Secret Love Affair: Episodes 3-4 (deliciously unexpected!)

Hye-won's new viewWell! That didn’t go the direction I was expecting at all. And I love it! I especially love that, essentially, these last two episodes were all about Hye-won making a decision. Of course, first she had to see that there was a decision to be made…

[Spoilers for eps 3 and 4 to follow…]

I loved that Sun-jae saw the piano duet as sex. It wasn’t just crazy talk from deluded viewers! And I loved his online confession. It was so easy and honest and young. And I adored how much it shook Hye-won — her surprise at realizing Sun-jae was her online friend, her shock at his view of her, and her starting to look at herself differently because of it.

And, yes — there are definitely ethical issues in her choosing to continue to pretend she was someone else while he bared his soul. But it didn’t bother me as a viewer. confessionThe show doesn’t try and paint it as good behavior. Hye-won’s doing a bad thing and they’re clear on that. (For that matter, she’s clear on that — knowing she should confess but not doing it.) And good Lord, do I get why she let him keep talking. To see herself through an admirer’s eyes… that is such a massive temptation. So it’s bad behavior but, for this character at that point in time, it’s understandable behavior.

Fun little aside: I noticed that we got a lot of shots of Hye-won’s feet  after Sun-jae made his confession. Often when Sun-jae wasn’t anywhere around. (One glorious exception: the “should I remove her shoes?” scene. Which managed to be hilarious and adorable and overflowing with second hand embarrassment all at the same time.) So I see those shots as illustrating Hye-won’s sense of herself. She’s more aware of her attractiveness now. Sun-jae’s crush woke something up in her.

desireSo anyway, Sun-jae completely blows Hye-won’s mind and she spends the next two episodes trying to decide what she wants to do about it. And struggling through some rather large denial barriers. That she’s attracted to him… I think she only begins to admit it to herself after he shows up at her house and she lets him kiss her.

About the kiss: I haven’t had a chance to check out anyone else’s thoughts and I’m easily swayed so my views may change, but I was a bit disappointed. Their first kiss and we only see the back of her head? back of headThat’s cruel directing right there. I like to think it’s because it wasn’t a great kiss — Sun-jae’s first time, Hye-won’s pretty drunk — and better ones are to come. The important point was that it happened, Hye-won let it happen (though Sun-jae definitely initiated it, the pause before he acted was long enough for Hye-won to reject it, in my opinion of the moment), and there’s no more room for denial.

The coolest part of the kiss was the aftermath, because once Hye-won faces her desire — girl starts to move fast! (And of course the housekeeper chooses that night of all nights to not sleep soundly. And of course it’s Professor Kang’s fault and he comes home early. Frustration!)

And then we get more bad, but understandable, behavior from Hye-won. That whole pretending not to remember the kiss or that she’d stashed Sun-jae in the music room… really, really unkind. And since it leads to Sun-jae’s breakdown (both sad and hilarious), we’re meant to feel the unkindness of it. But I get that she was panicked and still drunk and basically flailing. Bad, but understandable.

Now that she’s had time to think things through, though, I suspect Hye-won is going to cheat like a boss. Efficient(Doesn’t it seem like she’s going to figure out a way to actually keep Sun-jae in her house? That’s both ballsy and efficient.) But I do fear it won’t be easy on Sun-jae. Will he understand why she has to be so careful? Will she let him see the reasons for her carefulness? Sun-jae is innocent but he’s not an idiot. So I’m hoping he’ll cotton on, for his sake if nothing else. If he doesn’t understand what Hye-won is doing he’s going to get so, so hurt.

Onto dysfunctional family fun! I really do feel sorry for Young-woo. She really is the little-girl-lost. And it’s totally typical of self-made über-successes like her dad (whom I suspect came from humble roots based on his restaurant choice and the way he picked his teeth) to be far too hard on their children and then wonder why they’re a mess. Young-woo is in her forties and she’s treated like a sixteen year old. Her husband took away her passport?! Seriously?! I would think that was illegal. Won't grow upYoung-woo is not, actually, a child. Though apparently everyone treats her like one.

Of course, just when I was about to swing fully behind her, Young-woo chooses to go play with her boy-toy in Paris rather than visit her children (who apparently live abroad somewhere?). So she’s a mess but she’s pretty much wallowing in it, and I pity her but I don’t think she should be in charge of the school. (Hye-won had good advice. Let her be in charge of something small. Though Chairman Seo totally missed her point when he said Hye-won would have to run it otherwise it’d fail. I think Young-woo needs to be allowed to fail. Part of becoming an adult is learning how to fail and try again.)

