In a nutshell: Melodrama. Almost pure, very nearly unadulterated, melodrama. Unfortunately, there were some delusions of deepness that kept things from attaining that delightful fever-pitch a classic melo does so well. Like the story’s villain getting weighed down by an unnecessary redemption arc, keeping him from the glorious heights of epic villainy I was hoping for. The overarching plot still works, filled with the sort of obsession and vengeance typical of a melo. The details get murky (sometimes to unintended comic effect when seemingly important events occur out of the blue, never to be mentioned again) but the actors carry on with great aplomb. If you’re watching for the melo — and that’s the only reason you should be watching — this drama almost satisfies. (If only the villain had been fully unleashed!)
A few more details: I think it was a great help that our two leading characters were played by skilled comic actors. There’s a certain type of awareness involved in good comedy. And that ability translated into a dollop of otherwise unlooked for character-depth.
Yes, our leading lady was a little too good to be true. But Hwang Jung-eum brought a sardonic edge to the role that suggested she knew she was being excessively kind and forgiving and maybe a little recognition was in order. And yes, our leading man was brimming with arrogance and man-pain. But there was also a healthy dash of goofy boyishness that Ji Sung played so naturally, he actually succeeded in adding vulnerability to his character.
I don’t want to oversell it. The characters are pretty much what you’d expect from this sort of story. But that sense of humor, even peeking out from the corners, added just enough realism to make our two leads likable. Which meant that, as the plot played out with regimented predictability or moments of bizarre randomness, I still cared about what happened to them. Even if none of it made much sense.
In conclusion: Secret wasn’t a great drama. It followed all the tropes and chose the titillating over the logical — which is exactly what a story like this should do — but then it tried to shoehorn in a moral lesson. Which is something a story like this should not do. Which means if you’re in the mood for a chest-beating melodrama there are better drama choices out there. But if you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel and have a ton of time to kill and aren’t too fussed about plot logic — this might do. I’m damning with faint praise here, I know. But faint praise is all I can give.