Tuesday, March 26, 2013

KDrama Review: Secret Garden

The Gist: Gil Ra Im (Ha Ji Won) enjoys her life as a stunt woman, getting chances to work on bigger and bigger movies. Her life is complicated when she meets a bizarre, incredibly wealthy man named Kim Joo Won (Hyun Bin). Immediately, the two are at odds as Joo Won has a tendency to look down on Ra Im, as fascinated as he is by her. They can't seem to keep apart as an unlikely phenomenon causes them to switch bodies. Now they have to work together to make sure no one notices something is amiss, gradually learning more and more about each other. That understanding of one another plants the first seed of something more between the unlikely pair.


1. The Stunt Work

Honestly, as little as I really enjoyed the characters in this drama, the role of a stunt woman is definitely something different. I think the moments we get to see Ra Im and others practicing are some of the more interesting because it adds a little bit of intrigue to the situation. There's also a level of irony here because Ji Won is probably using a stunt woman for her stunts, which somehow I find kind of hilarious. Either way, it's an interesting profession and causes a special kind of problem for someone imitating her without her skills.

2. Oska

Yoon Sang Hyun plays Joo Won's cousin, an egocentric star. Ra Im has a great admiration for Oska and her fandom makes Joo Won angry. Now, while I feel that pretty much all the characters have some things to work through, I really liked Oska's development throughout the show and thought he was portrayed excellently by Sang Hyun. Really, at the end of the day, I think Oska was my favorite character with the right balance of sentimentality and comedy.


1. The Romance

Any show that has me putting the romance in the meh category isn't on a strong foot. While I think the acting was fine, I really disliked both of our leads. I don't know if that is only bad writing or a combination of bad writing and not really liking the actors. I'll hold judgment on the second until I see them in other things and just say that I found both characters pretty obnoxious. Ra Im is slightly more redeeming, but she still is overly stubborn and kind of mean. Joo Won is supposed to be haughty, but I found him completely infuriating for almost the entire show. He really has little regard for how Ra Im thinks of him and keeps pushing himself on her. It's a little concerning. That said, I do think that when they put their differences aside, they are a good pair, but it definitely could have been better.

2. The Side Characters

Aside from Oska, this show didn't really have any memorable side characters. Actress Park Chae Rin (Baek Seung Hee) is more like a stereotype than an actual character, the director (Lee Philip) had a sort of one sided love but not much development, and the disapproving matriarch is so overdone I just can't take it anymore. Seriously, can we have someone who's wealthy who's mom/aunt/grandma just wants them to be happy? It's not so bad in a show with lots of good qualities but I feel like the character well on this show is so shallow that I just don't think it makes up for it. 


1. The Body Swap

Reading the synopsis for this show, I thought that the body swap was the most prominent feature, but it really isn't. Honestly, it was more like a totally out of left field side thought. Even though it forces our leads to work together, it was done so haphazardly and ended abruptly that I felt the show didn't really need it. The major revelations come when the two of them are back in their normal bodies. The whole thing felt weird and I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to be getting out of it. I felt either that the show should have committed to it more fully or done away with it. Instead it felt like a hiccup to the progression of the normal show.

2. Length

If I'm hunkering down for a 20 episode show, it better have a slamming plot and some great characters. In my opinion, Secret Garden has neither, so those 20 episodes felt way too long. It's not good when in the middle of the show I just want to get to the end and the end is so far away. I think the pacing of this show could have used a little speeding up and it would have benefited from being cut down significantly.


So... I'm surprised by how little I liked this show. The plot wasn't that entertaining and the leads were pretty far from likeable. The body switching, while not original, had some good moments, but was overall kind of like a bizarre side plot than anything else. Would not watch again. Generally unimpressed. I have no idea how this show rated better than Mary Stayed Out All Night - you should definitely watch that instead.

Final Grade: D

Note: Once again, this is just my opinion and considering it's been on the front page of dramacrazy's most popular list, someone must like this show. 


  1. oh mine... i love this drama so much!! so bad u give D.. huuhu.. i think this drama was better than playing kiss..~ my opinion..

  2. Just happened on your page this evening and read a few reviews, thanks for the intelligent and well written pieces.

    After reading a few reviews I thought I'd search for the series that I put on a pinnacle way above the 25 odd Asian series I've seen so far, Secret Garden.

    Oh dear a "D", ah well the review was, as in all I've seen, well written....EXCEPT you should have a great big "SPOILER" in front of the mention of the bs (more below)

    I've got to say I just adore this one, I watched it last year then 2 months later with my daughter, who gave it a numero no as well. Am now watching it with her again and my wife who nearly had a fit laughing this evening over the first ep after the bo sw.

