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Secret Boutique: Episodes 3-8 (Series review)

Secret Boutique has totally become my dark horse of awesome. It’s not often that a show moves exactly the way I hoped it would, and exceeds my expectations every week with its consistency, tone, and great twists and turns. But it’s also just a really good watch. The drama’s exciting battle of wits, introduced during its premiere week, wages on, building tension with each episode.

While everyone else is watching cute, pastel-y sageuks and high school shows right now, I feel like I’ve got this deep and delicious revenge story all to myself — but that doesn’t mean I don’t want company!

The opening week of Secret Boutique gave us a pretty good sense of the kind of drama we were in for — we left off with the reveal that Jenny Jang’s position in the Dae-oh household and conglomerate is really an elaborate and decades-long revenge scheme. Jenny is working to secure back her birthright, and while we’ve had these sorts of revenge plots before, something about Secret Boutique sets it apart.

I talk a lot about execution and how it can make or break a drama — things like pacing, editing, and of course, the directing. So far, Secret Boutique is hitting all of these perfectly for the kind of story it’s telling.

In particular, the pacing is nicely balanced thanks to a marriage of a quick-moving plot with quiet moments where we linger with the leads. This keeps the fast-paced and crisply edited story from feeling rushed, and gives it its depth (I love how showing characters in contemplation can accomplish this). It also allows the world of the story to feel well-established, and enables it to capture the sense of all the time that has passed from the start of Jenny’s story (the bus accident) to where she is today, twenty years later.

Jenny’s present day is where most of the drama takes place. We were clued in on her revenge scheme early on, and most of the drama that unfolds is her strategizing, piece by piece, to achieve her aim. If regaining her birthright is her goal, there are several battles she must win first, and the primary one is control of the development of the international city.

In order for Jenny and Dae-oh Group to get control of the project and win this particular battle, fight after fight unfolds — with the city mayor, with Ye-nam, with the competing chaebol group, with the land owners whose property they need to purchase — and that’s only the top of the list. Each fight that we watch unfold is part of the war that Jenny has been living in for decades.

Kim Sun-a does a great job here, portraying a heroine who, when we meet her, is already a veteran at the game. She’s sharp as a tack, cold, calculating, and always has another move up her sleeve. Outside of the power that she wields, even the way she walks and talks rings with her dominating presence. But what about the real Jenny underneath that showy, lacquered surface? That’s why I love Secret Boutique — we get to see glimpses of that Jenny, too.

At certain moments of the drama, Jenny seems to get a bit over her head, whether it’s with her recent marriage or the vulnerabilities that are created during her war with Ye-nam. She’s incredibly guarded in battle, like anyone who has to hold up a front for as long as she has — but then there are these soft moments in the drama too, where we see underneath that. In one, Jenny calls her husband, showing that very vulnerability, and asks him to return to her side. In another, she takes a ferry back to her hometown with Sun-woo, and enjoys the sea air and the short respite from pressure cooker of her everyday life.

It’s Jenny’s husband Jung-hyuk and Sun-woo who are the ones that get to see the real Jenny — the one that’s behind the glamorous outfits and black sunglasses. Her relationships with both of these men are nuanced, deep, and meaningful, and the complexity of these characters and their interactions is one of the things that adds the depth to the story.

Her relationship to her best friend and husband-of-convenience is compelling, but it’s Sun-woo, her right-hand man and attorney at her firm, who grabs me the most. Man, it’s been a long time since I’ve fallen this hard for a fictional hero. In the opening week episodes, I was really impressed with the intensity that Kim Jae-young brought to the role, and he continues to deliver a really nice performance that’s wrought with lots of unspoken emotion. His relationship with Jenny is my favorite one of the drama. It’s rich with this understated, nuanced affection and emotional closeness, but it’s also guarded and there are walls up all over the place. Fluffy noona romance, this is not.

Another important relationship for Jenny is with Hyun-ji, the young baduk player searching for her mother who went missing. Hyun-ji got entangled in one of Jenny’s early battles, and became a “trophy” for Jenny. Hyun-ji starts working for her, tagging along with Sun-woo, and it turns out that her baduk experience — and her earnest heart — give her an edge that others don’t have. Halfway through the drama, Hyun-ji is proving herself quite useful to Jenny.

However, how this relationship will unfold is very much in shadows at this point. Sun-woo keeps encouraging Hyun-ji to leave while she can, and warns that she won’t be able to get close to Jenny. Sun-woo also warns Jenny to be cautious of Hyun-ji; he once tells Jenny, “Don’t see yourself in her.” It’s clear the drama is going to dig into the Jenny/Hyun-ji dynamic in its second half. Again, that’s why the drama is so good — it’s character and relationship-driven at the center of all the action and double-crossing and plot twists.

