Rating:
Average user rating 5.0
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Secret Boutique: Episodes 9-16 (Series review)

It’s been a wild ride with Secret Boutique! It’s no small feat when a drama makes big promises at its start, and then delivers on them straight through to the end, but Secret Boutique did just that.

Not only did we get our decades-long tale of revenge with just about as much drama and intrigue as you could imagine, but we also got really fantastic and moving character arcs with all of the players. I love stories about people with the courage to step back and take a look at their actions — and in the case of Secret Boutique, this element is what elevated the drama from a story of high-stakes revenge into an even better, richer story about people.

There are some dramas I watch and wonder, “Why is everyone watching this?” and then there are dramas like Secret Boutique that make me wonder, “Why isn’t everyone watching this!?” It deserved better ratings, more attention, and above all, less tempo-wrecking preemptions (dramas over sports!).

It feels like ages ago since the mid-series review (thanks to those same preemptions), but what Secret Boutique lost in momentum it sure made up for with punch. No, not the kind you drink, but the kind that hits you in the stomach when you’re engaged in a really good story that goes exactly where you hoped it would, and takes you along on the journey to get there.

At the core of Secret Boutique is the revenge plot of Jenny Jang/Jang Do-young, fighting to depose the Chairwoman who stole her mother’s place, and regain her rightful seat. But in order for all of the plotting and revenging to go on, we need people. It’s these complex relationships and characters that lend so much of the fun, intrigue — and later, meaning — to the drama.

For much of the action, Jenny dukes it out with Ye-nam, her competition in the Dae-oh household. But at the same time as these battles are going on, Jenny is also waging a secret war with the Chairwoman. She earns the Chairwoman’s trust in double for every whisper of doubt that might occur, all the while plotting for the ultimate mutiny.

This method works pretty well for Jenny for about 20 years. She’s more powerful than the actual heirs of Dae-oh, and even though she’s hiding her identity, she’s been fighting wholeheartedly for Dae-oh Group, because, as she says, “it’s mine.”

It’s clear that things are escalating, though, and piece by piece, the stakes get higher. Jenny Jang pretty much out-maneuvers and wipes the floor with everyone, but it’s when her own “weaknesses” (i.e., the people she cares about) are finally involved that things start to get intense.

Even though we learned early on that Jenny doesn’t form relationships that could become a weaknesses (so says that very person for her, Sun-woo), what Jenny can’t really conquer is her past. Her love of husband Jung-hyuk goes back to her teenage years, as does the love for Sun-woo. Hyun-ji, while playing a crucial and well-developed part in the plot, also has an important role in signifying Jenny’s own past.

Earlier in the drama we saw Sun-woo warn Jenny about seeing herself in Hyun-ji — but it was too late for that. Even the venomous Chairwoman sees the parallel in their stories and personalities, and says she recognizes the same things in Hyun-ji that drove her to Jenny decades before.

While Jenny is busy taking numbers and plotting to regain the life that was stolen from her, she’s also in bondage to the past. In a pivotal scene with Hyun-ji, Jenny admit that she is trapped living in the past, and often, tries to steer Hyun-ji away from the path that she herself followed.

That doesn’t work so well, and the parallel between these two characters, their stories, and behaviors, is just too strong. It wreaks havoc in both their lives — but in the end, it’s also a way for Jenny to find closure.

In one of the most moving scenes of the drama, Hyun-ji is reunited with her mother. Jenny and Sun-woo watch the reunion teary-eyed (and boy I had more than teary eyes myself). It was not only gorgeously authentic, but also so meaningful, not only because of the high price tag, but because Jenny was able to give to another what she was unable to give to herself.

Like the best of revenge stories, Secret Boutique examines the true cost of revenge. The drama digs deep into this question in several ways, but mostly by having Jenny facing herself in the aftermath. Secret Boutique has been strong on moments of contemplation and satisfyingly self-aware characters, and this aspect stayed strong till the end.

During the second half of the drama, we follow Jenny through some dark places, where in her desperation, she loses sight of what’s really important to her. Decisions that were once calculated with precision, devolve into a battle of pure ruthlessness, where inflicting emotional pain is the weapon of choice. “It’s our fight,” says the Chairwoman to Jenny, “but innocent people keep getting hurt.”

What’s so compelling about the maelstrom that develops is that although Jenny can’t escape its inertia, she’s very aware at the same time that things are going too far. She tells Sun-woo that they (she, Jung-hyuk, the Chairwoman) are all like moths to the flame. And boy are they ever.

As anticipated, Secret Boutique really ramps up the stakes in its final few episodes, and it’s appropriately dramatic, upsetting, and amazing. Casualties abound. Some are sacrificial, some are accidental, and some signify the greatest act of defeat.

When the war in the Dae-oh Group finally comes to an end, it’s in a public arena, and there’s something appropriate about this conclusion. It took me a while to realize it’s because this is the first time we’ve really seen outside of the Dae-oh Group’s power circle.

In this sense, there’s something finalizing about a press conference or a hearing. We finally get to see a very insular story exposed to the public, and I think that’s part of why I found the drama’s conclusion so satisfying.

I admire a drama that can be both completely satisfying with the conclusion of its story, and yet pull the rhetoric of the story apart at the same time. In other words, we got the satisfaction of goals achieved and the truth brought to light. The irredeemably evil people were broken, and met their end. The characters who were strong enough to face themselves and their deeds found redemption.

But there’s a wrinkle in this ending, too. It’s the fact that although Jenny finally gained everything she had long fought for, she wound up renouncing it in the end.

