Archive | September 2020

Secret Love Affair: A Work of Art

It’s rare that one comes across a TV show that is a work of art. Artsy movies abound, as do some many series, but hours and hours of a TV show? Well, it’s just not that common. In fact, I don’t really know that I’ve ever watched a TV show I would consider a work of art–up until now, that is.

Something about affairs, whether it’s the illicitness or the adventure, something about affairs is often involved in the art of story. This is something you can find right across history, from The Bridges of Madison County to the Illiad and that whole thing with Helen of Troy. Maybe it’s just the fact that in an affair there are likely to be high emotions and also retributions from the injured or cuckolded party–plenty of dynamics and fireworks possible.

Although publicly society generally doesn’t condone affairs, in our entertainment and art, they are everywhere. Sadly, few of the fictional stories about affairs truly touch how wrong it is to break one’s vows of marriage. The Korean drama Secret Love Affair is no different in this, and that’s because the sin it focuses on is not the affair itself, but the reason for it: The main character is living in an awful environment and denying her true self any agency.

A trend in K-dramas in recent years has been pairing older women with younger men. I’m sure real young men would be a bit horrified at this, but it’s just a reversal of the standard in visual storytelling, which for decades has been older men with much younger women. In real life one sees age gap pairings, but they are not nearly as common as TV and movies would lead us to believe. In my own experience, couples, married or not are two people of roughly the same age or within a few years of each other. The older I get, I realize that age doesn’t really matter that much when it comes to a relationship, but biologically, it can. Older women, for example, have less childbearing years ahead of them. That in itself may give a young man who wants a lot of biological kids pause. In Secret Love Affair, this aspect is not even a consideration, though the age gap is 20 years.

As a women who is in her 40s, I can’t even fathom dating a man of twenty or even early twenties. That aspect of this story grated on me throughout, for the young man was way too much of a boy still. He hasn’t even had time to think if he wants kids in his future or not. He was, essentially, a way for the female lead to change her life, and she also helped him change his life, but beyond that, it was a bit creepy. I don’t know how big an age gap has to be to be creepy–everyone probably has a different threshold–but for me, 20 years is too much. So, why did I continue watching? Hands down, for the music and the sort-of redemption story.

Secret Love Affair (aka Secret Affair) stars Kim Hee Ae (Mrs. Cop) as Oh Hye Won, a director/personal assistant to the Seohan Arts Foundation. In her job she is wedded deeply and dangerously to the family who owns the foundation. These are not nice people. Her husband, played well by Park Hyuk Kwan (Six Flying Dragons) is a do-nothing hanger on who has no music or teaching whatsoever, but somehow got a spot at the music school the foundation owns. Their marriage is one of convenience, both wanted to be a part of the foundation and saw that they could if they were together. This was the biggest sin Hye Won made in her life, for it led to her entanglement with the foundation and a life of walking on glass. When we are first introduced to her, we see that Hye Won has great talent at her job, that she has tact and guile and has helped the foundation succeed. It seems unlikely that she herself has musical talent, but we soon discover she does.

During preparation for a big concert, a young, lowly delivery guy happens upon the scene. Lee Sun Jae, played very well by Yoo Ah In (Chicago Typewriter) is a quiet, hesitant man in his early twenties. He quickly gets into trouble stealing some piano time on the schools expensive grand. The kicker is, that his performance is recorded and immediately Hye Won’s husband sees the young man as his ticket to greatness at the school and beyond. He pesters his wife to give the kid a listen and declare him someone who should be admitted to the school right away.

The couple’s real first meeting is at this audition at Hye Won’s home, and as a first meeting, it’s amazing. Few couples get to spend this much time together, ever. Ok, I exaggerate, but it’s unusual one gets to spend so much time with a person upon first meeting them. Hye Won listens to Sun Jae play and is immediately hypnotized. You see, she has musical talent at the piano. Back in the day, she could have been a star, but she was convinced to work in administration instead. She listens to him for hours and then starts to play along with him. The two immediately connect emotionally, spiritually, and physically through playing together. Their style of playing is very similar, their appreciation of music, as if they are one heart. It’s instalove, but spread over a few hours.

Inevitably, they do have an affair, but though they sort of attempt to hide it, it’s really not a secret to anyone. Hye Won is really the only one surprised, but it’s hard to see oneself and how one changes and flowers under real love and real passion and emotion. That takes an outside view. Everyone else could see how obviously she was changing except herself. Through her relationship with Sun Jae, Hye Won starts to realize what a truly toxic environment she’s been living in. Her life isn’t really her own; her husband’s life is barely his own. To save herself and also Sun Jae’s future, Hye Won embarks on a path of intrigue in order to take down the family and the foundation.

