Rating:
Average user rating 5.0
19

Secret Boutique: Episodes 1-2 (Series review)

SBS’s latest Wednesday-Thursday drama, Secret Boutique, made its premiere this week, and it’s bursting with noir-y goodness. It’s a little less melo than I expected, and a bit more action, intrigue, and female-strong badassery. The opening episodes feel a bit like Heartless City plus Mask — we’ve got the tightly woven layers of power, corruption, alliances, and loyalty, but set in a ruthless chaebol world where our heroine doesn’t exactly belong. Or does she?

Our heroine is JENNY JANG (Kim Sun-ah), and from the minute she appears on the screen, we know she’s a force to be reckoned with. Kim Sun-ah is on fire here — I love her in this role so far. She’s got the sass and swagger, but also a depth behind her performance; we quickly sense there’s a lot going on underneath the glamorous sheen of her demeanor. When she enters the room, everyone is buzzing with the question, “Who is Jenny Jang?” — and that might just be the thesis statement of the drama.

We learn that Jenny’s been involved with the Dae-oh chaebol group since her childhood, when KIM YEO-OK (Jang Mi-hee) saw something in her, and took her in. Jenny went from scrubbing tubs in an exclusive bathhouse, to being thrust into the chaebol fire pit in which she now thrives. Twenty years later she’s arguably more powerful than the two daughters of the family, though all three run a separate piece of the conglomerate.

Jenny runs J-Boutique, which does a whole lot more than sell high-end merchandise. J-Boutique is also Jenny’s law firm, so to speak, not that what she does has anything to do with upholding the law or justice. We’re told that it’s a boutique law firm that handles cases other firms can’t because they’re strictly confidential. What’s really happening, though, is that Jenny solves powerful people’s problems — and that means “dealing with” everything from scandals to murders. What her “clients” don’t realize is that once she’s helped them, they’re essentially in her power. Because in Secret Boutique, information is power, and Jenny seems to hold the most of it.

At the crux of the drama is Jenny versus the chaebol family that took her in. At the start, this plays out as the power struggle between the oldest daughter of Dae-oh Group, WIE YE-NAM (Park Hee-bon), and Jenny. When we meet them, they’re playing a high-stakes game over who gets to control the mayor, and thus have a presidential candidate – and the international city development project — in her pocket.

Ye-nam tries to woo the mayor away from Jenny with plates full of money (literally) and a party yacht with girls and drugs, but when one of the hired girls dies of an overdose, things spiral out of control. Is Ye-nam powerful enough to handle it? It doesn’t seem like it, and pretty soon the mayor is back at Jenny’s feet.

The storyline is important in and of itself, but it also showcases the rivalry between Ye-nam and Jenny. They make their moves and wait from above, while their people carry them out. It’s very strategic and chess-like, and while their moves matter a lot, their success is also impacted by who’s on their side.

Ye-nam has a high-level prosecutor as a husband, and a police bureau chief that doubles as her “cleaner” (dude, he’s scary) — but even with these puppets, Jenny seems to be on top. She’s either one step ahead in the game, or she’s just that good at playing it. She knows when to bluff, when to play her hand, when to watch, and when to wait.

Jenny also has people on her side, the most important of which is YOON SUN-WOO (Kim Jae-young). He’s clearly her right-hand man, and the only one that seems to be close to her. I don’t quite trust anything this drama is telling me yet, but from what we’re shown, his devotion to her looks pretty real, and almost at puppy dog devotion level. You know, if your puppy dog was also able to fight off a group of gangsters single-handedly, manage your entire network of resources, be at your beck and call 24/7, drive you around like a professional chauffeur, and also have a deep understanding of who you really are.

I’ve really liked Kim Jae-young in other dramas, where I’ve seen him do lighter supporting roles. He’s even better here, so far, and there’s an intensity he’s able to capture with his performance that’s really grabbing me. I expect a lot from his character. I also expect a lot from their relationship, wherever that may go.

