[I’m really excited to introduce my fourth guest blogger to you. Michael, whom some of you may know as mhugh from Soompi, is a good friend whose writing and opinions I have always valued. Please welcome him!]
When Thundie first asked me about being a guest writer for her blog, I thought long and hard (okay, at least a few seconds) about how to best do this. I asked myself the question, why do people come to a blog like this? To get information about a certain movie or drama, of course, but ultimately I think they come to help them decide if they should spend roughly two hours on a movie and anywhere from 16 to 60 hours on average to watch a drama themselves.
I liked the way Siskel and Ebert did their preview. They gave a brief description of the movie, and they made their case about why they gave thumbs up or thumbs down by showing a representative clip or two of the movie. Obviously I can’t give you a video clip, but I can do the next best thing by giving you word-by-word translation of the representative or what I perceive to be important scenes.
Transferring all the nuances of conversation via translation from one vastly different language not to mention its culture to another language can be somewhat tricky. I have tried my best here to translate not just the meaning of the words but also to convey the whole rendition reflecting the context, connotations, and the different culture. I hope it worked.
One thing I didn’t like about Siskel and Ebert was their scoring system. Thumbs up or down gave too narrow of a scoring scope. So, instead I’m going to adopt a 10 star scoring system that the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) uses. The genre and target audience issues would become obvious in due time, because I plan to review only those movies and dramas that I love, and I generally prefer a movie or drama that touches or moves me, be it romantic, comedic, dramatic, or even action-predominant.
Once in a great while I run into a Korean drama in a romantic comedy genre that captures my imagination, literally forcing me to watch over and over again certain scenes because they were unique, original, or hitherto never done before. Okay, I’m being redundant, I know, but I wanted to emphasize the point.
I felt like this with Coffee Prince First Shop, My Girl, and now with Secret Garden (SBS, 2010).
I know it’s only the first few episodes, but I would rate Secret Garden based on the first two episodes a 9. Using the IMDb scoring system, I have found the movies ranging from 6 to 8 were very good. From my recollection I don’t remember seeing any movie with 9, so that would be a rarity. A 10 would be a perfection which we know is not attainable. As a comparison, I would have given My Girl and Coffee Shop both an 8. I would be happy if Secret Garden remains 9 or even 7 or 8 after it’s over.
Before I start, I highly recommend reading Dramabeans’ blog first to get an excellent overview of Secret Garden.
Kim Joo-won, played by Hyun Bin, is a 33-year-old CEO of the Loel Department Store. Apparently something emotionally tragic happened to him in an elevator, because just being in front of an elevator he “can’t seem to breathe (episode 1, 32:35),” and presumably due to this he has a personal psychiatrist who also appears to be his friend. I’m not sure if it is a sequela from the emotional trauma or a side effect from sure-to-be mind-altering medication he is taking for his emotional condition that limits his work schedule to twice a week, but from the beginning of the drama we get to see his ability to “imagine” a weather woman talking to him and to conjure up an image of his soul-mate not just to keep him company while walking on his lawn, but also to communicate with her.
Hyun Bin is perfect for this role, as he delivers sharp, crisp, and fast verbal repartee in a manner I haven’t seen since Bruce Willis in Moonlighting, but in a more suave, less goofy way.
For example, when he meets his cousin’s old flame in their first mat-seon (Korean’s arranged date), Yoon-seul (hard to believe her real or stage name is Kim Sa-rang, aka Kim Love) in episode 1 (time in 720p 03:50),
Seul: “You must like Edouard Manet? We may be the only couple who has a seon in a museum.”
Joo-won: “You don’t have to waste time that way.”
Seul: “What does that (mean) …”
JW: “The way she walks speaks volumes about her personality. Whether she looks or doesn’t look at the art shows her level of refinement. Whether she belongs in an art museum or better suited in a club…”
And as he leans toward her, “And whether her taste in perfume is ostentatious or elegant… all are answered very quickly.’
As he walks in front of her, “You want something to drink?”
Standing still, she looks at him like a deer in a headlight, smells her clothes twice, and says to herself in frustration, “Ah, shoot. Maybe I’m too ostentatious?”
The moment she had to sniff her clothes and be mired in self-doubt, you realize that this woman is not the one for Joo-won.
