Secret Love Affair: Journey to Oblivion & Back

Secret Love Affair poster

I’ve mostly kept silent here about Secret Love Affair during the show’s airing, although I did manage some brief incoherent gurglings about about music and mahjong and whatnot on my tumblr.

I didn’t feel I had much to add at the time because there’s been alot said about this show by many others. And the part of me that’s lazy was largely content to read what they had to say, so much of it beautifully written and thoughtful.

But now that the show is done, my blog would be remiss without committing to words a few things bout this show, one that I’d been anticipating so eagerly and had made bold predictions about.

I won’t talk about whether those predictions came true here, I’ll save that for another day. But I do want to talk about my strange and exciting journey with SLA. It was above all, a entirely new live-watch experience, and one that at the end of the day, was as rewarding as, if not more so, than the drama itself.

Secret Love Affair Ep 1

Yes Sun Jae, I was as sucked in as you were

There’s been a wealth of commentary across the web that’s testimony to just how much the show touched so many, and reading all of it–whether it be outbursts of squee over Yoo Ah In’s butt or lengthy analysis of a scene–was a delight.

Jomo and Koalas’ recaps, like the best ones, were written with care, attention to detail and an obvious love tailor-made for deliberate savouring. Or devouring, by the sound of the enthusiastic comments there. So many articulate voices we have in dramaland! (Some of them really should start their own blogs.) I also loved readng Outside-Seoul’s witSerenditpity’s Stream of Consciousness‘s episodic reflections and Betsy’s  spirited (and oh-so-naughty) musings. Not to mention the tonnes of pithy commentary on tumblr. I’ve enjoyed reading all the joy and anguish this show has inspired.

I am new to dramas, but I have been sucked into shows as they aired and done the forum-stalking, anxious-waiting thing before. But it seemed to me that the fan-love, though not widespread, was especially fever-pitched. People would rhapsodise about the show, sounding as if on the verge of delirium.

I think many of us were just hungry to sink our teeth in a drama meaty enough for substantive discussions across a range of things, a rare opportunity in dramaland surely. There’s drama we watch for pure, escapist pleasure. But there’s also pleasure in parsing meaning, and feeling challenged by the material that you consume. And this drama’s often raw depictions of life and love’s complexities certainly fit that bill.

Ok fine, I was into it for the thrilling sexy times too.

Secret Love Affair Ep 2

Remember when Sun Jae lost his virginity?

So fraught! So subtle! So exquisite!! So…dark. Literally.

Secret Love Affair ep 3

A little more light would’ve been nice…

And need more proof of epic fan-love? Look no further than Piano and Conversations , a product of the fertile discussions and fan obsession from the show’s Soompi thread in a desire to collect script-translations for posterity.

There’s something to be said about a drama that sparks controversy for the right reasons. SLA attracted a fair amount of detractors from the start who didn’t agree with it’s subject matter, and I found these debates valuable–I’d rather debates about social taboos than that of idols-can’t-act or my-OTP-is-better-than-yours variety.

But I’m appreciative in hindsight. At the time, reading the outpouring of finger-pointing moralism from many who didn’t agree with adultery made me seethe with anger. I despise judgemental attitudes (eventhough I judge people all the time).

It’s just that adultery for me isn’t a moral issue, at least not one I’m comfortable discussing with any kind of blanket certainty about right and wrong. Society is far too invested in policing the sex lives of others and in keeping marriages intact at all costs.

So yes, I got angry. I huffed and puffed so much that the hubs wondered if he should be concerned about my fidelity (and my sanity). But I was also saddened that so many spoke harshly and cruelly. Hello, compassion is a virtue too, yunno!

Secret Love Affair ep 5


And I also doubted that the criticism would’ve been as strident or as merciless if the adulterer was a man instead of a woman. You expect men, them bastards, to cheat isn’t it? Women on the other hand, are virtuous and perfect. And just like Hester Prynne, it’s easy to project onto Hye Won and Young Woo (the other philandering woman in the show) society’s anxieties about women who defy or challenge expectations, especially ones about sexual purity–what’s a middle-aged woman doing having sex with a younger man who isn’t her husband? And enjoying it?