While Jenny is most certainly in the midst of a war with life or death stakes, it’s also got an element of gameplay a well. This theme has been running strong with how Jenny, Chairwoman Jang, Ye-nam, and other players operate. Everyone has their trusted advisor, their pawns, and the game pieces they are keeping close for when they need the perfect play.

Interestingly, the drama is a bit of a game in how the story is told, too. Rather than be certain of where our characters are in each scene, we often watch a plotline unfold and only later learn it was all carefully plotted. This keeps the storytelling fresh, since we never quite know if Jenny’s finally been dinged, or if she’s merely giving up a pawn to save her queen.

A great example of this is with a major reveal that’s built into the story quite earlier than expected: Chairwoman Jang learning that Jenny Jang is actually Jang So-jin, the rightful heiress of Dae-oh Group. This reveal is the crux of the entire revenge scheme, so it’s natural to expect it to be teased, but never actually put on the table until the drama is nearly over. But Secret Boutique does it different.

Chairwoman Jang becomes suspicious and digs into Jenny’s past, and there’s a crucial moment where her identity will either be proven or unproven with a DNA test. It’s not till much later in the episode that we realize that exposing herself to Chairwoman Jang was part of Jenny’s plan to further secure her position. “She would have suspected who I was eventually,” Jenny tells Sun-woo. So, instead of struggling to hide the truth, she dealt with the suspicion up front.

This kind of storytelling is not only mad exciting, but accentuates the elaborate gameplay, both in and out of the drama. And now that we’re at the halfway point, there’s only more of this in store for us, as the drama has built a lot of compelling relationships that will surely have a big part to play as the plot unfolds.

The airing of Episode 8 was delayed last week, which unfortunately cuts into the show’s flow going forward (meaning, the mid-week cliffhangers will only be more so, since they’ll stretch to the following week now). Regardless, I’m already riveted to this show. Round after round (or is that episode after episode?), the stakes are getting higher, and I can’t wait to see where the drama goes from here.

 
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Thank you for recap, @missvictrix. Company here. 🙋
I love a well crafted revenge drama and I care about all the main characters (well, maybe except Ye Nam :P). I agree with everything you said in the recap. I love that we have a good smart villain lady. My heart already bleeds for Sun Woo. But it is Jung Hyuk that is a big mystery to me. I am loving his friendship/camaraderie with Jenny and how he is always supportive of her. He seems to know that Jenny is plotting to bring down his mother and supports her for that, but does not seem to know that Jenny is the rightful heir. Does he know how far she'll go in bringing down Chairwoman Jang? Do we know?

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@msrabbit Hooray for company! I'm glad you're enjoying it too. I agree, the relationship with Jung Hyuk is really complex and interesting, and just when you think you know where those two stand it gets even deeper. I love that about this drama.

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Ohh!! You cleared up my confusion. I was wondering that in one scene Jung Hyuk seems to know Jenny's real agenda but in an another scene he is surprised to see the photos? It's just that I assumed that if he knew about her goal then he was also aware of her origin and hence my confusion.

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Well, that was my assumption. The show isn't showing his or her card yet. Their relationship was unraveling bit by bit, just like everything else in the show. That's why we're hook, MeloMe. ;)

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Must watch with complete (hopefully correct) translations.

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*raises hand* I've been enjoying this drama too. Took me a while to write out my thoughts.

I thought we would see more of Jenny solving problems for elite clients and chaebols, but the story has been focused on her and her revenge. That's not necessarily a bad thing though. Kim Sun Ah's portrayal of Jenny Jang is excellent, displaying her strong and soft sides.

Yesssss, I'm also liking Kim Jae Young in this role. I agree with you, missvictrix. Jenny's relationships with Sun Woo and Jung Hyuk are so rich with conflicting emotions and depth. It''s a love triangle in the most basic form, but more complicated and uncommon.

I was less than satisfied with Episode 8 though. It did not show much progress in the plot.

Ye Nam was just unbelievably amateurish in her attempt to take down her mother. I feel like Oh Tae Seok will be fed up with her soon. Is his love for her that deep and true? He found out that she does not have Dae Oh's blood so will he stay by her side in the end? Does he have ulterior motives or does he seek power/fortune from Dae Oh Group via Ye Nam? I'm curious about his motivations.

Ye Nam is not a strong opponent. Tenacious yes, but not compelling. Jenny does not fear her. I want to see a more formidable one. Kim Yeo Ok hasn't made big moves against Jenny. She's more in the background while her daughter is causing a ruckus. Jogwang's CEO seems to be a more threatening one.

...