    Sooo I loved the leads and thought the secondary romance was a bit shaky. Opposites eh!

    The BS, for me, came completely out of left field and I was initially horrified thinking that it would ruin what had been a quite good series up till then. However I think it helps "make" the series and is handled very well for comedic and dramatic effect.

    One thing that was not handled well was the reenactment of the past peril that had such an effect on the male lead....cheesy!

    Anyways thanks again for going to all the trouble of putting together the site and the reviews.

    1. Aw! Thanks for the appreciation. Honestly, I am super surprised at how much I disliked this series for all the positive reviews I read. I'm glad some people like it, but it just didn't strike home for me.

      Sorry about not tagging the spoilers! I try to be good about it. I think it's been mentioned in most "summaries" of the stories I read, I definitely knew about it before I started watching it.

      Maybe I'll try this show again sometime and see I've been too harsh :)

  3. Still here, still reading and now, yep I've seen those nice prominent spoiler alerts in other reviews. Good stuff.
    As for SG, you can only write it as it feels otherwise why review!
    I posted mainly as an opinion from the opposite view and as an aside I'm completely baffled really why this simply grabbed me more than most things I've ever watched, it just did. Sheesh it's formulaic, has a plot device that made me go shudder initially, has a secondary romance that didn't really grab me. And yet, and yet...hopeless LOL, for me, it just worked.
    If I can be so bold as to recommend a show whiler I'm typing, I'd suggest the Japanese production of Jin (2 series). High production values, excellent story IMHO, liked the characters, note one starts out as what looks like annoying comic relief, he'll grow on you IMHO. Won't say any more than that except that it is the third out of three of my "multiple watch because I wanted to revisit this one" Asian series. Best described as historical drama with a hovering romance rather then a romance per se.
    FWIW there is also a Korean remake which I have not seen, reading a couple of items the Japanese original seemed to be the better one in the majority of dual mentions. That is not to say the Korean one was described as "bad" in any way.
    Finally if you want to lose a lot of time (heh heh) to a looonnnggg series, the Korean historical drama Jewel in the Palace is in a class of it's own compared to the others I've watched.
    May your quill stay sharp.

    1. Ooh! Jin looks to me a bit like the Korean Drama Faith (its up in my top five). I'll definitely have to check it out. I have a lot of Korean Dramas on my to watch list, but lacking in Japanese. Thanks :) I'm watching the Princess' Man which is another historical KDrama and I'm loving it! So I'm in the mode! Glad your enjoying yourself here and thanks for the feedback!

    2. I'll be bold again (you've probably got a few things lined up and may not want more from strangers!) to help the Japanese shortage perhaps......not straight dramas though unfortunately
      Kekkon Dekinai Otoko - "grade A" the leads are superb in this and they can act. Ken san is adorable, WC Fields was spot on here heh heh. Further pro's - short at 11 eps, ideal introduction series, the leads are in their 40's making a refreshing change form the usual teens/20's cast.
      Proposal Daisakusen - this one has varying reviews so it's a bit more problematic as to whether you'll like it, I think it's one that ddependent on the viewers personal taste. Pro's I liked the plot device, thought the characters did well and gave a real sense of long term friendship, neither of the contenders are made out to be bad which would be an easy way out to influence a viewers feelings. Cons the timing of the coming out, personally found this difficult myself although later I found a reference to a difference between Western and Japanese law that made the timing less problematic, some really hated that there was a lot of vacillation by the leads. The first ep is slow IMHO as it sets things up.
      I'm rambling! In short I really grew to like this one and the slow but steady changes in attitude as each ep goes past. Note, from the synopsis I thought "Groundhog Day that's a bit ho hum", it's different to that and does not wear out its welcome despite being far longer in length. Also make sure to watch the special.

  4. Warning: Spoilers

    I'm watching this after avoiding it for a long time and really enjoy your review. I don't agree 100% with what you said because the only time I really dislike the lead characters is when they are interacting with each other. I'm completely at a loss for why the female lead is remotely interested in the male one. I think they showed why he was interested well enough to justify it but then they ran out of time for the other half of why I should care about that relationship. Oska is by far the best part so far (I'm actually only on episode 13, after having just watched the scene where he forces himself into her bedroom I needed to take a break from the incompetence of the writers to make that scene anything but intensely creepy. her accepting it at the end for no reason didn't save it for me).

    Really the further in I get the more confused I become on why this show is so well liked, I had hopes for the female lead when she was shown to be strong and capable- until the male lead overpowers her constantly and that whole aspect of her character was thrown aside.

    If somebody could explain to me why she likes him I'd appreciate it. I don't know if I missed a scene when getting a glass of water or something but it can't be much of a reason if they never demonstrate it ever again.

