Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2
JooWon is a young CEO of the LOEL chain of department stores, and he's well known for being a cold, imperious boss. Little do his employees know that his austere demeanor is a cover-up for his host of anxieties and psychological issues. His fear of small spaces is so great, he can't step inside an elevator and has to climb dozens of stair flights if he wants to reach the higher floors of a building. JooWon is busy combating his neuroses, running his company, and going on arranged-match dates in hopes of finding a lady to be Mrs. Super-Special CEO, when he meets Raim, a brusque stuntwoman who turns his world upside down.
Raim is barely getting by in life. She's a skilled stuntwoman (or "action actress", as she prefers to be called), but all her hard work scarcely pays the bills and she secretly yearns to be considered girly and pretty, not just tough and cool. Raim meets JooWon when he mistakes for the actress she's doubling for--an actress who is dating JooWon's pampered cousin Oska. Pretty soon after meeting her, JooWon is smitten, but he can't bring himself to admit that he cares for a girl with no family background and no education. Raim doesn't know how to deal with this guy who acts sweet and vulnerable half the time and prideful the other half.
When I first heard the synopsis for Secret Garden, I could not have been less interested. I heard it was sort of a paranormal romcom with mystical body-swapping between the hero and heroine. It sounded awful. Every American movie or TV show I've seen involving this premise did an awkward and unfunny job with it (okay, except for Star Trek Voyager). But after two episodes, the body-swapping hasn't happened yet and I'm so invested in the hero and heroine, I don't mind what zany places this story might take them. Now I know why this show was one of the most popular of 2010.
Things I Loved: 1. Gil Raim. She passes the Buddy Test--for me to truly care for a heroine, I have to believe that I'd want to hang out with her in real life. With Raim, I know I'd be first in line to be her gal pal. It's impossible not to love someone this cool and savvy, yet humble.
Gil Ra-Im Ain't Nothin' to Mess With!
2. JooWon. The actor (Hyun Bin) does an amazing job with this character. Just when you think he's another cold businessman character, JooWon shows off his eccentricities. And then when he's been a little off-balance for awhile, he flips back into serious mode. Interestingly, while most K-dramas seem to focus on the girl's POV or at least split time equally between the protagonists, I feel like Secret Garden spends about 2/3rds of its time with JooWon because his emotional journey is going to be a bigger one than Raim's. All she needs out of life is confidence and maybe a little more money, but he's the person who truly needs to undergo some changes.
Polished, Suave, and Slightly Crazy.
3. The JooWon/Oska rivalry. JooWon always has to outdo his popstar cousin Oska, but it isn't really that hard to do. Despite JooWon's occasional childishness, he still knows how to run a business and he's much more of a grown-up than his playboy of a cousin. These two guys are always grumping at each other and playing power games, but there's a twinge of underlying affection there, as evidenced by how JooWon is constantly asking Oska for advice, despite Oska's complete cluelessness. I don't know why he bothers.
It's Hard to Respect a Man in a Leopard-Print Scarf.
Complaints: None. The first two episodes are perfect in terms of plot, character development, pacing and humor.
Power of Words vs. Power of Actions: Seul is a powerful woman, so she gets Raim kicked out of a department store and gets Raim's friend fired from her job with just a few pointed words. Yet, when Seul's friend's purse is stolen, Seul is powerless to stop the thief while the action-oriented Raim runs down the criminal and retrieves the purse. Words and actions are both powerful, but I prefer Raim's way of getting things done.
Smart, But Uses Her Brains for the Forces of Evil.
The Divide Between Rich and Poor: JooWon is so shocked by Raim's poverty, it's like he has never even thought that any lifestyles might exist outside his own posh, ritzy one. Raim's choice of food (fried pig intestines) and clothes (baggy, worn out, dark colors) is incomprehensible to him.
Running gags: JooWon's sparkly tracksuit. I thought his blue crocodile-looking jacket was kind of strange, but I was shocked to hear so many characters in the story making fun of the jacket. And when people make cracks about his attire, JooWon always has to reply by telling them that it's a very expensive tracksuit and the sequins were hand-stitched by a craftsman in Italy! It's even funnier because he's not a runner or an athlete by any stretch of the imagination.
The Hideous Tracksuit of Sparkliness.
Arranged matches: Joo-Woon goes on mat-seon dates, special matches arranged with women who would make good potential wives--wealthy, educated women from important families. I think mat-seon literally means "marriage meeting". It's not like a betrothal because you can back out of it easily, but it's not like recreational dating either.
Hallyu wave: After many years of being on top of the music industry, Oska's popularity is waning in Korea, but he's still big in Japan. K-pop stars like to expand their audience to other countries, particularly Japan and China, so this is an accurate representation of how K-pop extends itself to other parts of the world.
K-pop socks: They may be tacky, but it's very popular to wear socks with pictures of K-pop stars drawn on them. Raim is an Oska fan, so she wears Oska socks, and JooWon rolls his eyes at this.
Episode Evaluations: So funny and so likable. Like I said, if I have to put up with zany antics and wacky hijinks to stay with these characters, I will. When you build an incredible cast, your audience will stick with you for the rest of the ride. Bring on episode 3!