Bored on Christmas, I finally gave in to the hype and I found myself not being able to turn back. Seeing Gil Ra Im do her stunts for the first time, when she chased after that person who stole the purse of the woman who dissed her, I was hooked. Then, Kim Joo Won came into the picture, that self-assured jerk of a boy who mistook the stuntwoman for the actress he was going to try and blackmail for his cousin, I came in too deep.
Theirs is what you would call your typical Korean drama story. But it had its appeal to me, no matter how cliche some of the scenes might have been. It must be the body-switch that gets me confused every time that left me hanging onto the mystery. Or better yet, I want to think that it is this deadly combination of the zaniness of such a plot, doses of fairy tale references, twisted realities that for a very weird reason I could still relate to, that got me in. It must be those reasons. Yes, should be, because no matter how far from plausible body switches are in real life, I found this plot to be a tribute in the ways we are connected in body and soul with that one person we are destined to be with. And it aroused the hopeless romantic in me. To the point that I am proud to admit that every hour watching Secret Garden becomes like an exercise wherein all my logic is thrown out the window. I would laugh when Ra Im laughed. I will smirk with Joo Won. I will feel desperate with Oska. I will be bitter with Seul. And I paid less attention to the nitty gritty details that would burst my little bubble.
Many of the drama’s diligent recappers had pointed out the slow growth of Ra Im’s character in their commentaries. That perhaps for a 30-year old, it didn’t seem like she was standing her ground or even being sensible with who she was or how she would pursue her love. That for a girl of that age she should know better. These commentators don’t know me of course. But I am almost 30 also, and boy, am I slow and clueless. I am not ashamed to admit that I understand Ra Im. She is not a lame duck. Nor is she just a pretty face with a stuntwoman’s tough shell. She is simply a woman. A woman in search for a significant male figure in her life, after losing her father. A woman surrounded by male figures, who even if they respect her, stick around more to protect her. A woman who had not opened her heart to love because she has her own share of phobias, and her biggest fear is that of being left alone to fend for herself, again. So it becomes a funny dance between our two main characters. Joo Won who seems to always gets what he wants but can lose everything when he is boxed in tight and enclosed spaces chasing after the ever hesitant Ra Im who is always too careful for words.
Their story exposes us to concepts in fairy tales we were supposed to have kept to heart, Alice in Wonderland and The Little Mermaid. I say “supposed to” because honestly this drama is the only one that piqued my interest to find out what these two stories were in fact about. I remember mad hatters and bubble vials, but I don’t remember the stories behind them. Perhaps because they are just that, fairy tales — something you want to believe in but reality dictates you to not believe. I want to classify this drama to the fairy tale category as well, especially now that I am finding myself defining my ideal standard around Joo Won. But it’s tough. Because even with their forced analogies with these fairytale stories, in Secret Garden, the emotions behind each situation, the succession of events, the reactions, are all too real. I may be crazy. But this is what I believe, clothed in its fantasy, Secret Garden is the weaving of all our love stories and desires, therefore making it real to us. It speaks into the heart. It brings us to this alternative yet familiar world. The prince and the pauper stuntwoman have something in common, passion for what they do and want. The poor orphan and rich Ms. Korea share similar pains, loving someone and hurting yourself. The hyung and the dongsaeng, even with their constant bickering share the same love for the other. This is how, even with its quirkiest story, we find ourselves into the Secret Garden, where in one way or another our real self has found its match. For this reason alone, we will carry it through its completion, and perhaps even watch and re-watch many many times over. Like how we read fairy tales as children, reading as though reading it as many times we could can bring these dreams into reality.