“Secret Love Affair” episode 1 recap

Secret Love Affair episode 1 Yoo Ah In
Sun Jae stares longingly at a piano.

Side dish: I don’t know a lot about classical music, but they mentioned Chopin at one point, so I’ll go with a classy Polish dish of venison stew, since he’s classy and Polish. Here’s a recipe for Gulasz z Sarniny from the Splendid Table. If you try it, let me know how it goes.

Episode Recap

It’s a chaotic street scene at night, and courier Lee Sun Jae (Yoo Ah In) walks through it, arranging a pickup on his phone, assuring the person at the other end of the line that he can be there in 30 minutes. He packs up his packages onto his motor bike, and drives into traffic.

In the dark interior of a spa, Oh Hye Won (Kim Hee Ae) speaks of arrangements for a music festival with her boss, CEO Seo Young Woo (Kim Hye Eun), who’s getting a massage. When she mentions who will be playing the music for the festival gala, Young Woo tells Hye Won that her husband will be jealous, since his juniors are getting all the promising students. Hye Won laughs it off, since jealousy is common in their field. Young Woo falls asleep, and Hye Won takes the opportunity to leave.

In the back room of the spa, Park Da Mi (Kyung Soo Jin) gets a text from Sun Jae, saying that he’s almost there. She smiles as she picks it up, but before she can respond, her supervisor bops her on the head with a plastic cup, and tells her that there’s a customer who wants a shampoo. Hye Won is the customer asking for a trim, and Da Mi shampoos her, ending with a scalp massage, while they make friendly small talk. As Da Mi fastens a towel around Hye Won’s head, Hye Won’s necklace breaks and falls into the sink. Looking worried, Da Mi pulls it out and gives it to her, but Hye Won laughs and tells her to throw it out, since it’s just a $10 necklace.

In a convenience store, Da Mi tries to fix the necklace as she and Sun Jae wait for their ramen. She tells Sun Jae it’s a fake, and he scoffs that if it was real, the client would have left it at home. She denies that since women in this neighbourhood are always checking who’s wearing what. He tells her to throw it away, but she puts it in her pocket, and they eat their ramen.

Sun Jae and Da Mi get on his bike and leave. As they’re riding, she asks him to pull over on a bridge so that they can kiss, since superstition says that it will make their love last longer. He refuses and keeps driving.

Next morning, Hye Won walks into the Seo Han Arts Foundation & College where she works as the director of planning. She greets her assistant as she enters her office, complaining about how cold it is. As she takes off her coat, she realizes that she’s wearing a girdle with no skirt. Laughing at the absurdity, Hye Won tells her assistant to buy her a skirt, and fastens her long scarf around her waist in the meantime. She asks her assistant if the CEO, Young Woo is in, only to be told that she is not, and that no one knows where she is. Grimly, Hye Won puts her coat back on and leaves.

Hye Won drives in her car, repeatedly calling Young Woo, but not getting through. As she walks down the hallway to Young Woo’s apartment, she leaves a message that she doesn’t care who Young Woo is with, but she should get rid of him before Hye Won arrives. Hye Won enters the apartment, and walks into the bedroom, pulling open the curtains to reveal Young Woo in bed with an anonymous man. She uses her phone to take a picture as Young Woo wakes them up, and tells the man to leave.

In the kitchen, Young Woo asks Hye Won what she would have done if the man had turned out to be her husband, to which Hye Won responds that she should answer her phone. Hye Won reports that she delayed the salon and the photographer, and that the driver is waiting. Young Woo plays princess and asks for food, which Hye Won gets for her. Young Woo mocks her for being a well-paid planning director who plays maid to her boss. Hye Won responds lightly that she’ll need a raise next year.

She tells Young Woo to stop getting into trouble again, that there are rules for proper living for a reason. Young Woo gets angry at her lecturing, but Hye Won continues as they go to the bedroom, telling Young Woo to find a real love. Young Woo finally snaps and slaps her in the face. Woah!

