquerading himself as a confident and powerful man. A complete contrast to the person he was when he first met Yu Jeong. I guess when your father tells you “Are you really my son?” and “You and your mum haven’t got a heart.” Then all is really lost. When your own father couldn’t recognise you anymore. A Korean revenge drama serving its theme, albeit unintentionally by the father. Ouch.
Beneath all that exterior, here is a guy who felt bound to make up for what his parents lacked. His father, who he saw had to apologise throughout his life many times more than he’d like. His mother, who had to step up to be able to pay off the debt fined by the rich he’s protested against. He was all contained fury and insecurity ready to burst any minute. He’s held onto those – not wanting his life to turn out like theirs. He’s managed to do all that he’d done to get them out of their seemingly hopeless daily life. In return, he’s done things he’s vowed he’d never be, became a person his old self despised.
I love this quote – “The people who made sacrifices for me have become shackles around my ankles.”
Se Yeon’s Unrequited Love
Couldn’t get any more trope-y than this. I actually liked Se Yeon in the beginning. She genuinely cared for Min Hyeok. But her character’s definitely got more cliched by the end. She’s turned from this caring, sweet person to a love torn person by the end. Her development, if you can call it that, isn’t something I liked. She could’ve been a great antagonist but instead we got what we’ve seen much of from other dramas already. That’s not to say the portrayal wasn’t good though. The actors in this drama definitely seem to have made the most of the material they were given. And I was able to see chemistry between her and Min Hyeok. She’s quickly become someone to hate. Turning away against Min Hyeok, using another man to get even and the endless threatening and workplace politics that seemed to go round and round.
Okayy. So unfortunately, Min Hyeok \might be one of the disappointing male leads Ive ever seen. He’s not sooooo bada. But the thing was, he was very WHINY. I get it, your father opposing your choice of woman. But, literally from the first episode, up till the 2nd half, he was pretty much the same. I guess the not so convincing back story is to blame as well. We were given what felt like a half hearted back story of this couple who’s supposedly in love with each other. Sadly, I did not feel the connection. When she died, I did not feel sad for him nor was I able to share in his grief. I don’t know if it was Ji Sung struggling to express these emotions but those vital scenes didn’t deliver. It felt like the really crucial scenes in the beginning weren’t stressed out enough. Therefore I didn’t feel his need for revenge. I mean I get it. But you know that feeling of being able to share the emotions of a character? When they go out and fight for something, you’re there in front of the screen wanting to cheer them on?
Having said that, I really loved the parts where he was just starting to follow Yu Jeong. He had that fire in his character – a strength that sadly didn’t show through in the later episodes. That’s what made him compelling to be honest.
Of course you would not necessarily cheer him on, but I think you know what I mean. I just did not connect with him. That was the problem. So whatever he did in the rest of the episodes I didn’t really… care or looked forward to very much. His stalking trait really bothered me at some point too. I mean if your company was in crisis or you wanted to get even at Do Hun/ Se Yeon or stand up for your company, SURELY you’ll spend more time working. He was almost always angry or looked like he was ready for action. But all we got was words. He didn’t really make anything happen. Atleast not until the last episode.
But he was really the embodiment of this korean revenge drama. The things he’d done. He was ruthless and unforgiving.
One of the things I hate in a drama is when they show a lot of work/power politics. It’s all papers or asking someone to do something for them. That obviously works but if that’s the only thing that happens plus there’s no real results, then that really isn’t something to look forward to. There was so much going on but at the same time it felt as if there’s nothing.
Ji Sung did a good job at making his character interesting. I got really hooked on the first half and that was when he was extracting his revenge on Yu Jeong. Ji Sung brought out a hint of a gentle side to Min Hyeok’s character when another actor might not have been able to show. He’s able to inject some of that much needed oomph to boost his character. But, I hate to say this, I feel like even he struggled with his character. There’s just times when it feels a bit off and I could see that this was Ji Sung trying to act out this character. By the later episodes, I felt his character lacked the conviction or reason why he’s doing what he was doing.