Secret Boutique has definitely set the stage for a lot of character-driven storylines, and I think that’s why it won me over so fast. Stories about loyalties, alliances, revenge, and rivalry are all well and good, but they’re made so much more compelling when we have rich, developed characters — and relationships between those characters. I’m hoping Secret Boutique stays strong with this, and doesn’t dump their interesting relationship-driven nuances in favor of predictable plot lines (much like happened in The K2, for which I will never be able to forgive it).

Another thing Secret Boutique is doing well is using its flashbacks. In a story where you don’t know who to trust, who is on which side, and who’s about to double-cross, these scenes from the past give us some level of assurance about the genuineness of our characters. For instance, we see Sun-woo’s heartbreaking devotion to Jenny when they were children, so we infer that his current devotion to her is real. We see the son of Dae-oh Group, WIE JUNG-HYUK (Kim Tae-hoon), crushing on Jenny as a teenager back when she was brought to their house, so we infer that his impending marriage to her in present-day is out of love (or at least partially). I’m not usually a big fan of frequent flashbacks, but they color the story and the characters quite well here, and give us a much-needed measuring rod as we meet this household.

We also meet two other important characters, who are at first unconnected to Dae-oh Group: the amateur baduk player LEE HYUN-JI (Go Min-shi) and her mother, who’s a cop. It’s impossible not to like both of them immediately (even if Go Min-shi last played the world’s worst cousin in Love Alarm). We dig a bit deeper into their story than I expected, and these two get a good bit of screen time until eventually the plot lines cross. Hyun-ji’s mother winds up investigating the mayor, and at the end of that mayhem, Hyun-ji becomes a bargaining tool and winds up with Jenny and Sun-woo.

Hyun-ji is more than a bargaining chip, though. She helps Jenny during a negotiation with her well-honed people reading skills from years of studying tells and body language to play a stronger baduk game. It works, and Jenny is intrigued by her. I like where Secret Boutique is going with this, since stories of wronged, weak heroines (so to speak) transformed into powerful doers is always a fun story. I’m not sure if they’ll head there, but it sure feels like it.

While Hyun-ji’s innocence and good heart are a nice balance to the seamy underbelly that is Jenny’s world, there was a little more Hyun-ji than I wanted, and a little less Jenny. Dramas are saturated with young heroines like this; what I’m really interested in is this more mature heroine who’s already been battling it out for twenty years. What’s going to happen to her during the course of the drama? It’s her story that I really want to hear.

As to be expected in a drama like Secret Boutique, things are not as they appear. At the end of Episode 2 we get a huge reveal — a trick I expect a fast-paced and sleek drama like Secret Boutique to pull quite often. It turns out that Jenny and Kim Yeo-ok go farther back than their bathhouse days. In the aftermath of a terrible bus accident, Yeo-ok took the signet ring that belonged Jenny’s mother and was thus mistaken as the daughter-in-law of Dae-oh Group.

Yep, this means everything you think it does. Not only is Yeo-ok an evil wench, but she’s an imposter: the position she is in now belonged to Jenny’s mother, who was meeting the chaebol chairman for the first time after a long estrangement. And to make it a little more dramatic, Yeo-ok was also responsible for her death as well.

Jenny, we learn, has known all along. And just like that, her rise to power has so much more meaning than just being about competitiveness or greed. Well-played, show. I thought there was more going on — and this is just the kind of opening week cliffhanger that sets the stage perfectly. Now that we know that Jenny is the true heiress, we can fully get behind her — and her deep-seated plan to set everything to rights.

 
RELATED POSTS

Tags: , , , , , ,

19

Required fields are marked *

Kim sun ah is just a gorgeous woman. I am going to watch the first episode right now.... :)

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Just finished episode 2 and I LOVE it!

6
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

It's amazing , I think this will be my next crack 😅

0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is so brilliant so far - I'm glad I didn't pass it up when the initial promotions passed it off as political. It's more of a juicy revenge thriller, a smaller conflict (Hyun-ji, and her Mum's disappearance) sandwiched into a bigger conflict between two powerful women, and I love it!

7
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Very promising start, I love how many badass female characters we are getting recently in dramaland.

9
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

It's just amazing , hope we get more and more of that

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

Of the premier dramas I watched this week, it was my favourite! I really liked how the FL is smart.