Unfortunately, Episode 9 did not air today due to sports. Dx<

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I think this drama is more about the relationships than about the revenge, Jenny Jang with her best friend, her little "brother", her "trainee", her ennemies. They're very interesting.

I'm rooting for Lee Hyun-Ji and Yoon Sun-Woo but it's kinda weird because I'm rooting for Kim Cheong-A and Koo Joon-Hwi In Beautiful Love, Wonderful Love. How Kim Jae-Young is handling two dramas in the same time.

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"How Kim Jae-Young is handling two dramas in the same time."

His struggling and suffering in juggling filming two dramas at the same time is our happiness..... Because we get to see a lot of him.

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He's the reason I started Beautiful Love, Wonderful Love. But knowing how it can be very tiring to film one drama, two must be very difficult. I hope he will take care of himsefl!

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*raises hand* Secret Boutique is my current crack, too, and Kim Jae-young is my current crush. :D

The relationship between Jenny - Sun Woo - Jung Hyuk is certainly complicated and compelling. I think Jenny actually has a crush on Jung Hyuk. I'm pretty sure that heartbreak awaits them all, especially Sun Woo, our badass puppy.

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Don't remind me 🥺🥺😢😢
Not sure if Jenny has a crush on Jung Hyuk, but she certainly cares for him. I also see a lot of guilts. This is what I like about this show. Jenny, though firmly resolved to take revenge, does not seem to lose her humanity. She could have easily crushed Ye Nam, but she left her be.

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"She could have easily crushed Ye Nam, but she left her be."

Because her main target is Chairman Kim. When she goes down, all her children would, too. That's her guilt toward Jung Hyuk. I'm interested to see if the show plans some twist in that area.

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Hehe. Jenny should crush her like a bug and take down Chairman Kim down anyway. I wouldn't mind if Ye Nam is gone (can you see my ulterior motive here?) 😏

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After ep 8 l, I too think she sees Sun Woo as a dongsaeng and might actually have a crush on Jung Hyuk!!

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Count me in the Secret Boutique club! I've been enjoying this show since it started. Watching Jenny Jang go head-to-head with everyone is a treat and it's certainly due to the way she's played by Kim Sun-ah.

And don't even get me started about her right-hand man, Sun-woo. He's captured my attention since he appeared.

Thanks for the recap @missvictrix!

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And here I was convinced that Jenny wasn't a heir, her brother was. I thought that flashback scenes implied that her mother was divorcee with a child and that's why, they wasn't acquainted with DaeOh family before? And that SunWoo is her little brother and rightful heir (but for whatever reason he have no idea about it). I love this drama, but I must start paying better attention to it apparently ;)

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Haha. I think mom and dad's relationship wasn't approved by chaebol granpa. So dad and family was estranged. Flashback scene was their family on their way to see grandpa again. But they got into accident. Parents died. Lil brother did survive, but later died of some disease. Jenny was going to kill herself after that. But when she jumped off a cliff, she saw Sun Woo drowning in the water and saved him. Sun Woo was hooked, down and sinker since that moment on.

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@msrabbit haha this is an amazing summary of 8 hours in 8 lines. I love it!

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And since it was before DNA tests, the father gave the mother a signet ring, which the current Top Dog stole from the dead mother while crawling out of the wrecked bus.

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That was low of her. No redemption will work for her whatsoever.

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As much as I like Jenny I really hate that hair cut on her. Maybe it's just the bangs? They're just so rounded. I feel like it doesn't suit her since she's supposed to outwardly appear cold and calculating...

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I'm on the opposing side. I think Jenny's styling suits her character including her hair.

What I don't like is Ye Nam's wardrobe. She's too shouty, too whiny, and I don't like her clothes. Haha....

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I am with you on Ye Nam, cheekbones. But you probably already know that. ;)
I confess. I am not crazy about Jenny's hairstyle either. But since she is played by the always-excellent Kim Sun Ah, it does not bother me at all.

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I'm with you (but in the minority) — I think it works perfectly for her character!

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I love how elegant and sharp Jenny is compared to Ye Nam who seems frumpy with lots of unnecessary frills and trills. Ye Nam always looked like she got dressed playing with her mother's wardrobe and jewelry box.

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I just started watching this drama two days ago. I binged all the episodes and totally in desperate need of the next episode. It’s just a good solid show acting writing production I have no complaints

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I am low key in love with Sun Woo and girl crushing on Jenny. I have already changed my wardrobe inspiration to her for thus season so I am a lottle worried that he is getting too close to Hyun Ji. I want her to find her mama and go home so Jenny can be happy with Sun Woo.

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Hallo thank you very much for recap. Your writing is both as dramatic and intriguing as the show itself. Yum yum so awesome juicy exhilarating my heart goes thump thump 👏👏 bravo 😘

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