Hwang Jung Eum did a great job on playing our tormented character. Her life would have been a much simpler one, albeit harder only because of his would have been-mother in law’s dislike of her. The first episodes showed her being this all-good heroine, despite Do Hun’s and his mum’s mistreatment of her. How could you forgive your boyfriend of seven years who was apparently forced to go on a blind date? You’re no longer a kid, and a prosecutor at that! I really hated how they made her so cliched in the beginning. And it was all the more annoying with Jung Eum’s uberly bright acting. Urgghhh. I just hate when the leads especially the heroine gets into a situation like this and act like everything’s okay. IT’S NOT OKAY.
But towards her time spent in prison and afterwards, I really grew to like her and even admire her strength. This drama was very draining emotionally but at the same time it was so interesting I couldn’t stop watching. Jung Eum’s portrayal as an unfortunate and a tragic person was so well done. I really cried with her and sympathised with her pain. I loved her interaction with San and it came across very genuine, giving us a glimpse of Jung Eum’s natural maternal side.
And despite how painful her life kept on getting, she really kept me watching more to see how things will turn out in the end. It made me say wow so many times when things kept happening just when you thought they couldn’t get any worse. Her son’s death, followed by his father’s, followed by the discovery that the person she trusted was no longer the same person she once knew.
It might have been to far fetched but in the same case, it wasn’t. You see this things happen – the lost of a loved one, the betrayal by someone whom you loved and trusted. When the world seem to have turned against you completely. Her naivety in the beginning frustrated me so much but it was that turnaround in her character that kept the fire burning for me to keep watching.
It was that comparison from the first few episodes to the latest ones that really showed her development. I love how she started to see Do Hun for who he really was. How she stood up to his parents, finally, and just kept on living. And also showed her finally seeking revenge.
Sure, there were some actions of hers that were underwhelming for me. Such as her kneeling in front of the Segwang CEO, when she didn’t really stand up for herself at the time Madam Hoon kept telling her to get away from Min Hyeok. I felt like that’s a contrast to the person they made out her character to be after all she’s been through. You know, as a korean revenge drama, I expected her to be tougher and more confident at those times.
But saying that, she’s a character I really enjoyed watching grow and become stronger. Whenever she stood up against Do Hun I felt like she was expressing what I would’ve wanted to say for her.
Out of everything else – when I thought my heart most especially hers, couldn’t experience any worse pain for her – come another blow. I’ve NEVER felt so frustrated at a character before. The fact that her right to be with her son had been taken away from her, someone who did NOT have the right to decide for her, really angered me. I am still frustrated whenever I remember and whilst typing this. Wow, I don’t know if it was better if he had just really died – it was so unfair- for everyone involved. By the end of this, Jung Eum really deserved that Best Actress Award. It was finally living up to its korean revenge drama vibe.
Others I liked:
Gwang Min – his loyalty in this korean revenge drama was a breath of fresh air. A revenge korean drama with a different character perspective for a change. Amazing. He definitely deserved that CEO position. And lol at him getting together with the president’s son. I saw it coming but couldn’t believe that was what they were aiming for. That was cute – a lighter side to things.
Do Hun’s father – As with everything, you need opposites to balance things out. With this setting of a korean revenge drama it can be suffocating to see everyone going head to head with each other. I’m thankful for his father. He was a good although a pitiful man.
Things I disliked:
This was the main thing for me. It was what keeps me from loving this korean revenge drama more than I do now. I would’ve accepted his complains and had more of a respect for him if he just acted upon it. Throughout the most part of this korean revenge drama, he would just complain about how he never really got what he wanted, but didn’t really do anything for me to feel for him.
If he actually have tried to do something about it early on, I would’ve been there for him cheering him on and be frustrated with his father together. But sadly – for a busy person he sure had loads of time to spare following Yu Jeong around.
UNISPIRED BACK STORY
Again, one of the minus points for me. The back story didn’t really do its job of gaining the viewers sympathy. It is a revenge drama and I felt like you would expect to be able to feel the lead’s need to bring justice to his lover’s death. Sadly, it felt so detached. I was able to watch and follow on because I’ve been shown why and they made me understood why Min Hyeok acted that way. But I didn’t feel it. His so called love for his girlfriend felt as if it faded away quite easily.