So I wasn’t entirely surprised by the hate directed at Young Woo who slept with younger men but unlike Hye Won, was promiscuous and therefore a “slut”. The “slutting” of Young Woo was so quick while the relative hesitance to do the same to Hye Won for the flimsiest of reasons–she’s in lurve!–struck me as sheer hypocrisy. (If you want to “slut” one, “slut” all–no, no I kid. Don’t “slut” anyone, please).

But anyway, my point is–this show be challenging, yo! And it taught me a lot–to breathe and detach for one, and to question my own swiftness to anger and judgement, and to clarify my thinking.

And the other curious thing was the degree to which I was so absorbed in this drama, at least initially. I seriously was worried about my attachment to a damn TV show. It really got under my skin.

Secret Love Affair ep 3

SLA is not easy to fall for. It’s not flashy or gimmicky, and probably looks downright austere by K-drama standards. But it isn’t that hard either. PD Ahn Pan Seok creates immersive, three-dimensional worlds. He did it to chilling, cinematic effect in End of the World, on a smaller, more charming scale in A Wife’s Credentials, and here again, in creating a sophisticated but suffocating world.

His dramas live and breathe like flesh and blood.

And like its protagonist who is seduced by riches, I was seduced too. I imbibed like a thirsty alcoholic. I was intoxicated by its pervasive sense of doom and danger, and together with ambiguous dialogue you could mull over for days and a glorious slowburning romance, I was totally consumed by it.

And then, curiously, I wasn’t. Maybe I deliberately broke away (didn’t want to stay in lalaland, you see). And maybe the drama helped push me away too. Maybe I was tired of the drama’s inscrutability–what I once thought of as mysterious, now felt remote, and perhaps even a shade poncy.

I grew impatient and wanted to see Hye Won act instead re-act.  I was eager to see the fallout from Hye Won’s choice having already spent enough time in her turmoil. I wanted the promise of disaster realised in more spectacular, explosive fashion. And none of that was happening.

So I left it alone for awhile, and picked it up again. And to my great surprise, I sobbed at the drop of a hat at the cheesiest of songs and at the cheesiest of scenes!  Billy Joel? Oh come on! But…yeah.

sobbing gif

Me & this show

The drama still had the power to move me, and I was still in tune with the emotional lives of its tortured lovers despite feeling somewhat distanced by the drama as a whole. How strange!

Or maybe it was PMS. I dunno.

Despite no longer being as enthralled by it, my love affair continued, and still does in some ways.

I’d hoped to be challenged by this drama, and I was, in more ways than I expected. But that’s what art does for you, isn’t it?





15 thoughts on “Secret Love Affair: Journey to Oblivion & Back

  1. Wow, written so prettily, DDee!! 😀 Such a lovely read! I’m just starting this drama myself, having opted to NOT join the live-watch squad. Only one ep in, so it’s early days yet. Intriguing already, though, so I might get completely sucked in like you were yet 😉


    • Oh you’re starting? Whoopee! Curious to know how you’ll take to this as a marathon. Part of me thinks it might work better as a marathon. But then again, for a good number of people it didn’t work at all! Eager to hear what you have to say. Do you only have to do reviews once you’re done? The wait will be so loooong *pouts* Thanks for the kind words dear friend 🙂


      • Tee hee. If I could write reviews before I finished watching the shows, that would seriously be a superpower! Also it would make watching dramas completely unnecessary.. Now that’s a loopy thought! XD I’ll try not to make you wait TOO long 😛


      • Just mind meld with me while you watch it then? Hmmm but I hv a feeling you’re gonna stall on this midway or something… But I won’t jinx it. *zips lips*


  2. I read your response to my entry on dramabeans. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words.
    Actually this contemplation on SLA of yours is so beautifully written that I might consider rewatching the series when I get the chance.
    I thought I was the only one who felt emotionally disconnected to this drama and it’s kind of relief to see that you felt the same way. I became indifferent from episode 4 onward, but fortunately, the last two episodes redeem the entire drama for me. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t put it on my top list of Korean dramas. I guess that my favorite by PD Ahn remains to be The End of the World, written by a different writer.
    Does PD Ahn do anything wrong? No. He is still impeccable in his directing and in his cinematography. Quite frankly, I should have appreciated this drama because I learned classical piano for more than 15 years and I was really good at it. I still couldn’t fathom the specific reasons why this drama left me indifferent. The funny thing is that the only character I care the most at the end is Prof. Kang played by Park Hyuk-kwon, who single-handedly transforms this rather caricature-like character into something realistic and three-dimensional.
    Anyway. I will keep dropping by to say hi. ^.^


    • Hiee! Nice of you to come find me :D. I meant what I said on DB, and I hope you do keep up with your blog.

