11 May 2020 | Hwangkidong
Masterpiece with ending worthy of the amazing characters
Being introduced to the heroine as a well paid executive who spends her day and night pandering to the desires of her rich, powerful and utterly despicable bosses did not give me a good first impression. I don't particularly enjoy watching the meaningless lives of such pathetic characters and gave up less than halfway in episode one. A week later, I decided to give Secret Love Affair a second chance, mostly because of the good ratings and the fact that it was an earlier recommended work from Ahn Pan-Suk, the director of Something in the Rain and One Spring Night, two shows that left me with a strong impression.
Without giving away any spoilers, shortly into the second episode, I was mesmerized by the music. Or more precisely by the emotions expressed by our two protagonists as their first artistic communion through their music. How can two strangers with 20 years difference in age come to such an emotional climax in their first encounter without knowing anything of each other, without even any actual physical contact? They have nothing in common except for their love of music and their talent as pianists. To me, their first duet is of such emotional intensity that it is infinitely more passionate than any torrid love scene that only reduces a relationship to physical desire.
But don't let my word choices mislead you into thinking their relationship started off as banal sexual attraction. That would be an unforgivable distortion of the beautiful and pure passion that drew them together in the first place - their love of music. This love of music is the bond that binds them together, yet it represents drastically different things to each of them. To 20 year old Sun-jae it is his present and his future even if he does not have any realistic ambition to turn it into a career at the start of the story, as he is just a lowly deliveryman. To our heroine Hye-won however, it is a painful reminder of the pianist career (and passion) that she gave up long ago in pursuit of money. As viewers, we wonder if their budding love story sparked by their love of music will also lead Hye-won to reorient her career and her life.
As a matter of fact, as the story moves on we can't help but be astonished, and repulsed, by the deceitful human beings gravitating around this music business that contrast with the purity and beauty of the world of classical music that transcends it all. How can such opposites coexist?
This leads me to what I hate in the series: the corrupt lives of the upperclass and the futility of those whose life mission is to join them. No doubt such people exist in real life but I really have no interest in them. Their scheming and powerplay left me cold and I am bored when I see our heroine pander to them. I cannot stop asking, why did she choose this utterly despicable and unfulfilling life when she could have been a world class pianist in her own right?
Therein lies the power of this show. As much as I despise the life choices of our heroine, I came to identify with her. I share her suffering when she's in the company of her materialistic work circle and her husband. I am joyful when she's with her young prodigy and I dream of a new life for her, however improbable it may appear. Beyond being a musical genius, his innocence, his integrity, his simple desire for a simple and happy life with her is literally the only hope we see for her. Much to my frustration, why won't she take his hand and leave this corrupt and meaningless world she is in? isn't it so abundantly clear that music and their love for each other will give her so much more happiness than the golden prison she had built for herself, from luxury villa down to her nice dresses, luxury cars, live in maid and expensive beauty VIP treatments?
As we approach the end, I was afraid we'll either be given a over simplistic happy ending that does not go well with character development and the mood of the story, or more likely a tragic or ambiguous ending that may give the appearance of artistic writing but is ultimately lacking in terms of storytelling and viewer satisfaction. I can say my fear was not warranted. We have the ending our endearing characters rightfully deserve.
Should you watch this old drama from 2013? This is not a romcom and there is no humor. If anything this show is closer to an art film than your typical kdrama. But despite its gravity it is not pretentious and the amazing performance from Kim Hee-ae and Yoo Ah-in will not leave you indifferent. A masterpiece.