And now let’s leap into prostitution: Because that’s what’s going on, right? Jang-ho was “auditioning” to be a prostitute for Hye-won (a newbie for the newbie?). For SaleYoung-woo’s “boyfriend” is totally in it for the money and may well have begun where Jang-ho did. (So he’s an exclusive call-boy at the moment, but selling sex is basically his job.) And then Hye-won played pimp for Chairman Seo with that woman at the restaurant and dear Lord how do you train for that kind of conversation? And also, how the hell did the woman realize what Hye-won was getting at when she asked about the woman’s days off? Because as far as I’m concerned, that’s a huge leap. I would have needed things clearly spelled out and I’d probably still not get what I was being asked. (I’m getting the strong impression that prostitution is far, far, far more normalized in Korea than it is in the States.)

Within that moral atmosphere of arranged marriages and normalized prostitution, I have to say I find it hard to judge Hye-won and Sun-jae. What Hye-won is doing is dangerous — she knows it could destroy her. But only because she’s a woman. If she were a man, and married to Young-woo (Hye-won’s face when the Chairman mentioned the idea — hilarious!), starting something with a music student would be situation normal. (Though Sun-jae would have to be female for this scenario.) about to kissAffairs aren’t immoral in and of themselves in her world — they’re immoral for women specifically. That was made clear with Madame Han’s conversation with Young-woo.

In that sort of world I almost feel like I should applaud Hye-won and Sun-jae. They’re actually being honest with themselves. Neither of them are in it for greed or networking or — I’m pretty sure — even lust. Sun-jae is too pure for this to be lust. Hye-won is too smart. Per their world’s rules they’re engaging in bad behavior, per mine…? I can’t condemn them. I worry it will end badly, but I cannot say they’re making a horrible mistake.

(Interesting aside: I googled Sviatoslav Richter, the pianist whose biography Hye-won gave to Sun-jae. Incredibly fitting gift. He was mainly self-taught and while his teacher discovered him he felt he didn’t really teach him anything.)

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26 thoughts on “Secret Love Affair: Episodes 3-4 (deliciously unexpected!)

  1. I think that they did the kiss that way intentionally. I don’t think their feelings for each other are to the point where a “real” kisses to begin. Hye won needs to feel as much as Sun jae feels in order to have a good kiss in my opinion.

    • *nods* I think you’re totally right. This wasn’t the “main event” like first kisses usually are in k-dramas. This was the beginning of Hye-won’s realization.

  2. WHADISAY BOUT THA SEX?!! When he said ‘virgin’ I howled and slapped my leg and keeled over like a 12-year-old, going ‘YES!’. *chortle*.

    Oooh that kiss threw me off. I mulled it over for days trying to figure out what exactly bothered me bout it. I wrote a short thingy on my tumblr which I won’t reproduce here but basically my take: I didn’t like the manpain, didn’t like the one-sidedness, but the ambiguity is spot on cos the kiss is not important, what happens next is and that’s why we follow her into the house in great detail and see nothing of her face during the kiss. There’s stuff there bout power, regaining control and composure which is just how she operates. The kiss is not romantic, it’s messed up. Which doesn’t mean it wasn’t intense and sexy. Messed up I tell ya ;P

    • YOU WERE TOTALLY RIGHT!! IT WASN’T KOOLAID AFTER ALL!!! (Or… would it be that it was koolaid since it didn’t kill you…? *overthinking the metaphor* 😉 )

      I wondered what your thoughts were on the kiss. So I scampered off and read your tumbler. 😀 And I agree that his issues aren’t the interesting ones. Because they’re transparent. The reason he sold his piano, the reason he joined up — none of those are mysteries. The reason he drove all night to see Hye-won — not a mystery. Not even to Hye-won. He’s already laid himself bare to her (though he doesn’t know it).

      The important bit was the before — her reopening the garage door, caressing his face, and then the after — inviting him in. The before was all emotion on her part. She cares deeply about Sun-jae in a way she doesn’t have to hide. (He’s a prodigy; it’d be odd if she didn’t care.) But the after… That’s the part that hit me because it was a lot more calculated. Crazy risky, almost impulsive, but still calculated. (She knew her husband was gone for the weekend, knew her housekeeper was a hard sleeper.)

