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.
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 wit, Serenditpity’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.
So fraught! So subtle! So exquisite!! So…dark. Literally.
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!
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.
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.
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?