This show is a great, intense watch. All of the actors are spot on, especially Park as the irritating husband. He is so perfectly loathsome, he brings Hye Won down with him. What kind of women is she really to have entered into a marriage of convenience with him? The writing and directing are also top notch. Each episode feels like a film, and it reminded me most in style to Heartless City (also a great watch, but hard to finish). The music is all consuming and nearly ever present in the background. This is classical music, but stepped up to ten in its emotional impact. Contrast that with the awful school and the owning family, and the parts where the characters experience real joy in their practice and performances become jewels to be treasured.

One aspect that was almost too much to handle, was the supporting cast of women in the show. Many of these characters were prone to scary violence, and it’s quite possible that Hye Won herself could’ve one day become like that had she not turned almost all her emotion off.

It’s interesting at the end how Sun Jae keeps calling Hye Won to be good, but she knows she has to callously take down the family first or neither of them will ever be free. In some ways, Sun Jae is content to stay as he is with Hye Won almost as a stand-in mother figure to him (yeah, creepy), but she nudges him, gets him to spread his wings, and soon he’s making new friends all on his own and leading secret jam sessions. By this point we barely miss the cuckolded husband, though we are maybe shocked at how upset about the affair he actually is, as they seem to have had a loveless, sexless marriage. More likely, he finally realizes just how much of a loser he is on all levels. So Hye Won gets her redemption story and Sun Jae has hope for a future. Will they stay together? By the end, it doesn’t really matter, for they’ve fulfilled whatever was needed for the other by the end of the show.

Sad the story revolves around an affair, but I suppose these types of plots are signs that at least some of modern society still takes marriage vows seriously. And that’s a really good thing. It was shocking to see how isolating a loveless marriage can be. If Hye Won hadn’t had a couple of good friends, she would likely have had a total breakdown at some point. Your spouse should be your best friend and lover, someone you can confide in and be yourself with. She found that with Sun Jae and he with her. The piano music sort of packaged everything together.

Secret Love Affair is a worthwhile watch, and there are moral lessons in the story, though probably not the ones you’d expect. This show is a work of art on all levels.

Tess: Afraid to Read the Next Chapter!

Somehow throughout my schooling as an English major I avoided ever having to read Thomas Hardy or Tess of the D’Urbervilles. This year I am giving it a try and wow, what gorgeous writing!! And I feel so, so bad for Tess! What a jerk and rapist her sort-of cousin is. In reading the book, it doesn’t seem as if Tess herself really understands if she was raped or not. Maybe she wasn’t? Maybe she did acquiesce? Have to read what other scholars have said about this, but it doesn’t seem she liked the guy very much, and did not enjoy the experience, at any rate.

My favorite part of the book so far is at the dairy farm. What fun! What descriptions! Makes me want to work on an old-time dairy farm for a summer. After all that Tess has been through, having a child out of wedlock, and then losing that child, at twenty she finds some happiness and falls in love with Angel Clare. This part of the book is so happy, I just want to stop here and not read the rest, but curiosity will get the best of me, I know it. As they are 40 or so miles from where Tess had the scandal with her cousin, Angel and those on the dairy farm don’t know that Tess isn’t a virgin and she is reluctant to tell Angel, as she’s sure her chances with him will be gone. Her mother, who is practical for all her drinking, says not to tell him. Sometimes this is the right thing to do; it’s not necessary to confess all of your sins to everyone all of the time. Often it’s between you and God. However, as she had a baby from it, this is clearly a big secret that if it comes out–and it’s likely to–will ruin Tess forever. She dithers back and forth between telling Angel or not, knowing that it’s probably better to get in front of the matter than clean up behind.

Angel is portrayed as a broadminded sort of fellow, so it’s likely that he won’t care as much as she thinks he will, but sometimes these so-called broadminded people turn out to be very narrow-minded and unforgiving in the end, thus her very real fear to tell him. Angel himself is inconsistent in at least one way: he claims to not care for old, wealthy families, but then is overly impressed that Tess comes from the now decrepit family of the once prosperous D’Urbervilles. Several times before the wedding, Tess attempts to tell Angel, but can never quite do it, and then the wedding day arrives, they get married and they’re in their new digs, and suddenly Angel wants to confess to her his failings of fidelity.

Aha! She is thrilled at this news. They have both committed the same sin and will both forgive each other for it, so after his confession she bravely launches into her own…and his response is in chapter thirty-five, and I…just…can’t…read…it! He’s going to reject her, acting the hypocrite, I know it! And throw her out of the house and denounce her to all around! These are fictional characters and not real people, but sometimes it’s so hard to read or watch even fictional people go through these trials. Maybe I will work up the courage by tomorrow.