      The kiss itself… As soon as it happened, as soon as it was a forced/pounce kiss — even with the long delay, he was definitely the aggressor, definitely clinging on — I started thinking. (Then stopped, of course, when she invited him in — because seriously. 😛 But after that, I started thinking about it again.) It is so, so helpful that I trust this director. Having seen AWC I felt confident he wouldn’t throw in a forced-kiss because that’s what you do. And he certainly wouldn’t film it that way if it was meant to be romantic or titillating in and of itself.

      Which means it wasn’t. It’s not the main event. It’s the confession Hye-won can’t ignore. The answer to the question she asked with the book she sent (Richter slept under his teacher’s piano). But the important thing, the intense bit, was what Hye-won did with that information. What her knee-jerk decision was. Oh and her agonizing over it… I loved her long stay at the police station for the same reasons. She knows what she wants, she’s weighing the risks, she’s hatching a plan. She is so, so awesome. 😀

      • Gees how on earth did you find anything on my tumblr? It’s so scattershot and disorganised!! It mirrors my mind 🙂
        You know after watching the latest ep, it’s clear that he can’t express himself with words and that kiss was the only way he could manage. That or by playing some raunchy, roiling piano piece ;P.

        • Hah! I just kept on scrolling down. 😛 And then I followed tags and ended up all over the place (off your Tumbler and into others) — which was fun!

          I’ve watched the latest eps and I’m still processing but I love how unsettled they both are. And other things. And yeah — he’s not good with words, but he does get his meaning across.

          • OMG this show forces me to reevaluate everything all the time. I hv a massive headache frm it–it hurts but it’s so GOOD.

          • SO good! 😀 It’s so, so awesome that predictions are hard. It’s not following the usual format AT ALL. And I love it!

    • such a role reversal, usually the female lead is the 30 year old virgin who has never been kissed and now it is the male lead!

      • Yes! And I love it! 😀 (Seriously — I do. So refreshing to have a “noona” romance where the woman really is the more experienced and mature one.)

  3. I love your observation about all the foot shots—I definitely noticed that, too. I wonder if (in addition to Sun Jae’s burgeoning foot fetish), all those scenes are meant to represent Hye Won’s personal agency. Feet take us where we go and make us who we are in this really profound and private way, and the show could be using them (instead of her hands, the obvious choice for a show like this) as a way to remind us that Hye Won’s capabilities are just as attractive as her body.

    And the pimping thing…I’m still hoping that it turns out that Hye Won was asking about the waitress’s days off so she could steer her boss away on those days.

    • Ooh… You know, I think most of those shots had her getting out of her car — that she’s driven herself. Which just underlines the personal agency theme. Hye-won is in control. (I’m thinking specifically of the scenes where she arrives at the club to try and talk sense — again — to Young-woo, and her arriving at the garage just when Professor Kang is escorting Sun-jae into their home.)

      With the pimping… that’d be nice. I fear not, but it’d be nice. 🙂

  4. I loved how the story took quite another trajectory than what I was expecting. They managed to surprise me again. 😉

    It’s also kinda funny how all roads seem to lead to Rome. It’s like everything had a connection to Sun Jae in some way. Her resolve is clearly starting to crumble. It’s only so far you can go on being in denial. Especially if you are as intelligent as she is.

    OMG! That online convo was sort of embarrassing. Yet, I cackled aloud when his ‘I’m still a virgin’ confession came. The look on her face!

    I think that what happened changed Sun Jae in some way. He’s still an innocent but desperation gives courage and without this ‘detour’ I doubt he would have become so bold as to actually kiss Hye Won. Not this early on anyways. Him going to meet her was kinda out of the blue too, almost like he finally just HAD to.

    Yeah, there’s all sorts of social commentary in SLA, I find that quite riveting. The room salons of Korea is such an odd concept. Prostitution is illeagal and yet it’s still very much part of the daily life. Especially if you are a male of certain standing. And even if there is a totally different standard for females, it kinda feels like you get away with things more easily if you are part of the higher echleons of society. Just don’t get caught publicly and don’t become an embarrasement.

    • I know! I was expecting some sort of audition-day shenanigans, but nothing that massive! Also — I thought Sun-jae’s mother dropping things all the time was foreshadowing an illness in her future. I guess not. Which means now I’m afraid it’s foreshadowing a hand illness for Sun-jae. 😦 I hope I’m wrong.