Clutching her cheek, Hye Won calmly tells Young Woo that her hands are really strong. Enraged, Young Woo asks Hye Won what’s real to her, whether she fails to cheat on her husband, because she really loves him. Hye Won simply tells her to get dressed, and goes back to the kitchen. Young Woo follows her to continue taunting her about her useless husband, but Hye Won ignores her and picks up her phone. She puts a cold can to her cheek as she continues her phone conversation, so Young Woo gives up and leaves. Hye Won puts the phone down slowly once Young Woo is out of sight, and concentrates on nursing her cheek.

As Young Woo gets into the chauffeured car, Hye Won tells her to take nice photos. She reminds Young Woo that there’s a mahjong social at her father, the Chairman’s house in Hannam-dong tonight, to which Young Woo asks her to vouch that she was with her last night. Hye Won refuses, and Young Woo’s car drives off.

Hye Won shows a brochure for the festival gala to the Foundation Chairman’s wife, Han Sung Sook (Shim Hye Jin). Sung Sook notices that something’s wrong with her face, and tells her to fix her stepdaughter, Young Woo’s habit of hitting people. Hye Won asks how she knows everything, and Sung Sook responds that knowing things is what got her ahead. She spots the missing picture of Young Woo in the brochure and Hye Won explains that the CEO is having her portrait taken as they speak. Sung Sook wonders why it’s necessary, and Hye Won explains that since it’s the college’s gala, it’s better if it looks good.

Sung Sook asks if Young Woo is seeing a model, and whether she bought him a Porsche. Hye Won feigns ignorance. Sung Sook also mentions Young Woo’s husband, who bought an apartment for a music student in Vienna.

Young Woo is on the phone at her photo shoot, asking her husband when he’ll be back and whether he saw the kids. She tells him that she was working late last night, and fell asleep. She reports that she’ll be playing mahjong at her father’s house tonight, and not to call again, because of the time difference. As she sits down to have her picture taken, she instructs the photographer to make sure she looks better than Sung Sook.

Back at Sung Sook’s office, she and Hye Won discuss her schedule for the day, and the mahjong social at the Chairman’s (Kim Yong Gun) house. Sung Sook promises to lose a lot of money to Hye Won if she comes, in compensation for all the messes that she covers for her stepdaughter, Young Woo. She worries that the Chairman (her husband and Young Woo’s father) will find out about Young Woo’s antics, but then admits that it’s all pretense; she really just wants Young Woo’s shares. Plus, Sung Sook thinks that Young Woo is becoming an eyesore at the college, but Hye Won remains neutral. Sung Sook is surprised, since she believes that Hye Won wants Young Woo’s job.

Tired, Hye Won goes back to her office to find her assistant on the phone with her husband Kang Joon Hyung (Park Hyuk Kwon). The assistant hands the phone to her, and her husband starts berating her for giving Professor Jo In Seo (Park Jong Hoon) more performance time at the gala and better students. She tries to soothe him, to no avail, telling him that she’s too tired to argue. She tells him apologetically that it was Dean Min Yong Ki (Kim Chang Wan) who pushed for it, then says she’ll be a little late coming home.

Joon Hyung takes his wife’s directive, and goes to Dean Min to complain loudly about favouritism towards Professor Jo. Dean Min tells Joon Hyung to trust him, and invites him to the mahjong social tonight. When Joon Hyung refuses, Dean Min tells him not to worry too much, and shows him the door.

Joon Hyung walks down a hallway, barking orders at his assistant to bring him recordings of all the promising musicians of the past three years. He runs into his rival, Professor Jo with his student, piano prodigy Ji Min Woo (Shin Ji Ho). Joon Hyung warmly encourages them on their upcoming performance, then goes into his classroom where he takes his frustration out on his students, scolding them for tuning up too slowly. Later, in his office, Joon Hyung’s assistant walks in with a stack of CDs and a memory stick. Joon Hyung complains about how disorganized the material is then makes his poor assistant pack everything up for him to carry home.

