The 2019 SBS romantic comedy The Secret Life of My Secretary (초면에 사랑합니다/I Loved You From the Beginning) is one of the most charming, wholesome and feel-good series I’ve ever watched and enjoyed. The series is an irresistible blend of sweet fluff, engaging characters, hilarious comedy, emotional drama and even some thought-provoking situations to top it all off. The minimal stress, all-fun series has plenty of laughs and just as much heart. And it is one to watch for anyone who is willing to have a smile on their face from the first to the last second.
The series centers around Do Min Ik (Kim Young Kwang), a director at a telecom company. While he is skilled and intelligent, he can be very bossy and overbearing, especially to his obedient secretary Jung Gal Hee (Jin Ki Joo). Working to provide for her older brother who is blind and her younger sister who hopes to attend an Ivy League university, Gal Hee puts up with her demanding boss as it is a steady job.
However, a sudden assault by a mysterious perp causes Min Ik to lose his ability to recognize faces; a neurological condition called prosopagnosia. But he is able to recognize one person and that is his loyal secretary Gal Hee. (Though only when she’s in her familiar red cardigan sweater.) Initially letting her go after being with him for one year, Min Ik rehires her with the hopes she can help him get through every day by essentially being his face-recognizing eyes.
Things get a little complicated, however, when Gal Hee ends up stepping in for her former boss and cinema mogul Veronica Park (Kim Jae Kyung) when she is set up on a blind date with Min Ik. Growing up a humble life, Gal Hee decides to play along with pretending to be Veronica to enjoy this one date as Min Ik cannot recognize her face while being all dolled up. But the charade balloons into more than this one night and Gal Hee and Min Ik must confront the feelings they develop for each other (including Gal Hee as Veronica, that is).
All this sounds like an odd, complicated set-up. But on the contrary, it doesn’t do the series justice. The first few episodes perfectly set up the basic premise of the series. It excellently touches upon Min Ik’s condition and establishes the dynamic between Min Ik and Gal Hee. And this also while introducing the scene-stealing Veronica Park and building up the relationship between Min Ik and his best friend Ki Dae Joo (Koo Ja Sung).
Though Min Ik’s condition may seem like it can lead to some heavy-handed melodrama, the series is firmly a lighthearted and warm experience. The unique twist is established very early on. And after that, good, positive vibes abound for all of the series’ 16 episodes. Of course there are some familiar Korean drama topes that are sprinkled around including some corporate chaebol shenanigans. But the focus is solely on our four lead characters and especially our destined main couple.
Min Ik, Gal Hee, Veronica and Dae Joo may be the strongest, most likeable and most well-rounded lead quartet I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching on a Korean drama. And the same can be said for Kim Young Kwang, Jin Ki Joo, Kim Jae Kyung and Koo Ja Sung as the actors who bring these characters to life.
Equal parts charm, charisma and chemistry; the story may be light and familiar, but the four lead actors are able to elevate the series with their performances both individually and with each other.
Chemistry is a very important factor on this series as the most affecting moments, whether happy or sad, are rooted in the relationships the characters have with other. Whether it’s the growing romance and the pressure regarding the lie between Min Ik and Gal Hee. Or the bromance between Min Ik and Dae Joo. There’s the fun dynamic between Gal Hee and Veronica as well as the playful flirtations between Veronica and Dae Joo. Gal Hee’s bond with her siblings is also a major source of emotions as well.
The series takes an unexpectedly deep and wonderful look at how we connect to people around us. Touching upon the different ways we show care and affection to people, the series looks at many different kinds of relationships. And our lead four grow through the course of the series in a realistic and grounded way. Even when they are in such unique circumstances.
Kim Jae Kyung is an absolute scene-stealer as the hilariously haughty Veronica Park. Though Veronica is the fancy, flirtatious CEO on the surface, Kim Jae Kyung is able to give her the depth to be more than just. The writing for the character certainly helps a lot, but Kim Jae Kyung takes the good material and absolutely runs with it.
Similarly, Koo Ja Sung is the typical second lead-type on the surface. But Dae Joo’s story definitely does not involve being simply a third wheel. Instead, he is his own character and forges his own relationships; whether that’s the close bond he has with Min Ik or the flirtatious cat and mouse game Veronica has the two of them play. The series throws in a few twists here and there and leaves you guessing a bit, especially with Dae Joo. But again, the writing and Koo Ja Sung’s performance allows for those different character beats to feel warranted and be on a solid foundation.
The series’ main focus though is of course on Kim Young Kwang and Jin Ki Joo. The two share an excellent chemistry that gets you invested in their relationship right from the start. The secretary-boss dynamic is well-established early on and that allows for the quick-paced developments in their relationship moving forward. Gal Hee struggles with keeping up the charade and feels guilty about lying to her boss, whom she genuinely cares for. Min Ik, meanwhile, has to overcome not just his condition but also deal with emotional scars that make him treat others the way he does. Especially with his secretaries.
For Kim Young Kwang, he has to deliver a nuanced performance that keeps Min Ik from being a complete jerk. Instead, Min Ik is able to be a multi-dimensional character who can be strong, yet vulnerable. Kim Young Kwang has that experience from the diverse group of characters he has played so far in his career. And he puts it to excellent use here.
Jin Ki Joo, meanwhile, is perfectly cast as Gal Hee. Oozing charm and charisma, Jin Ki Joo immediately endears Gal Hee to the audience right at the start. She is able to take Gal Hee on a roller coaster of emotions throughout the series and it’s hard to imagine any other actress in the role. Having that perfect balance of comedic timing and an emotionally engaging performance, Jin Ki Joo absolutely delivers.
These four lead a strong ensemble cast who together facilitate the breezy, though still engaging and exciting journey.
The Secret Life of My Secretary is just simply a wholesome and fun escape. Hilarious comedy, sweet romance and the right amount of emotional drama. The series has a lot of charm and heart. More than most romantic comedies with similar themes or set-up. The excellent cast, great writing and even better execution all work hard to successfully put and keep a smile on your face the whole way through. A thoroughly enjoyable and worthwhile series.