      But! I loved how it shook everything up. And I think it fast-fowarded Hye-won’s confronting her own desires. (It was funny how much their lives intersected.) Sun-jae’s too — I totally agree. I think he might have kept it at a burning crush level for a long while, out of respect for her as a teacher, except for how turmoiled his life became. And once he pushed the boundaries, Hye-won had to make some decisions. Which, yay! 😀

      I think the whole “the rich are different” aspect is a universal truth. I’m more used to it applying across the board, though. (Once bloodlines are secure — an heir and a spare, for example — it’s everyone do as they will, just don’t frighten the horses or shame the family.) But there seems to be a tone here that the men may play, but the women may not. Which I think SLA is definitely addressing.

      The odd thing for me with the prostitution is how normal it seems for people who aren’t in desperate, dire straits to become prostitutes. Jang-ho isn’t a drug-addict or in debt to a loan-shark or homeless as far as we’ve seen. He’s just… earning some money. And the woman at the restaurant seemed to know exactly what Hye-won was getting at based on very little information. Like those sort of propositions are… maybe not normal but certainly not bizarrely out of the blue. There’s a ho-humness to the whole thing that makes me o.O

      (Of course, every culture has their different approach to various vices. The way people in the States interact with and/or become drug-dealers — especially as shown on TV — might make other cultures boggle.)

  5. So I was puzzling over that bit at the bar scene with Hye Won and Young Woo when you characterise them as prostitutes, and it didn’t seem as overt as that to me. I’ve figured out they’re at a host bar, where women can go and pay for male company, and they are choosing which boy they want for the night. Sex is never officially on the table because that would be illegal, but if there is any sex to be had, that’s negotiable off book and very common, it seems. So no, that’s not what Justin’s job is about officially, I guess, as a host, but, he does want to land a sugar mummy just like YW’s boy has, and that would include sex in exchange for money, or gifts or whatever he asks for. But hosts are not technically sex workers. But this is up for debate I suppose?

    Over here, they’re called GROs, an acronym for “Guest Relations Officer” LOL. And they’re always women. Hmm I think host bars for women here would totally be a money-spinner. I gotta start drawing up a business plan ;P.

    • I figured that, legally, it’s not about sex. It more seems like ways to encourage customers to buy more (and more expensive) liquor and such. But the lines seem really fuzzy. (Touching is allowed, it seems like, but are there rules about where the touching is okay and when it slides into illegal? If it does exist, that’d be some hilarious bureaucratic language, right there!) And it seems like — per TV, at least (which never exaggerates or lies!) — the chance to negotiate off-table is high enough that if you go for that kind of a job, you’re probably expecting that, at some point you’ll be selling sex.

      I’m guessing it’s kind of on par with strip-clubs here in the States? Not technically sex-workers, but it probably slides into the illegal at times. (Again, everything I know I learned from TV and movies.)

      • I don’t know enough bout the host bar industry in Korea but I imagine there is a spectrum of services that you’d be expected to offer, and sex may not always be one of them. And I would imagine, the hosts hv some autonomy to decide whether to refuse or reject the offer for sex/skinship, depending on the type of bar. So that ‘audition’ scene in the bar, my take is that its not clear that sex was in the offing. Pouring drinks, conversation, karaoke, yes definitely as a host that would be standard. Kissing and more etc maybe or maybe not, we don’t know.

        It’s just yet another transaction for services rendered, this drama is chockful of them.

        • Transaction for services rendered, yes. That’s it exactly! A facsimile of an emotional connection, bought and paid for. Which is how all the relationships amongst the rich and powerful are arranged within the show. Even Hye-won’s marriage is based on economics. And it’s not just love! Music is treated as a commodity — a way to gain money and/or power. Whether it’s scheming students out of money with shady instrument deals, or offering free entertainment to a political group — the music is a means to an end, not something of worth in and of itself.

          The one exception is that good music professor (the one Hye-won entrusted her earlier student to, to her husband’s chagrin) and Hye-won’s little circle of friends. They are genuine with each other, that professor is obviously genuine about music. That’s where Hye-won’s heart leans, but for some reason she wound up tightly tangled up with the economic set. (I really do wonder why. Why did she drop music and choose money? Did she think she could have both? Simply made a wrong choice, maybe not realizing she was making a choice? Or was there a crisis that took her choice away? Things I wonder.)

