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*Warning: Somewhat spoilery*

After I finished watching Secret Love Affair, I had trouble sleeping (for other reasons) and found myself thinking about the show in the dark on my bed. A sign, surely, of a good show, that one thinks about it after it’s finished.

I thought long and hard about the ending. To be honest, I didn’t love it. I thought it was a tad facile. I didn’t hate it, though, it was just okay rather than bad. I thought about how perhaps I in particular and we the television audience in general have grown so used to over-stimulation and over-dramatization, that an ending that doesn’t blow us away with charred remains scattered all over the floor might seem dull.

Secret Love Affair ep15 - non-spoilery

I thought about how some people got so bored with the show they dropped it, and yet others love it to pieces. What a funny thing taste is, eh? And how I myself wasn’t exactly addicted or compelled – I easily dropped it for a few weeks in the middle – and yet how much I do actually like it. I still think it was rather slow. But I didn’t find it tediously so, and I suspect the show would hold up to a re-watch marathon. In fact, I already want to re-watch the last episode, knowing how it ends, to pick out the clues and catch all the subtleties.

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Wow.

I was so moved by that ending. I’m going to have to go off and have a little think about the show before I can write very much about it. But in the meantime here’s a short first reaction…

It didn’t turn out as I expected. And while little more than usual happened, still not nearly as much as you might expect from the last stretch of a drama about a Secret Love Affair. And yet the ending, while not what I predicted, felt completely right and organic. A teensy weensy bit indulgent, it has to be said. But I forgive it its soap-box moment because it stayed so classy to the end.

Secret Love Affair episode 15 Yoo Ah In

What makes it so terribly moving? I was practically in tears at the end. Is it because it’s about Lurve? That doesn’t usually move me, to be honest, in itself. Is it the gorgeous music? The Mozart that I love? The Dvorak that leaps and sparkles? Is it the phenomenal acting? (Bravo, Yoo Ah In! Bravo! Well done again, Kim Hee Ae! *standing ovation*) Is it the beautifully elegant directing? Is it the irresistibly wistful tone? Is it the whiff of Brahms, of the potent mix of classic art and love that can not be denied? Is it the strong tinge of sadness?

All these things. But mostly, because with PD Ahn Pan Seok’s usual magic, the people and story feel real to me. Nothing feels meaningless or manipulative. It all feels like an authentic, heartfelt story of real people. Of a real complicated woman within whose breast beats a heart of equal part good and evil, funk and courage, and beauty and spoils. Of a man who in being true to himself and his art is wise beyond his years. And of life that is usually messy, sometimes held together precariously by compromise, occasionally surprised by nobility, and lifted by the possibility of redemption for those who have the courage to reach for it.

Secret Love Affair episode 15 Kim Hee Ae

So, how was this episode for you? Those of you who are still on board this slow train.

This episode was a wow for me. Just… WOW. The dinner party from hell. The slow burn. Fury of Thwarted Grand Passion expressed through musical performance, which should have been cheesy but really wasn’t; rather, it was something unspeakable that stabbed me in the heart.

Secret Love Affair ep14

Again, nothing much actually happened. Nothing was particularly surprising. But I was just gripped and on the edge of my seat.

This will all end in tears. Surely. I don’t see how else it can otherwise stay true to its escalating sense of doom.

Another quietly insightful episode.

Great art, in my opinion, is about the human condition. Not, primarily, about plot. What happens is not nearly as important as how, which is not as interesting as why.

Secret Love Affair ep13

Secret Love Affair exemplifies this. When things start heating up, instead of having more things happen, like coincidences designed to make you gasp or scenes designed to manipulate your emotions, PD Ahn Pan Seok and writer Jung Sung Joo turn inwards. This may not make for titillating television, but it does make for very compelling art. We turn to why Hye Won leads the life she does and makes the decisions she does. We turn into Sun Jae’s helplessness and frustration. We look inwards into their joy and despair. We dig into the people around them, as crisis peels off whatever thin layers they have left.

