There is a lot of wasted potential in the 2019 tvN series Her Private Life (그녀의 사생활). A quirky, refreshing premise and a solid cast get shortchanged by a paint-by-the-numbers romcom plot that doesn’t seem to know where it wants to go or what it really wants to do. It’s a fluffy series that lacks the depth that could have elevated it to something more, even as the foundation was well-established in the beginning.
Park Min Young is idol fangirl Sung Deok Mi who tries to hide her extracurricular activities from everyone other than her two best friends, especially in her professional life as a museum curator. That is where Deok Mi meets hotshot art director Ryan Gold (Kim Jae Wook). When Deok Mi draws the ire of jealous fangirls, Ryan proposes they pretend to be in a relationship so as to draw the attention away from her.
And so from here, the story proceeds just as one would expect. The fake relationship turns into something real.
At its most basic, Her Private Life is a cute, fluffy romcom that doesn’t reinvent the wheel even though it has a foundation where they could absolutely do so.
The series essentially offers more of the same. By the end of the series, it will have ticked off most of the Korean drama/romcom tropes any K-drama fan would be familiar with. But what’s disappointing is that they never commit to any of them in a meaningful way. A for reel relationship turns for real, 2nd lead syndrome-worthy third wheel, childhood friends, lost children, a last-minute, wholly contrived and half-hearted soap opera discussion of trauma.
And the one unique aspect (the fangirl/K-pop aspect) gets abandoned halfway through the series.
The title of the series suggests a focal point of the series should be Deok Mi balancing her personal and professional life with her secret life as not only a fan, but the manager of the most popular fanpage for one of the most popular idol stars.
Deok Mi being a 30-something “noona” fan is already ripe for some fun possibilities, especially as she scrambles to keep it a secret from her parents, co-workers and the boss she eventually falls in love with. Instead of being an interesting look at the colorful world of the K-pop fandom and Deok Mi’s interpersonal relationships being affected by that, it serves up a few good laughs early on before it gets shoved to the backburner and ultimately forgotten.
The series interestingly feels like several different stories, masking as arcs, that get attached together like train cars. Thin connections between those stories run throughout the series. But instead of being able to seamlessly thread the different plots together, the series almost abruptly throws in the next “arc” as if it struggled to fill its 16-episode order. A mish-mash of different ideas that feel disconnected.
The cast does a fine job with the material they are given. And it’s such a great cast that it makes me even more disappointed they weren’t given more than they got.
Park Min Young will always be one of my K-drama crushes. She has only gotten better and stronger with every project. And each of those projects are usually an opportunity for her to show a different side of her. She does so here, though there are certainly times where comparisons with her previous hit What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim are unavoidable.
Kim Jae Wook first caught my attention in the great film from 2008, Antique (based on the manga Antique Bakery). He’s a good actor, but the character is nothing more than the stock tsundere leading man. And when a few dramatic reveals pop up in the last half of the series, it just feels predictable and contrived.
Anh Bo Hyun first caught my attention in Descendants of the Sun and he has certainly shown he’s capable of getting his own lead role over the years. Especially after his great turn on Itaewon Class. His role here, when compared to his recent drama (which introduced many people to him), helps to show his great versatility.
Both he and Kim Jae Wook share great chemistry with Park Min Young (who is able to foster great chemistry with almost all her on-screen partners). But that chemistry is sadly wasted on a plot that fizzles out far sooner than it should.
Even Kim Sun Young as the eccentric, broken English-speaking museum director feels worn out after seeing similar characters from her on At Eighteen, When the Camellia Blooms and Crash Landing on You. She is definitely a dependable character actress, but the material being so similar to her recent roles doesn’t help the overall worn out feeling of the series.
A reserved highlight in the series is Jung Jae Won (ONE) as the idol apple of Deok Mi’s eye Cha Shi An. He gave a great performance in the drama Room No. 9. And he gets the opportunity to show more of that talent in the fleeting moments he has in this series.
Ultimately, Her Private Life wastes the potential it effectively establishes early on. A solid, refreshing premise is abandoned for more of the same, standard Korean romantic-comedy themes and clichés. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel. And granted, it doesn’t have to. The simple, cute fluffiness of the series may be just enough for many viewers. There’s nothing offensively bad about the series. But seeing how the series had all the elements it needed to be something more, it’s disappointing to see it chose to not realize it.