Joo-won’s encounter with his soul-mate continues
Joo-won has mistaken Gil La-im (played by Ha Ji-won), 29-year-old stuntwoman, for Park Chae-ri, an actress he’s trying to prevent from causing a scandal for his cousin, Oska. JW has already survived walking up over a thousand flights of stairs, La-im’s verbal abuse for the mistake in identity, and her Evel Knievel way of driving before this scene.
After he watches Gil La-im in action with the sword in a stunt practice, he begins to fall for her. Episode 1, 46:35:
JW: “You were a stuntman?”
LI: “It’s actually a stuntwoman, you know.”
After she gives the blood-stained jacket to the woman, who grumbles about blood on expensive leather, LI to JW, “You found Park Chae-ri?”
JW: “Thanks to you. By the way, you do a rather peculiar line of work. Not very brainy, are you? Why are you doing physical kind of work?”
LI is obviously offended, but JW is clueless.
LI: “Are you curious? Want me to tell you? This comes very handy in a situation like this.”
With that she kicks his lateral shin area very hard.
In obvious pain, he bends over to hold his leg, “What are you doing? Why did you kick me?”
As she walks ahead, “Why do you think I kicked you?”
As he limps toward her holding his injured leg, “I asked you because I was just genuinely curious. Why use violence with no good reason? I’m not the kind of guy who looks down on people because they are not book smart.”
As she continues to walk ahead holding her left arm which was cut open by a knife in an accident earlier, “You are commendable. By the way, you should be thankful I hurt my arm today. Otherwise you would be dead.”
As he is limping to keep pace with her, “You think I’m stupid? You think I don’t know it’s a makeup?”
LI: “It’s not a makeup, so beat it.”
JW: “Yeah, right. Stop right there. If you don’t want to meet my lawyer, I want a formal apology right now…” He stops because he sees the blood dripping onto the street from her arm as she walks ahead of him.
Fast forwarding a little, after he opens her jacket and finds a gaping knife wound, he becomes upset that in this state she was with him all that time and also did the stunt exercise. He almost screams at her, “Are you crazy? Are you stupid?” He lightly taps her on the forehead, “I was right. You are definitely not brainy.”
Touching her forehead makes him realize that she is feverish. He touches her neck with both of his hands and screams at her in concern, “And you are burning up.”
I think he is falling for her a little more here, because she is charming in a tomboyish kind of way, she is tough, and she is also truthful.
More Joo-won and La-im’s fireworks
After she refused her director’s offer to give her a ride home from the emergency room, he happens to see her walking home as he is driving home. He gets out of the car and stands in front of her. She was walking looking down, and she looks up to find him looking at her with a smug grin on his face. We again get to see their verbal fireworks.
Episode 1 (55:15):
JW: “Why are you walking when you promised the director that you will get a taxi?”
LI just turns her head to her left as if to say he doesn’t even deserve a reply.
“If you were hoping that I would come chasing after to give you a ride, and that’s why you sent the director away…”
LI glares at him and starts to walk away from him as he is still talking.
JW walks in front of her again in obvious annoyance, “Uh? Where did you learn such manners? I didn’t finish talking. Why didn’t you get a taxi?”
“What does it matter to you whether I ride a taxi or not? Are you an employee of a taxi company?”
JW assumes an amused expression, “Why are you painting the colors of my life so arbitrarily? As if being born a country bumpkin and being Oska’s personal lackey weren’t enough, now you’ve got me a job working for a taxi company.”
“Then what is it?”
“I’ve told you. Why aren’t you in a taxi?”
LI just stares at him. I think it’s safe to say she is just dumbfounded.
“I’ve never asked this question to a woman before, but perhaps you don’t have taxi money?” He adds with a slightly smug smile, “If that’s the case, I’ll give you a ride. Where do you live?”
LI looks at him with a bit of disdain. “You idiot. I’m letting this pass because I’m a third wheel.”
He steps in front of her as she attempts to go, “Will you ride if I put the top on? (At 34:56, he refused to do so earlier because, as he told her, “If I wanted to drive with the top on, why would I have bought this car.”) Okay. I’ll put the top on.”
“Why would I ride your car?”
“Because I want to give you a ride.”
“I said I want to give you a ride home.”
LI scoffs at him, “Why?”
“What do you mean why? I want to fly, I want to be happy – do you need a reason for those? It’s the same sort of thing. Right now, I want to give you a ride. Why are you depriving me of what I want?”
She is again rendered speechless.
“I promise to put the top on,” he adds for good measure.
