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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Secret Love Affair is such an interesting show. On the one hand, it’s not cracky. Not at all. It’s not in the least addictive. Its pace is leisurely and at times — dare I say it — it’s not even particularly compelling. Sometimes I’m not even very sure what, if anything, happened in an episode. I don’t find myself rushing to gobble down the next episode. But when I do watch it, I like it very much. Not madly, but deeply. It has a stirring sensibility. And as ever with Ahn Pan Seok, it feels real to me.

What just happened?

I appreciate the way it is taking its time to explore all the awkwardness of an illicit affair, and an age-inappropriate one at that. It’s the realistic little touches that impress me. How Sun Jae’s youth is not so much a cool factor as something of a liability (what would he do or say next, in a moment’s unthinkingness? Eeps). Unlike the Mary-Sue manufactured noona-toyboy who is perfect (Oh, how Noona is SO cool to have snagged him!), in real life, lack of maturity isn’t always a cool or even desirable thing. And I appreciate that Sun Jae is not that mythical creature — the perfect toyboy who can do no wrong and who is going to solve all our noona’s problems and sweep her into heavenly bliss with one clasp of his young virile arms.

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Also, EEK!


In this episode, a few plot points move forward, but more importantly, we dig deeper into the psyche of our three main characters. And what we uncover makes us feel ever increasing anxiety for them.

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Things get really interesting in this episode. Now that we’ve established the plausibility of the meeting of their souls, we return to our first thought when presented with the idea of a liaison between the two: Is not the gap between a mature and worldly woman and a callow young boy simply too wide?

Old enough to be your mother, Boy.

I like that the show focuses on their contrasting maturities and approaches to life. That’s probably what scuppers your mutton-and-lamb coupling in real life. Not the disapproving mother-in-law, not any incongruity in appearance (to be fixed by a hair-dye job), not even society’s harsh judgment (though there is that). Rather, sheer basic incompatibility.

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I’m continuing to relish Secret Love Affair, which is reminding me why I fell in love with K-drama in the first place. Secret Love Affair is recognizable a K-drama, with all the usual K-drama tropes. But Secret Love Affair is of such an outstanding quality, I don’t even mind some elements which are usually Pet Peeves of mine.

The pot is on the boil

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Episode Three was a WOW for me.

Falling in love with both feet first

I was blown away. I feel sucked into the drama of these people’s lives, even though I’m not sure what events actually filled one hour of air-time (actually, very little in terms of plot). But in trademark Ahn Pan Seok fashion, the tension has been ratched up a notch, without resort to cheap tricks. How does he do this? He gives us glimpses into people’s souls — what they do in the privacy of their rooms when no one is watching, what they confess to their confidantes when they are inebriated, how they react to set-backs; their disappointments, their unspoken yearnings and their brightest hope. Patiently and intelligently, the show is drawing us into inner lives, without being explicit or obvious.

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