    And the body swap.. I knew it was coming but thought it went on too long and then they sort of tossed the idea away completely. It allowed for some funny scenes but I think it would have been better if they were switching for shorter times and doing it repeatedly instead of once for 5 episodes (or whatever). I haven't finished the show yet but I will be, maybe they will bring it back up again in a more significant way but my current opinion of it is that while it wasn't done awfully... I was expecting more and think they could have used it in a more compelling way.

  5. I think you have a point about the two leads being at their worst when they're interacting but that's the opposite of how were supposed to feel (I think) so it still feels like a big issue. Even after finishing the show, the overall feeling just wasn't that great. Honestly, I wouldn't expect too much out of it. Thanks for the input!

  6. Hmmm, I don't generally comment on reviews but this is one review on which I definitely had to comment. Honestly, I was a tad bit surprised to see your review amongst all the others where this drama has received a lot. Not only did you diss the drama but kind of the actors as well and yet I find myself agreeing with you on nearly everything you said. I never go into any Kdrama with a lot of expectation because with experience I've learned they can tend to destroy it all in a single episode. So, yeah no great expectations but since I like both the leads and I also like Yoo In Na, I was kind of hoping maybe a pleasant little drama which I can just watch one and then be done with apart from a few good memories and maybe a good ost I could listen to later, I do not generally watch dramas twice but this one is proving difficult to finish even once. I am on ep 14 currently and I don't even know why I am still watching it, I found the writing boring and uninspired, the characters monotonous and poorly developed and production value fairly inconsistent. If there is one character who I have like so far is Oska, even though I couldn't imagine it in the beginning he is the only one who has stood apart for me and mad this series tolerable. Definitely not my favourite series, despite being a fan of the genre and liking the actors outside of this show. Good review, I'll read more of your K-Drama reviews :)

    1. Wow a lot of typos and grammatical errors in my comment, wonder how I missed them.

  7. i watched this drama because its in everyone's recommended list. However, it dragged on. The body swap thing is used like a bad prop, it was not even necessary like you said. I did not like both the male and the female lead in this. The poster make is seems like its a magical drama but it was pretty melodramatic, and like you said all drama cliches like amnesia, evil mother-in-law, rich guy poor girl, faith thing are used in this drama.
    And i did not like Osca, the guy was shouting and screaming half of the time. SG is definitely overrated. MSOAN was much better. Didn't know it was rated lower.

  8. I decided to watch all the dramas that is in your recommended list, after seeing that you gave low grades to both SG and BOF; the two dramas that I cannot understand why everyone loves so much.

    Reading your reviews has became a part of my Asian drama watching routine. Thanks a lot for writing these neat reviews! All the best!

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment! I love to hear everyone's opinion :) Please comment on the shows you do end up watching! I'd love to know what you think!

  9. I felt lost and alone in a jungle full of people who loved Secret Garden until I stumbled across your blog. Thank you for rescuing me! I'm a pretty hardcore kdrama watcher and it takes a lot to get me to stop watching a drama after dedicating 10 hours to it, but I had to quit this one. The male lead's character was just too repulsive, a bad mix of spoiled brat and creepy stalker. He disgusted me so much that, even though I initially liked the female lead character, I started to hate her for letting him continually harass her. The only way I could see a romance really happening was victim falling for the man victimizing her, and that is just unpleasant to think about. I can't give this a grade since I didn't finish it, but then again, if I couldn't finish it, then I guess it's an "F".

    1. Ha! It was all a bit Stockholm syndromey wasn't it? Honestly, I'm a little surprised myself that I got all the way through this drama. I feel like I was smacking my face into my computer the entire time. It's so rare that I am watching a drama I truly dislike that I think I'm doubly disappointed. I don't understand why everyone loves this show so much!!! And I probably never will...

      I'm glad we can all commiserate together!

  10. I agree 100% .Far too many clichés. Actively disliking Ji won and wishing the director was the romantic lead. I'm only hanging in for Oska and the modern architecture at this point.On ep 13 and hope it picks up..

  11. It looks like I’m not the only one who didn’t love this drama. I did like it but there were too many things about it that annoyed me. I did like the Gil Ra Im character in the very beginning because she seemed so kick-ass. But then she morphed into someone so annoying. I found her uncomfortable to watch. A 30-year old acting all virginal? He was giving up his whole inheritance for her and she still can’t put out? Acting like she was getting raped when he tried to kiss her? It was really uncomfortable to watch. Also, her annoying pouts, lip chewing, blowing of her bangs, and generally trying to act like a 10-year old. Now that’s really uncomfortable if men find that attractive.