JW can be persuasive if a bit too eccentric. Too bad Oska shows up at this point.
The Stuntman Audition
In episode 2, 18:30, because Gil La-im refuses to meet him, he shows up in the stuntman audition. While he is waiting in line, he sees a different kind of Gil La-im, and he falls in love all over again. He is thinking to himself as he is watching her smile, laugh, be coy, be pensive, be feminine, hold the coffee cup with her teeth looking oh-so-cute – all the things she never showed him – while judging the audition.
“It’s her. But this woman is not the same one who kept showing up out of nowhere to hurt my manly pride. The woman who is sitting right in front of me right now…compared to the woman who has been playing havoc with my brain lately… is much more… attractive.”
He stands in front of her and of her cohorts looking very satisfied with himself while LI looks back at him with part anger and part apprehension of what this lunatic would do to embarrass her in front of her fellow workers. The director asks him, “I don’t see your resume.”
JW shrugs, “It’s a certain… thoughtful consideration, because I didn’t want you to be shocked.”
LI snorts in contempt.
The director asks him, “Why are you here then without your resume?”
“It’s because of the woman sitting next to you. Because, she refuses to see me.” Without seemingly addressing her directly, he goes on, “Is your arm okay? Did you receive any more treatments?’
The director is quiet, but his face shows more than occupational feelings.
Everybody else all stretch their neck around to stare at Gil La-im.
LI: “If you’re not here for an audition…”
JW interrupts her, “What are you doing afterward? I have something to say to you.”
LI takes a deep breath and repeats herself, “If you’re not going to audition…”
JW interrupts her again, “Let’s audition. What should I do?”
The other guy asks JW, “What is your special talent? Something that you’re good at.”
“I’m good at making money.”
Everybody roars at the response.
The other guy, “It’s great that you make a lot of money. But we need more than something we cannot validate. Something you can show us right here.”
Smiling smugly, JW takes out his wallet, “I do have lots of money. And for your information, my hobby is spending lots of money.”
Everybody claps, and one other guy shouts, “You’re in.”
JW smiles and looking at LI shrugs his shoulders as if to say, hey, I’m good. What can I say.
We see the soft side of Joo-won
Joo-won has already won over the guys. It’s a funny scene in episode 2, 21:09, when they mistake Columbia (University) for the country Colombia in South America known for its coffee despite the fact that the location New York City was mentioned in the same breath.
La-im interrupts their camaraderie. She storms in wearing an angry facade, “Come outside with me.”
JW is cute as he innocently looks at her, pointing to his heart with his cellphone, quizzically as if to say redundantly, you mean me?
Once outside, La-im turns on her heels in anger toward him, “What are you?”
“What do you mean, what am I?”
“What kind of a person are you? Do I look like a pushover? Or do you have some kind of grudge against me?”
JW chuckles, “Only people with grudges usually come to see you?”
“You laugh? You think I haven’t met jerks like you in my life?”
“A jerk (nom)? Not a mohm (body), but a nom (jerk)?” [A play on similar sounding Korean words but with entirely different meanings]
“Will you not hush? You have lots of money? You earn lots of money? How is that your money? It’s Oska’s money.”
“Oska makes lots of money, too. But I have lots of money even if I don’t work.”
“I told you to be quiet. Our work looks comical to you? For an unemployed, (you have a lot of nerve).”
JW chuckles again, “Me, unemployed? My dream is to be unemployed. My dream. No matter how hard I try not to work, ideas just seem to flow out of my mouth…”
LI interrupts him, “Hey! Why are you talking in nonsense trying to embarrass me? What exactly is the reason why you’ve come all the way to my work place to embarrass me?”
“Hey. That’s not a proper way for a lady to talk. You’re what –pal-a? (JJok-pal is a not an elegant way to say embarrassed in Korean, but pal-a means sell, so he turned it into, you’re selling what? It sounds funnier in Korean) Won’t it be so much better if you demurely say, what brings you all the way to my work? And I know you don’t know me very well, but you really shouldn’t treat me this way.”
“Don’t make me laugh. Will you hurry up and tell me why you’re here?”
“I’ve told you before. I came because of you.”
LI raises her voice, “So, why did you come because of me?”
“That part puzzles me, too.” He looks at her pensively, “If I tell you the real reason, I know I’ll be branded a lunatic. Let’s just say, for today, I’m here to collect your hospital bill.”