          But now there’s Sun-jae. I feel like he’s leading her back out into music and truth again. ❤ I hope she makes it!

          • Well, her injury is one probable reason why but she didn’t drop music, she opted to stay in that world but play a different role, probably her only option at the time. The rest was probably a combo of things–going thru the motions, coercion, wanting to succeed etc. I feel like with HW, I know her and yet I don’t. It’s funny how the show reveals and obscures at the same time. It’s awesome, but frustrating. And narratively brilliant because it makes her (and the drama) unpredictable.

          • You’re right — she didn’t drop it completely. Her discovering Min-woo means she’s definitely keeping an oar in. But I wonder why she chose not to pursue a performing career? From the way Professor Jo speaks about her (and Chancellor Min for that matter) she had real talent. Eh… I’m probably over-thinking it. The injury stood in the way of a performing career, not enough money in teaching, she has a good business head so… here she is.

            But I totally agree with your “know her and yet I don’t” feeling. She was holding her cards close to her chest when we first met her and now she’s redefining herself… It does make her fascinating (when did she sell out? slippery-slope or a moment of cold, calculating decision?) and unpredictable and leads to me having a grand old time over-thinking things. 😉

          • She is so fascinating isn’t she? I know what you mean by overthinking. Like I wonder bout her marriage and why Kang? I get sense that she used to have a thing for Proff Jo and that didn’t work out. And it explains why Jo is so familiar with her and that hint of resentment she has towards his wife (which could be bout other things too). That would’ve been a better match at least in terms of ability and mutual respect. And I think her selling out was a gradual thing, beginning with the grand bargain with the big bad over her studies. One long downward spiral.

            But I don’t think the drama is going to give us all the answers! And I’m not sure all the answers are necessary. But I would want to know a leeetle bit more bout her past if only to stop my mind from wondering too much 😀

          • I didn’t get the impression that she ever had a romantic interest in Prof Jo. I think they were peers, friends and competitors but that her love of music was greater than her sense of competition so she would help him out when he prepared for competitions. The secretary said HW was never known to have a romantic interest in any guy. Her own husband described her as an empty shell. It seems like her peers assumed she had no passion for anything but music and money. Her marriage seems to have been a business decision in a society where single women are judged harshly.

          • Yes that seems more likely I guess but we won’t know unless the drama tells us? Hmm, but now I think in my headcanon she hankered after Prof Jo when they were younger, but he only had eyes for her friend so she bottled up her feelings for good and didn’t tell a soul ;D

          • Ooh, I hadn’t picked up on the hint of resentment towards Mrs. Professor Jo… where did you see that?

            I could easily see Hye-won having a crush on Jo, though. Especially as they’re similarly skilled and he obviously thinks highly of both her playing and her teaching. But I could also see Hye-won deciding, on her own, to not pursue a relationship. Because of an ambition (money or career or a bit of both) I get the sense Prof. Jo doesn’t share. Which could be another reason for the hint of resentment. If Mrs. Jo took the path Hye-won rejected, and now Hye-won’s re-thinking her earlier decisions… Mrs. Jo could represent the road not taken.

            I’d love a nice sprinkling of backstory as well! 😀

          • I can’t remember which ep it is but it’s when she’s pissed at Young Woo demanding she help with the fashion company. Frenemy secretary asks whether she should call Mrs Jo out for drinks, and HW spits out something like, why would she understand what I’m going thru? At the time, I’d taken it literally, as in she wouldn’t understand because she doesn’t work. But she said it rather viciously, which made me think there was something else there. Hence, as you said, road not taken, loving marriage, all the things she doesn’t have? Dunno! But it’s true, it would make so much sense if she decided to turn away frm that consciously.

            All this is also me wanting for Jo to be something else in the story other than just Kang’s rival. Since he seems to be the only decent chap in the school and clearly, Kang is no match for him anyway. So surely he figures into her story as well as Kang’s?

            Sigh, too much (over)thinking!!

          • I have a vague memory of that moment, now you remind me. I can see it. Not a friendship-destroying level of resentment, but just enough to keep Hye-won feeling a step or two removed.

            I’m pretty sure I saw a behind-the-scenes pic of Sun-jae and Prof. Jo at the piano together. So I’m hoping for more out of him, too. (They keep talking about his student followers — the ones protesting the unfair entrance auditions. Surely that’s a gun that’s meant to go off at some point, right?)

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