      Thanks for your v kind compliments too. I think we’re probably the only ones who feel like this, although I was invested for twice as long as you, at least until half-way. I do think I need to re-watch this another round as well, just to get my thoughts in order.

      But I agree, I think EofW is stronger. Ditto AWC too which I love deeply, probably more so than this, both more cohesive and tighter as a whole.

      And you reminded me that I totally forgot to write bout the music *facepalm*! Like you, I’d played for a good while, but I’d left classical music behind me for a good decade or so, but I found myself googling, listening and reading like mad about all the music here.

      Park Hyuk Kwon–WHAT A FABULOUS ACTOR! What a performance! Like, you want to hate him but he makes vanity and pettiness seem sympathetic, and so riveting to watch. It’s like, such a unique quality, I can’t fathom it. He’s perfectly cast for these roles that APS gives him, these arsehats that could so easily be caricatures but seem completely human.

      Oh but I loved Hye Won too, as much as she frustrated me and fascinated me, and I do feel she got a little short changed by the script at the end of the day. I wrote some stuff bout her character that I was going to include here, but that would’ve been too long. So I’ll save that for another day, and hopefully you’ll come bck and gimme your thoughts on that as well. (I swear I’m not stalking you and I’m not nearly as needy as I sound :D)


    • Apparently, it was written that SJ would find out, but the PD decided to hold back on that. He mentioned that in an interview. So I take it that she does tell him eventually 🙂


  3. I was four episodes in when I had to take time away from dramaland and the blogverse. I was amped and revved and obsessed with the show and watching it was like sinking into a rich and full world that sucked me in. Now that I’m back, and I’ve had time to digest the episodes I’ve seen and the story as a whole that I’ve read in little tidbits, I was hesitant to dive back in. Though now that I’ve read this gorgeously written post I’m considering it and perhaps it will be better now that I am not so invested in the story line. Wonderful words chingu!


    • Oh boy forgive my tardiness at replying like, 9 days later!! I’m really in a blogging slump at the moment, which explains why I haven’t written a review of SLA! And I have like, a chockful of notes just on Hye Won alone that I dunno what to do with! Halp!! Thanks for the lovely compliment dear, and did you decide to catch up with it? I think I loved it, but maybe you gotta wait for the right time to dive bck in again?

      It’s so nice to hv you back in the dramaverse! 🙂


      • Oh shush I’m slow at everything right now so there’s no need to rush to reply!  I think that’s sort of normal for blogging. At least it is for me and writing/blogging. Hopefully you find something to kick start your blogging muse again! I always enjoy your posts!

        Perhaps you could write a post just on Hye Won based off your notes, that would be a very interesting read if you ask me.

        You’re very welcome chingu!! I haven’t picked it up again… yet. So far I’m sticking with really light things. SLA was very heavy and I was only 4 episodes in I can’t imagine how much heavier it got through the entire run. So, for now I’m waiting until I feel like something a little meatier.

        Aww thank you! It is so-so wonderful to be back!


      • Hmm yes it’s definitely meaty and I think it would work better as a marathon, but for me the first few eps flew by so if you’re already feeling the weight, maybe it’s not for you? I just started Fated to Love You which is totally hysterical and I’m thrilled with it, so that’s keeping me happy. Yes I thought of writing a post on her, she definitely deserves her own post! Now to find the time and willpower 🙂


      • I should just come with a warning that responses to comments will come eventually… but with a guaranteed long wait lol.

        I’ve gone back and watched the first few episodes again of SLA and I think I’m ready for it so I plan to watch it in the near future. And I’ve been looking at the K version of Fated to Love you too, so many dramas and not enough time!


    • Oh wow! Thanks! This isn’t really a review proper really, more like a brain fart. I should get down to doing a proper one with like, a rating an all that so your score would be more accurate. Yes, I should… hmm.


Let's obsess!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s