JW points to the wound with his head, “That suture. It turns out that I paid for your hospital bill. You, on the other hand, just took off in your director or whatever’s arms without even a token thank you.”
“How much?” When he doesn’t answer, “How much was it?”
He stares at her for a while before answering in a soft tone, “Do you usually stay here when you’re not shooting? I can see you when I come here?”
“You think I’ll be here all the time just so that you can come see me whenever you feel like it? Just tell me how much I owe you.” When he just stares at her, she gets impatient, “Don’t you want to get paid?”
“This is why I keep thinking about you.”
LI is totally perplexed, “What?”
“Just as it was in the past as it is now, Miss Gil La-im is a very strange woman. Because, even when you are angry, why is it that you look pretty?”
LI looks away speechless, when he suddenly opens her jacket.
LI panics while trying to hold on to the jacket, “What are you doing?”
During the ensuing tug of war, she tells him, “Will you not let it go?”
“I’m just going to check on the wound. If you had told me earlier when I asked you, then we don’t have to do this now.”
She lets him look, and he literally takes one full minute to inspect the wound, and this is when she, I think, begins to fall for him a little.
JW finally makes his diagnosis, “It’s beginning to scar. Going out for Miss Korea contest may be difficult.”
JW makes a fuss over her clothes, and more importantly she lets him.
“I’m going to go for now. I forgot I had an important meeting.” Motioning toward the wound with his head, “I’ll make sure it doesn’t scar, so come by the hospital. And call me before you come.”
With that he turns and walks away, and she stands there for a long time.
The second mat-seon with the Miss Plastic
In episode 2, 26:20, after Yoon-seul tricked his mother into second seon with Joo-won. JW having just told her off, stands up to leave. Yoon-seul blurts out, “Have you never fallen in love at first sight? You have, right? Then you should know how I feel. Then you should know why I…”
He interrupts her, “Even though you don’t look particularly bright, you don’t seem the type who would be taken for a ride by a man. If a guy tells you that he fell in love with you at first sight, then belt him because that’s just another way of saying he wants to sleep with you without wasting time.”
I just love the way he expresses himself.
My most favorite scene thus far
In episode 2, 28:28, Joo-won is talking to his mother on his cellphone about the mat-seon he just had with Yoon-seul. He is sitting on the deck in front of his lake house with his feet dangling above the water.
“I didn’t say I won’t do anymore seon. Instead of a woman who goes on and on about destiny, I’ll be satisfied with a woman who will raise the kids well and be a good wife. The face (looks)? Mom, that goes without saying. Of course, she has to be good looking. With a chic short haircut, a little dark complexion, doesn’t smile oft…en…”
At this point in the conversation, he senses her. He turns his head to his right, and with her legs swinging she is sitting only a few feet away from him looking straight ahead toward the water.
He continues on while looking at her the whole time, “Easy to anger, eyes a little sad-looking, and due to knife wound can’t enter Miss Korea contest – kind of woman. Am I crazy? Mom, I know it’s a wishful thinking on my part, but even if I’m crazy, the inheritance money you were going to give me, can you still…”
His mother hangs up on him, “Hello? Mom?”
Turning to the imaginary La-im, “This is all your fault. Are you going to take responsibility if I become penniless?”
“This man keeps telling me to take responsibility (of him) at the drop of a hat.”
He is shocked, “Ouah! She talks to me now, too?” At this she smiles at him oh-so sweetly. Hitting his head repeatedly, he talks to himself, “What are you imagining? And when did she ever smile at you. Maybe I’m really going insane.” Then he gets up and starts his mindless chanting to get her off his mind.
What did I like so much about this scene? First of all, we get to see what kind of guy Joo-won really is. Despite all his charms, wits, and money, deep down he is a simple guy who wants simple things in life like a sensible woman. Good looking, but sensible. We also get to see his wicked sense of humor again.
Second of all, I love the imaginary scenes with her. It brings a certain out-of-this-world sense of wonder when an imaginary character actually interacts with him with the full force of her personality. And it feels like I’m getting an early Christmas gift, because it usually takes 10 or more episodes before the main characters get this familiar with each other. I also love it when she smiles. And I’m beginning to appreciate how wonderful an actor Hyun Bin really is.
Having seen glimpses of episode 4, I’m afraid troubled waters are ahead, but I have good memories of episodes 1 and 2 to keep me afloat.