Hye Won’s office door opens as she is changing into her newly purchased skirt, but it’s only her assistant reporting that the gala brochure has been sent to the printers. Hye Won approves, and leaves for the Chairman’s house in Hannam-dong.

It’s the mahjong social hosted by the Chairman, with Dean Min; the Chairman’s wife, Sung Sook; his daughter, CEO Young Woo; and Hye Won in attendance. The Chairman cheerfully throws down the mahjong gauntlet with Hye Won, who responds in kind, and wins the game. Sung Sook and Young Woo trade some bitchy sniping over the table, to which the Chairman tells them to stop and have fun instead.

Sung Sook and Young Woo leave the room, only to run into each other in the washroom, where the bitchy sniping starts up again. Young Woo asks if Sung Sook was threatening her with her comments earlier, but an exasperated Sung Sook tells her to clean up her act. Young Woo responds by asking whether Sung Sook is having an affair with Dean Min. This is the last straw for Sung Sook, whose veneer of cool snaps as she grabs Young Woo by the hair and drags her off. Hye Won walks in on Sung Sook shoving Young Woo’s head in the toilet. They all struggle, until the Chairman calls from the other room, and Sung Sook leaves. Hye Won attempts to tidy up a bedraggled Young Woo, who asks Hye Won whose side she’s on; Hye Won says her own. Young Woo jerks away, and walks away unsteadily.

An exhausted Hye Won goes home and chugs a couple of cans of beer to unwind from her hard day, while making friendly small talk with her housekeeper. Joon Hyung, in the meantime, has played CD after CD, and found no one promising. He clicks on a link to an online performance video as Hye Won comes in to make nice with him, but he shrugs her off, frustrated with the latest video. She stops him from turning it off to point out that the player has peritenonitis, but he doesn’t care. Instead, he yells at her about not sending him good protégés. She pushes him aside, and sends the piano player a message about his hand problem. They trade messages for a little while, and she discovers that he’s 20 years old, with no “specs”, i.e. credentials. She has fun pretending to be an unemployed 25 year old man, and gives him advice about a good clinic to visit for his hand.

Unsurprisingly, the piano player with the hand problem turns out to be Sun Jae, who is at an internet cafe with Da Mi and a friend.

Joon Hyung is already asleep when Hye Won goes to the bedroom. As she gets ready for bed, she relives the insults of the day, and allows herself a moment of honesty, stating that she would like Young Woo’s job.

The next morning, Sun Jae comes out of the clinic and messages Hye Won a thank you for sending him there. He says they should meet, using the term, “Hyeon Pi”, which she’s too old to understand, but her assistant clarifies. Hye Won refuses, saying she’s working, so he leaves to do the same.

Young Woo gets her hair done at a salon in preparation for the gala tonight. Sung Sook walks in, apparently early, and compliments Young Woo on her looks. Young Woo ignores her and berates the hairdresser for her poor scheduling. She stalks out after another round of bitchy dialogue.

In the car, Joon Hyung’s assistant arranges for a courier to bring his boss’s forgotten bow tie. Upon arrival at the concert hall, Joon Hyung asks Professor Jo about the rehearsal, only to be told that Min Woo is waiting for Hye Won to listen to it. He finds Hye Won rushing around, and berates her for paying attention to his rivals and not to him, but she runs off, too busy to argue. As she leaves, Young Woo and her sister-in-law come up to tell him that they were just discussing Hye Won and how she favours Professor Jo. Young Woo bluntly advises him to cultivate his own influence instead of relying on his wife, but he ignores her and tells the sister-in-law to tune up with him later.

Sun Jae delivers the bow tie to Joon Hyung’s assistant and silently wins the haggle over the delivery fee. As he wanders around the concert hall, he eventually ends up backstage, and sees Min Woo and Professor Jo playing a piano piece for four hands while Hye Won looks on. As they finish, Hye Won gives her stamp of approval. On their way out, Hye Won asks security to make sure no one touches the piano. Now alone on stage, Sun Jae looks longingly at the freshly tuned piano.

