Secret Love Affair Review

Review. Secret Love Affair is a 16 episode 2014 Korean drama that focuses on a romance between an older woman, Hye Won, and a younger man, Sun Jae.  Hye Won works as the director of planning for an Arts Foundation. She is married, elegant and excels at managing her employers and their money. Hye Won becomes the teacher to Sun Jae, a piano prodigy, and they are instantly drawn to each other in spite of the 20 year age gap.

In a nutshell: The romance worked in this drama. The couple was compelling, likable and watchable. Most of the other characters were unlikable and not enjoyable to watch.

What I liked about Secret Love Affair:

* Our leading lady, Hye Won (played by Kim Hee Ae), was a complex character requiring a nuanced performance. The actress Hee Ae excelled at playing the controlled Hye Won, the persona the character had 80% of the time. Hye Won was not idealistic or naive or soft. When Hye Won interacted Sun Jae it was like a light bulb inside her clicked on. When they connected, I connected with Hye Won. The calculating controlled Hye Won I respected but did not really like. In quiet moments with Sun Jae, she let go of the persona and became authentic. Through Sun Jae, Hye Won was reborn, able to reemerge after years of living a lifestyle that cost more than it gave.

* Our leading man, Sun Jae (played by Yoo Ah In), had a challenging role. He started shy and awkward. His love of music was pure. He was straightforward and did what he felt was right. Hye Won’s beauty and piano expertise were the initial attractors. Actor Ah In sold me that Hye Won was worth the pursuit, that Sun Jae saw beyond the persona of Hye Won. Ah In also managed NOT to look like a complete love addled fool. Was he devoted? Absolutely. Was he without a voice? No (though she ignored his opinion for a considerable time). For Hye Won, Sun Jae’s devotion, inner strength and piano genius were magnetic. She had been married to a wimpy whiny man with no skills for too many years. Sun Jae was water to Hye Won’s parched life.

c1*Their romance. Hye Won and Sun Jae quietly grew on you. Their initial attractors were love of music and physical beauty. Hye Won felt alive with him. She’d been trapped in a loveless marriage for so long, it was delicious and illicit to have a man be attracted to her. Sun Jae felt a jolt from Hye Won at their initial meeting. Couple this with Hye Won piano expertise (one must say their initial duets were foreplay) and Sun Jae was hers body and soul.
Devotion: Sun Jae was devoted to Hye Won. He was solicitous to her needs and attuned to her. She was devoted to him in her own way; she refurbished his piano, she got him out of jail, she protected him from testifying, etc. Yet many times she engaged him on HER terms not his. She had the power in the relationship. This was frustrating to watch and unfair to him.
Slave to a Lifestyle: Sun Jae saw Hye Won’s life for what it was, servitude to people who did not care about her, pursuit of power / money / status, which did not make Hye Won happy. And Sun Jae told her so. Hye Won, to her credit, did recognize that she was an “elegant slave” but it was a comfortable rut and she did not want to leave it.
When Sun Jae queried Hye Won, what are you going to do for the rest of your life, she saw unsatisfying days stretched in front of her. Still she didn’t want to give up the power and status. She hoped she could have it all and worked to achieve that.
Choose or Lose: Sun Jae wouldn’t accept Hye Won trying to keep her life and him. Sun Jae saw if he allowed this to continue, they did not have a chance together. He was right, how could she continue her life AND fit him in? No way. Clarity of the situation finally came to her and she knew she had to choose – her current life OR a new life with him. She ratcheted the drama up by turning herself in to the prosecutor, throwing herself on the court’s mercy, and providing damming evidence against the Evil Quartet. That redemption gamble paid off.
Freedom Achieved: Hye Won freed herself from the “elegant slave” lifestyle, though she ends up in jail. Sun Jae pursues his dream of being a great pianist. We end the show with the knowledge that when she has served her time, he’ll be back for her, and they will live as a couple. The final scene when Sun Jae visited Hye Won in jail summed it up perfectly as Sun Jae tells Hye Won: His home is with her. They should live together. They will fight, they will love, like couples do. If they breakup without trying to make it work, then it was all a waste.

* Couple of the side characters won a spot in my heart though they didn’t start out on my good side:
Secretary Wang: She wanted everything that Hye Won had. During Hye Won’s downfall she gleefully prepared to take over her job and her place. But somewhere along the way, besides the comic relief, I saw a glimmer of a decent human being that made her more palatable.
Da Mi: Sun Jae’s girlfriend (more friend as there seemed to be no romance there anymore) had her own moral code. She was willing to stand up to anyone no matter what status they held. She was initially not a fan of Hye Won, rightfully so because she could only see her friend Sun Jae hurt by involvement with Hye Won. In the end, because Sun Jae respected Hye Won, and Hye Won’s actions finally put Sun Jae first, she respected Hye Won too.

* The music. I wasn’t sure I’d like a series with all classical music, and I like classical music. What a pleasant surprise the music choices were. The pieces were listenable and able to touch you. I didn’t feel like I was getting schooled in classical music. I felt like I was enjoying classical music.

What I did not like about Secret Love Affair:

* The Evil Quartet (EQ), Hye Won’s employers, were pitiful excuses for human beings.
EQ1: The chairman was a womanizing rich old man. There is nothing positive to say about him.
EQ2: The chairman’s wife was a leech on her husband and disingenuous in every aspect of her life. She was totally willing to throw Hye Won under the bus, multiple times.
EQ3: The chairman’s daughter was volatile, selfish, and flat-out mean. The ONLY thing that veered this character into some kind of likability was she so forthright and had some great lines. Also she did recognize Hye Won and Sun Jae were truly in love, something she desperately lacked in her own life.
EQ4: The chairman’s son-in-law. He managed his wife with disdain and was solicitous to his father-in-law for the money and power it brought him. His willingness to two-time the others only lowered my opinion of him further.