Another slow, elegiac episode.

How great is it that they incorporated Billy Joel’s Piano Man? I thought it would be the more sentimental New York State of Mind, since Hye Won was talking about her life in New York. But Piano Man is better. At first I thought, haha how obvious. Sun Jae is a the Piano Man, of course. But as I listened to the song (along with Hye Won and Sun Jae), I remembered that the song is about lost dreams and finding oneself trapped. How amazingly fit. It’s a song about musical talent reduced to scraping a living, which puts the entertainer on the same level as his audience and forms a special bond.

Secret Love Affair ep12 Billy Joel Paino Man

So, ok, let’s name the elephant in the room. This show is slow. Very slow. I mean, it’s beautiful and sensitive and elegant and all that, and I personally appreciate all these qualities. But nothing happens. Mind you, I do feel it. I do understand the slow stew of passion and pain. But sometimes, in television, we need a bit more movement.

It has crossed my mind that maybe Ahn Pan Seok started out with only twelve episodes’ worth of plot because he anticipated, consciously or subconsciously, that he would get the End of the World end-this-show-now chop again. But he didn’t get the chop, and now he has to figure out how to fill in all the gaps. How ironic that this show, the weakest of his trio of A Wife’s Credentials, The End of the World and Secret Love Affair, should be the most well received. It makes me feel a bit sad. Mind you, I’m very grateful to Yoo Ah In for investing this show with star power and hence staying power; and who can begrudge the boy anything when he’s doing such a great job? But the ways of the world do make me feel sad, sometimes.

Secret Love Affair ep12

Secret Love Affair is not crack. One can, and does, lay it aside. But when I come back to it, even with my expectations of an Ahn Pan Seok offering as high as they are, I’m impressed by how I continue to be impressed.

By this episode, the secret is not much of a secret anymore. But amazingly, everyone behaves in an adult fashion. Angsted, certainly, but adult. This would be the point in a lesser drama where there would be shouting and tears and melodramatic carrying on. And I half expected Ahn Pan Seok to succumb to this golden opportunity for cheap dramatic moments, but clearly he is classier than I expect.

Secret Love Affair Ep11

And right at the end of the drama, did you notice? Did you see? A trademark brilliant Ahn Pan Seok continuous shot when for more than five minutes, with the camera shooting straight on without stopping and without moving, two brilliant actresses act out a whole dramatic moment with no more than their heads for more than five minutes. FIVE MINUTES! The man is genius, and his actresses are goddesses.

Secret Love Affair Episode 11

When I read that Matsumoto Jun and Inoue Mao are rumoured to be dating (Thanks, Koala, for that bombshell), a little something lit up in my brain and my synapses dissolved into a mush of wonder and fascination.

Jun & Mao? (Hana Yori Dango)

This, you have to realize, is a deep and terrible confession. You see, I happen to think that “shipping” acting couples, i.e., loving an onscreen couple so much that you want them to date in real-life, is pointless and borderline creepy. Actors are usually nothing like their onscreen persona (otherwise, unless they have a very limited repertoire, they would be schizophrenic) and it’s a bit weird and delusional to have one’s real and television/fantasy worlds so mixed up like that. And it’s pointless, because it doesn’t mean anything. Many co-stars do fall in love with each other, understandably when they spend so much time with each other and presumably share passions and life concerns that few others understand. Equally, I’m sure many co-stars come to loathe each other deeply after having to work closely together. It’s really pure chance, whether or not co-actors end up inimical, in love, or indifferent to each other in real life. And really has no bearing on the strength of the story they were acting out. You know, all because the actors get together, doesn’t mean that their screen love was true.

So goes my rational mind. But when I caught wind of the Matsumoto-Inoue rumour, I couldn’t get over it. Partly because it came out of the blue – I’d no idea they’ve been rumoured to be together for years. And partly because Domyouji and Makino hold such a place in my heart. I was so taken, a re-watch of Hana Yori Dango (TBS, 2005) was in order.

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