This was meant to be the setup for our korean revenge drama theme – it should have as viewers, made us in a sense, want what Min Hyeok wanted to be done – serve what he thinks was the justice his girlfriend deserved.
I didn’t feel a sense of guilt or his inner battle with himself -falling in love with a person he shouldn’t fall in love with. We were shown a good sequence of their love story in the beginning but it lacked the emotions needed to carry over to the revenge part of the story.
DEVELOPMENT OF THE ROMANCE (or lack, thereof)
This was disappointing for me. When we were in the first half, one of the things that kept me watching this korean revenge drama was this curiosity of how they were going to incorporate the romance. I really felt Ji Sung’s and Jung Eum’s chemistry when Ji Sung kept following her around after she was released in prison. Min Hyeok still had a sense of aloofness and distance from Yu Jeong. And I loved how they didn’t seem to be falling in love so easily.
One of the main draw for me was this theme of enemies to lovers idea. A korean revenge drama – what happens when you fall in love with the person you shouldn’t fall in love with?
It had a good start – Min Hyeok starting to care for her when he found her collapsed in the bakery. After finding out that it possibly wasn’t Yu Jeong who was the real suspect, it felt to me like he just fell suddenly and completely in love with Yu Jeong. I get feeling guilty or sorry for putting her through so much when it wasn’t supposed to be her. But falling in love? The pace of it all didn’t seem believable to me. I even thought I’d be okay even if they didn’t have romance. It just felt forced – from both sides.
I’m not taking away the fact that it was nice to see them loving each other. It’s just how they got there that wasn’t very believable. That made what followed not believable as well.
When they actively started showing the romance side, that’s when I didn’t feel their chemistry anymore. The storytelling just did not work for me. I honestly felt Min Hyeok and Se Yeon would have suited each other better.
There were two OSTs that I liked – one sang by Goo Jang Myun (That Person) and one by Ailee (Tears Stole my Heart). Plus Navi’s Incurable Disease.There were many moments in the drama, especially when they were ‘building’ up the romance that felt like it could’ve used a background song.
It really lacked in places where it would’ve been suited to be played. Whenever Ailee’s song played, it really tugs your heart and her voice just pull you in her emotions. It made the scenes so much more emotional and heartfelt. Apart form being a korean revenge drama, it also sometimes had that feeling of a healing drama. Which might sound contradicting but it’s really not, it gives you a feeling of hope amidst the storm.
I’ve also just found out Ji Sung sang one of the osts (Height of Wind Storm) for this drama! Wow. He’s so talented. I listened to it again and he’s actually got a good singing voice.
DO HUN’S MUM
This character was someone I never understood from the beginning. I just hated her. And more when I found out she made them believe their son died? Who does that? Oh my gosh!!! I’m still so frustrated. Whenever I think of how broken Yu Jeong was. She made them suffer so much more – how much more would it have hurt to know that your son is alive but you’re not able to be with him? A son who does not recognise you. OUCH.
By that time she’s said that – I really really just wanted to shake or give her a slap. It wouldn’t be a satisfying korean revenge drama if they hadn’t taken her away to the police. I mean come on! You honestly revealed your grandson is alive because your guilty son would’ve been exposed and you had no other way? She was so freaking selfish and honestly it wasn’t love she felt for her son. It was her making her dreams come true through Do Hun.
That move was so sick and horrible and shameless and she deserved to be arrested and have a taste of what it’s like to be in jail. HOW CRUEL can you be? Sorry, she just affected me so much! But this, this kind of feeling is EXACTLY what I mean. If I felt as strongly for Min hyeok or his back story like I felt for Do Hun’s mum, I would have probably been raising my flag of support for him.