Pretty Proofreader: 100%!

Who doesn’t love a story about a person who gives 100% in what they do? These books, movies, and shows are always inspiring to me and I wish there were more of them. One of my favorites of these is Morning Glory, starring Rachel McAdams, and I think the girl power version of this 100% dedication could be its own sub-genre.

The Japanese drama Pretty Proofreader is the second J-drama I tried on Viki and this was a hit! What a show! Perhaps I’m a teensy bit biased as I used to proofread for a codebook (city and county ordinances) company and often miss doing it. Proofreading is one of those unsung heroes types of jobs, especially as the reality is that very few of one’s suggestions are often taken. It requires dedication in the face of that.

Etsuko Kono, played by the petite Satomi Ishihara is a bubbly, vivacious fashionista in her late 20s. Ever since graduating, she’s applied every year to the publishing house that owns Lassy fashion magazine, hoping to get hired as an editor. She is the magazine’s biggest fan, having kept all of their copies over the years and reading them cover to cover. To her surprise, I think this is the 7th or 8th time, she is finally hired! But it’s to the proofreading department in the basement.

At first Etsuko is disappointed, but she quickly rallies, delving into the proofreading with a relish she probably didn’t know she had. Her greatest skill is checking the facts of the novels she proofreads, and soon she’s taking off at all hours of the work day to confirm things. This isn’t so unusual, fact checking is a part of proofreading, but the proofreaders usually just stay at their desks. Some of her colleagues previously built model houses, acted out sword fights, and the like, but soon all of them are out and about, checking the facts and getting to know more of their countrymen in the process. If only real proofreading jobs were more like this! Perhaps there are some, but it may take persistence to find them. Etsuko’s blatant questioning of some of the novelists choices would probably normally get her fired, but here, they quickly warm to her and are encouraged by her to do even better jobs at writing.

Yukito, the love interest, becomes so fascinated by the proofreaders that few know about, that it inspires him to write a whole book on all of the unsung heroes in Japanese civilization, the people who keep the electricity going, the trains running safely, and so on.

If one knows Japanese, the show would be even more enjoyable, because there’s a lot of play on words–much to her chagrin, Etsuko Kono, or Kono Etsuko is shortened by her colleagues to koestu, which literally means copywriting, and I know I likely missed a lot of that not knowing much of the language.

As is traditional with these stories, there is a romance, but it was kind of meh. Yukito (Masaki Suda) is a college student and magazine model who runs into Etsuko by accident. They click right away, but over the course of the show there didn’t seem to be real chemistry. She had more chemistry with the editor for the proofreading department, Mr. Kaizuka (Munetaka Aoki), who she calls Octopus. Perhaps because Yukito is quieter and more blasé, and the other two are loud and dynamic, that’s why I thought they got along better, but, honestly, I just found Mr. K to be more manly and attractive and was hoping they would change course and make the romance with him. Oh well. Etsuko and Yukito support each other well in their work and lives, and maybe that’s more important than a lot of passion.

Etsuko lives above a neighborhood Odon restaurant owned by a friend of her dad’s, and her apartment is cute, but she spends at least half of her time there in the restaurant. Odon is a hot pot or soup that’s popular in Japan and the show inspired me to try and make it sometime. I find most Asian foods from whichever country to be delicious, so it’s always fun to try new ones. Odon is from the Kantu region in Japan, and the broth is made of dashi, or fish and kelp stock, and miso. The main ingredients in the soup are usually fish cakes, boiled eggs, and daikon radishes. Not sure how I’m going to find or make fish cakes.

Pretty Proofreader is only 11 episodes, but the time is used well, and it’s a warm blanket type of show as there’s really no outright villains, and almost every character is caring and caring of others. It’s very, very sweet and comforting to watch, even if it is fantasy. I have noticed with K-dramas and now this J-drama that the characters are often more caring and kind to each other on American shows. This is maybe because most American shows are plot driven, but really it’s probably our independence here. We take much pride in doing things ourselves, and bottom lines often override everything else. The characters in this show are workaholics also, but it’s portrayed as work uplifting and meaningful to their souls, not a lot of talk about making money. What talk there is, is portrayed as troublesome and missing the mark of both connecting with people and doing a good job. It’s a refreshing perspective, though I’m not sure how much of it is true of either Korea or Japan, having never lived there.

Unsurprisingly, this show is based on a book of the same name. There is a Chinese version, and I do know a smidgeon of Chinese, but I’ll have to put getting this book out of my head as I’m trying to learn Korean enough to read their novels. It’s very slow going: Never have I fluently learned another language.

Have a great Labor Day weekend, everyone!!