The revelation about her childhood was suprising. She's very patient to wait for so long to take her revenge.

6
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This was great. I love smart women in a drama.

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I hope everyone stays smart and strong, and there are no damsels in need of saving...

2
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I did not expect this review! This premiere was the only one I caught this week and it did not disappoint. Fast-paced and sleek is how I would describe this drama too. The viewers were dropped into the story in the first episode, but I like the flashbacks in the second. It slowed down a tad and gave us more clues about the main characters. Like Jung Hyuk's crush on Jenny during their childhood. His simple request to get her a chair to sit and study in comfort was surprisingly sweet.

Jenny's cool, calm demeanor is quite the contrast to Ye Nam's ragey and immature personality. She's a real brat, but I guess the show wanted to include that type of character. She's different from her mother, Yeo Ok, who hiding her true emotions. The final showdown will be Yeo Ok vs Jenny.

I've liked Kim Jae Young since a while ago before he even acted in dramas, but I've only seen him in one that I eventually dropped. Glad to see him take on a darker, tougher role here.

The cinematography of the bus crash was really good. I feel like the stolen identity trope is not super necessary, but it didn't bother me that it was used. I'm curious to see more of Jenny Jang and how far she will go now that the main reason behind her revenge has been revealed.

Hyun Ji's mother is played by Jang Young Nam! I like this actress and was happy to see her here. But then I got worried for her quick. I thought she was a goner after the first episode, but could she still be alive?? I hope so, but she would be a huge threat left alive.

5
2
reply

Required fields are marked *

i too wasn't expecting a review, but well done. i like the combination of both episodes. & hope missvictrix continues with these.

i am a huge kim sun ah fan since i 1st watched her on 'my lovely sam soon'. she is a wonderful actress. so nuanced. she has played haughtily before but not like this! wow!

i experienced being thrown into the deep end of the story & feeling like i needed to catch up during the 1st episode, except with the 2ndry storyline. but the 2nd episode grounded me & now i'm completely on board with this drama.

3
1
reply

Required fields are marked *

@maryv yessss stay tuned for a mid-drama review, and happy binging until then, everyone! TOMORROW IS WEDNESDAY - just saying

1
reply

Required fields are marked *

I thought the drama would begin with poor Jenny slaving in the bath house and capture her transformation to Jenny Jang in the first few episodes. But, no, it begins right in the middle of the battle for The Project.

I also like the characters except Ye-nam who is too shouty and clearly not a match for Jenny.

I expect there will be something between Sun-woo and Hyun-ji and that's a potential conflict for Sun-woo and Jenny. Sun-woo so far follows Jenny blindly, but that dynamic could change with the entry of Hyun-ji.

I could do without the birth secret, but OK if you must, Show.

Btw, Jenny Jang in that red dress in the opening is absolutely stunning !

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

Comment was deleted

0
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I'm guessing morally ambiguous anti-heroines are not a usual trope in kdramas. I truly don't know because I haven't seen as many. Anyway, knowing Kim Sun Ah was going to play one of these roles was enough to lure me in. She is a great actress, her lastest project Children of Nobody was also remarcable. And I'm glad I did check it out because those were two solid episodes. Great cinematography, interesting story and characters and better yet, there were well-paced. Jenny's sharpness and cunningness are delicious to watch on display. I also enjoyed the alpha ladies dynamics a lot. I do agree that the baduk girl scenes took way too much time, I mean this is a world of lionesses and that is what I want to see the most to be honest. It was a great start nontheless and I'm hoping it will continue that way.
Thank you for the review, it was a great read.

3
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

It's my most anticipated drama and it didn't disappoint me! I can't wait to see Jenny Jang kicking butts and getting her rights back as the legitimate heiress.

4
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I just finished watching the first episode and I am really afraid to start the second one, given it is only Sunday and it is a Wednesday-Thursday show. Don't know if I can handle the waiting....
The story and characters are captivating!

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

This is the female version of Money Flower, and I'm here for it!!

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *

I started Secret Boutique after this review and its really intriguing. In a world where everyone has their own agenda, the end is who comes up top.

1
0
reply

Required fields are marked *