But back to Do Hun’s mum, I never liked her from the start and when I thought she was finally redeeming herself, she says these things that just make her a complete downer or a woman. Of a mother. God, I just hated her. I wish she’s the last character of this type and severity I’ll ever have to see. *fingerscrossed*
LACK OF ACTION TOWARDS THE END
For a Korean revenge drama, you’d expect more action telling that theme. That’s a huge thing I’m disappointed about too. I felt we had so much going on in the first latter half of the episodes that led me to expect more of it during the last episodes. However, it proved to be otherwise, as we were shown endless conversations – each character fighting the other with words and apparently action – through papers. The Korean revenge drama had the potential to have shown so much more, and with the setup of the first half, it seemed to promise more action. I don’t know if they just run out of material to tell or failed to explore more and put the story in another twist – but they definitely prolonged some issues a bit longer than I felt necessary.
There was always the question of will Min Hyeok get married or not? Do Hun’s sudden power over Min Hyeok and the cliched trope of everyone being against Min Hyeok’s and Yu Jeong ‘s relationship. I get that this was part of the romance plot but instead of helping the story overall, it changed the tone of the drama to one where it didn’t seem like it should be. To have showed the romance bit, I felt like they’ve deviated from the original tone of revenge and even held back a bit. Therefore dragging some conflict longer and addressing it later than they should have done. It also went against Min Hyeok’s and Yu Jeong’s favour.
From what they’ve already suffered – both, most especially Yu Jeong , have gone through so much, seemed to have toughened up so much to just kneel and accept the Segwang CEO’s treatment of her. The way she finally was fighting back against Do Hun to her bending to the CEO felt so much like an inconsistency to her development. Out of everything they’d taken away from her, surely they should have given her that bit and allowed her to keep it all the way.
Okay, so I do feel like I’ve written a lot more things highlighting the things I did not like in this korean revenge drama. It doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I really did enjoy watching it. Every episode drew me in and left me wanting more by the end of each episode. I’ve only highlighted those because for this show’s potential, I really really felt like it could’ve done with a bit less of the unnecessary tropes by the end and bravely confronted the plot. It was VERY interesting as it is and the characters really held the show.
Apart from the not so good ones, this korean revenge drama managed to bring me to tears, feel the emotions Yu Jeong was feeling. Even I felt so drained watching her cry and cry episode after episode. I truly felt sorry for Jung Eum by the end- this must have been a very hard character to portray.
I also have to mention Do Hun, in terms of a complex character, I felt like he definitely was more than Min Hyeok. I could feel his desperation behind his facade, he was always a stiffed shoulder person – barely holding everything in for a fear of losing everything. His broken relationship highlighted him more than Min Hyeok, through no fault of their own. Although his actions were horrible and definitely not something you’d understand, I understood his motivations behind it. It definitely brought about the issues of parents’ dreams and expectations. Just how much it can ruin the child. The power imbalance between the rich and the poor.
Min Hyeok, through Ji Sung’s portrayal shined on his own and I heard that on their press conference Ji Sung and Soo Bin both said that they’re characters are a jerk. That is sooo true. lol. I definitely felt happy that they’ve had that reunion project in Kill Me Heal Me. And also this drama seemed to be heavily inspired by Wuthering Heights, although I never read the book. It’s nice how the writer/PD wanted to incorporate their own twist to that classic story – “What would happen to a love born out of revenge?” hence a korean revenge drama, instead of otherwise.
Overall – Secret aka Secret Love is a Korean revenge drama that was full of angst and definitely a dark drama. It’s really good korean revenge drama if you want something different than a usual romcom. Although dark, it doesn’t consume you with a hopeless feeling but gives you reprieve every now and then by none other than our female lead. It worked because once you see what she had to go through and still have that fighting spirit and a will to just keep on living, whether it’s a happy life or not, gave comfort sometimes. She was a person who’s been through unimaginable stuff and yet was always able to find the silver lining in her dreadful place.
The only thing though –
“Do you know what your problem is? Because of that stupid love, you don’t take care of yourself”
This was definitely said by Do Hun to Yu Jeong with bad taste and I don’t condone him for it. But it does hold some truth for Yu Jeong. She loved so much to the point of stupidity and in turn she lost everything. She knew deep inside that Do Hun didn’t really love her as much as she did even before he proposed by going to that blind date. She knew how his mum disliked her for his son. It really brings home the words we always hear. Love Yourself people.