* The majority of side characters were leeches, liars, or losers. From the dean, to the sister-in-law, to the Hye Won’s husband, none of them were decent people. In Episode 15 Hye Won’s husband was so absurd in his bumbling accusation of adultery that he veered into amusing.

* Production choices that bugged me EVERY episode.
Poor Lighting: This show was poorly lit. It was either too dark and you could barely make out the characters OR it was back-lit so the characters were put in shadow by the light source behind them.
Obstructed views:
Many scenes were shot so the characters were obstructed by something. The camera shot had a fence, a laptop, a lamp, a headrest, a book, so that you couldn’t fully see the character’s face.
Abrupt Episode Endings:Several episodes (3,6, etc.) seemed to end mid-scene. It came off as hasty several times.
Limited physical contact: You didn’t see much of the physical side of this love affair. The production team was shy (scared?) about showing physical love between Hye Won and Sun Jae. A relationship between a 40-year-old woman and a 20-year-old man is described as boundary-pushing and scandalous. Why? Was the age gap the issue? When 40-year-old men have relationships with 20-year-old women there is no negativity. Was the issue that Hye Won was married? Or was it a combination of these 2 factors? The promised steamy affair was only hinted at. Physical contact was either off camera (e.g. their first time making love was) or very brief.
Promotional image, nothing like this in the show

Promotional image only, nothing like this in the show

Secret Love Affair
Episode 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | Series

Asian drama fan. I watch and blog dramas on

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Posted in Kdrama, Reviews, Secret Love Affair
6 comments on “Secret Love Affair Review
  1. gweyun says:

    Hello. This is A.K.I.A. Talking…
    Thanks for the great review of Secret Love Affair! I enjoyed it a lot.
    I added it to my collection of reviews for the show. The show has now an average score of 80%.
    Here is a link to the page if you would like to give it a look:
    Thanks again for the review.


  2. kjtamuser says:

    Thx for the link!


  3. Herbert Hunsberger says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. I’m about halfway through the entire thing. Her reactions to his playing in ep 2 are priceless. He reduced the opening of the Schubert Fantasy from four hands to two after hearing once. “Yesterday I just played what I heard”. She’s astounded at his precosity. He’s aware enough to not use the pedal in the Bach. It would be anachronistic since a keyboard with a sustain pedal hadn’t even been invented yet. Again she’samazed at his natural instincts. She closes her eyes in rapture at one point, obviously remembering what it was like when it used to be her great passion before the cesspool she works in ruined it for her. And I bet you never knew you could have sex while playing piano duets. As they sit there breathing heavily and glistening sweat, the only appropriate line after playing the Schubert together would have been “Was it as good for you as it was for me?’ Or they could have just lit up cigarettes together. Funny stuff aside, this looks like it’sgonna be a good one about her rediscovering her lost love (music) while trying to get her life back through the innocence of the young man.


    • kjtamuser says:

      Your point that he brought her back to her passion – for music and a man – is on target. Once you finish the series, feel free to let me know your final impressions. Thanks for the comment.


  4. Herbert Hunsberger says:

    As you requested, I have just finished SLA and here are some rambling thoughts and musings . . . Am I the only person who had difficulty sorting out the various characters? Most of them were thrown at us very fast and in fragmented conversations and it took a long time to fully understand who everyone was. It’s virtually impossible to fully grasp what illegalities they are performing, although perhaps that’s the purpose; to keep us guessing as much as everyone else. The camera constantly peers around and through obstacles at conversations, making us the proverbial flies on the wall. . . . Most humorous moment. Our protagonists have obviously gotten into bed together (tactfully off screen) for the first time, and in the dark we can hear their conversation. She-Is this really your first time? He-Come to think of it, I don’t think it is. She-You have to think to know that? . . . Followed almost immediately by the most touching moment. What at first sounds like a sexual gasp is followed by what are clearly sobs; not of sadness, but of joy. The joy not even so much of sex, but of intimacy; for her, probably the first time in many, many, years. . . . This show was sold as a love affair between a 20 year old innocent boy and a 40 year old far from innocent woman. Titling it “Secret Love Affair” will bring in the viewers. But the real story is about a woman who sold her soul for the luxury of class status. The heart of this story is how she regains it, of course at a terrible price. . . . Most telling moment, she has probably just consigned herself to a much longer prison sentence with a full confession in court. Even so, as she leaves the court, she turns and smiles at her lover. Why? Because she has come clean. He knows why she smiles. The monkey is finally off her back and she will take whatever society says she has to take in order to regain her soul. . . . Question? Is there any other Korean actress out there who is even in the same league with Kim Hee-ae? I’ve only seen her in “A Woman’s Credentials” and this show, and in both, her performances are simply stunning. Really, does she have any competition at all in Korea? . . . Final totally unrelated question. Are the concrete surfaces of parking garages in Korea really that clean. They look like you could sit down on them and eat a meal, they are so shiny and spotless. I always feel like I need to clean my shoes off after being in an American parking garage. . . . In closing, a beautiful, sad and touching show, perhaps made unnecessarily complicated through the hard to understand machinations of the many characters in the institute’s administration.


    • kjtamuser says:

      Wow! Fabulous observations. Both leads owned the souls of these characters. She was the lynchpin of the show. I hope to see her in another series. I was glad when she chucked the chains of servitude to cash and power to free herself. No clue on parking garages. Thx for coming back and sharing your observations.


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