As Joon Hyung and his assistant get ready in a dressing room, they hear the piano playing again, and assume that Min Woo is practicing. When Min Woo walks in, they all clue in that it’s someone else. Joon Hyung rushes to the stage, too late to see Sun Jae run away. The whole place goes on emergency alert to track down the intruder. As security guards rush all over the building, Sun Jae hides in a washroom stall. Who knew playing a piano could get you into so much trouble?

Joon Hyung walks into the same washroom, on the phone with his assistant, who tells him that the CCTV reveals that it was the delivery boy, Sun Jae on the piano. Joon Hyung tells the assistant to find him before he gets caught. Just then, Sun Jae gets a message, but fumbles his phone, and it goes flying out of the stall. Without picking it up, Joon Hyung reads the message, which is from his assistant, and realizes that Sun Jae’s in the stall. Thinking he’s safe, Sun Jae comes out, only to run into Joon Hyung. When they hear security coming in, Joon Hyung shoves Sun Jae back into the stall and covers for him when security knocks on the door. Joon Hyung manages to sneak Sun Jae out, disguised (and apparently unrecognizable) in a cardigan.

In the meantime, Young Woo berates Hye Won and the security guards for allowing the breach in security. Sung Sook comes into the room, cutting Young Woo off, and sends everyone out. As soon as they’re alone, the bitchy accusations go flying again.

And the performance begins! First up is Professor Jo on piano, backed up by a full orchestra.

At home, Sun Jae silently shovels food into his face while his mom (Lee Kan Hee) attempts to question him. On the phone with Da Mi, she says that he’s putting on airs, because he’s paying her debts. Meanwhile, a nervous Sun Jae thinks back to Joon Hyung telling him to write down his contact information, and to respond to any calls or messages.

At the concert hall, Joon Hyung’s trio performance ends to thunderous applause. They’re followed by Min Woo and Professor Jo, playing the piece for four hands. As he watches from his dressing room, Joon Hyung instructs his assistant to go get Sun Jae tomorrow.

The next day, Hye Won is not working, and this is as relaxed as we’ve seen her. Joon Hyung asks her if she’ll give her assessment of Sun Jae, who he believes is talented, despite being an untrained courier. She agrees and he arranges for his assistant to bring him.

Sun Jae leaves his house without explanation, to the annoyance of Da Mi and his mother, and gets in to Joon Hyung’s assistant’s car to be driven to Hye Won’s home. As Hye Won styles her hair into a severe bun, the housekeeper shows Sun Jae in. Hye Won walks down the stairs, and they come face to face for the first time. Sun Jae is nervous, unable to meet Hye Won’s gaze for long as she assesses him. Hye Won offers Sun Jae tea, which he turns down, so they get right to business. She tells him to follow her, and the episode ends.


It’s interesting how much music contributes to dramatic tension in a story. In its near absence, as in this case, you’re left to figure out for yourself what’s important and what’s not. This whole episode, when it wasn’t being specifically performed, only had three short instances of music playing in the soundtrack, and one of those was at the end.

But, to the characters. The episode introduces Hye Won and the world she navigates. She seems to have no real friends, but only relaxes around people she pays, like Da Mi who washed her hair, or the housekeeper, or her assistant. The rest of the time, she’s constantly on her guard, trying to keep the peace with her entitled husband who wants to live off her influence, and staying neutral with her bosses who are at war with each other. No wonder she’s good at mahjong; it’s a game of strategy and that’s a skill she needs. I’m looking forward to seeing how she interacts with Sun Jae, who is impossible to categorize in her world, a young piano prodigy with no “specs”, who appears almost by accident.

The pacing is really well done, as is the mood. It takes some time to catch up with the story, since we’re not given a prologue, and the exposition comes in bits and pieces, but it does come together and it did hold my interest throughout. I won’t say I’m hooked, but it was a good first episode, and I definitely want to watch the next one.

Secret Love Affair (밀회)

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 || series review

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