“Behind the glamour of the Dae-oh family and International City Project, many precious things were lost,” Jenny tells the press. This statement is a testament to the aftermath of her long battle — the lives that were callously traded, the hearts that were broken, and the lines that were crossed. The power of the story is in the fact that Jenny gives up her reward as a punishment for the road she took to get there.

Secret Boutique is a wildly entertaining and fun story — but it also has soul and substance to keep it going, because the notion of love is at its core. The price for revenge was high, perhaps higher than Jenny realized, and at the close of the drama, love and loss are poignantly tied together.

If there’s a statement the drama leaves us with, I think it’s the message around people. Our heroine went from leveraging the people around her as game pieces, to falling even further and ruthlessly using them to attain her end goal. For the story, and our heroine, to come full circle, Jenny has to experience more loss and heartbreak in order to see how far she’s fallen — and then, to pick herself up.

The drama wraps up with some beautiful scenes of forgiveness, redemption, reunion, you name it. It’s as if the decades-long fever has subsided, and now the people left in the aftermath are able to assess what they’ve done, and how far they’ve come. And for Jenny, that means finally being able to close the door on the past, and to move forward.

 
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IMO it was a fail and deserved its low ratings. I'm amazed at the positive review.

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Care to clarify?

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@missvictrix! I think I have a new friend to watch the Kdrama with! I hope you also subscribe to Netflix! Kekekekekekeke... First, V.I.P and now Secret Boutique, ho! Do you like murder/thriller/detective shows, too? I love to ask you thousand questions!

Yes, Secret Boutique is under the radar. I didn't remember why I click this first. Just happened. I reluctant first, because I had trauma with The Black Night (aaarrrghhh...). Well, it was related to boutique too. So imagine when I found out Jang Mi Hee played here too.

This drama goes back and forth from the past and present to reveal its secrets. And, oh boy, some secrets! I just realized that it was so difficult to portray a character with a mask that hide thousand emotions. With mask, you shouldn't let any emotion came out, or you failed. But, in the drama, a minutiae, a subtle, a body language were so needed, so the viewers could feel the emotion behind it. There were times that I lost it in this drama.

If revenge is a double edges knife, why people still go through some distance and bear the consequence to pursue it? Or it just human? An eye to an eye and hell with everything else?
Hmmmm....

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On revenge, I think it's because we don't quite see the consequences or losses until it happens.

Most of the time, ppl are blinded by emotions and it's hard to get out of that grip of hatred and wants for justice. But if we are able to think rationally, will all of the losses really worth it? I guess regrets always come too late.

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Thank you for the review, @missvictrix. I agree with everything you said. I am glad I decided to watch this show.

I started out all about Sun Woo, but in the end my heart is all for Jung Hyuk. May he rest in peace and love, wherever he is.

For a revenge drama, I am a little surprised at the ending. However, I think it is most appropriate and suits the message this show is trying to convey. I am just glad everyone learned their lessons and are able to move on.

And special shout out to Ye Nam. She is a character I didn't care much from the beginning, but ended up a character that I admire in the end. Growing up is hard. I am glad she decided to take that route.

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What a wild ride secret boutique has been!! Definitely going to miss Jenny Jang's awesomeness on my screen! I loved the rich nuanced character and how even the side characters had amazing character development. For some it might seem too neat but I LOVED the ending. Jang Hyuk broke my heart but at the same time Jenny was so deeply invested in her revenge and greed that she wasn't thinking clearly anymore and honestly only someones death could have made her realise how she was completely losing herself and ruining innocent as well as the lives of the few people standing by her side in her revenge! I loved Sun Woo and Jenny's cool walk in the end!
One thing that I feel a little uncomfortable with is Hyun Ji's omma's non-death! One of the best thing about the show was the parallel that the writer created between Jenny and Hyun Ji. Jenny saw herself in Hyun ji and Hunj Ji had everything needed to eventually turn into Jenny, including the brain, fashion(😂) and a complete revenge story. The distinction I believe that the writer wanted to create between the two was "choice"!. How Jenny chose to pursue her revenge which basically ruined her and how Hyun Ji would choose to let go of revenge and move on (realising it grants no one happiness but just involves a lot of despair and innocent lives being lost). The lesson the whole story has taught us is about the destruction revenge brings to those involved as well as to those not involved. The point would have driven home, had Hyun Ji given up revenge after her mom's death. Right now it seems like she forgave everyone because her mom was alive and unharmed!!
Also, was it only me who thought that the chairwoman's death was too easy!! When the prosecutors came in with her arrest warrant and she askes for a little time before she goes with them, I knew it then that she would kill herself!! I wanted her to face the consequences of her actions, to live until the end while suffering. I was so very glad that everybody had to deal with their consequences that their actions brought about-- be it Jenny, the gang leader or the mayor but I wanted the chairwoman to be served a lifetime sentence! Though she did end up losing everything dear to her and in the end it was her children who sided against her (Jang Hyuk and Ye Eun) to bring about her doom!!
Overall the show was DAEBAK. It's sad that because of the delays in episodes it broke the flow for many people! It definitely deserves more love!

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I wish Secret Boutique didn't have so many preemptions because when I finally watched the last two episodes, my excitement and my passion for the characters did fade and I ended up not caring that much anymore.

However, I felt the most for Jung-hyuk. He's such a tragic character. We only got glimpses of him in the beginning, but he turned out to be a very significant character for all the three leads. His arc felt organic and I like the way his role and importance was revealed little by little to us by the writers.

What annoys me is that Ye Nam got away with it. She ordered murder, for god's sake, she shouldn't have it that easy.

And I'd love to see some signal that Hyunji and Sunwoo somehow kept in contact. The drama made it as if they just ended their relationship like that. No closure.

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The end was rushed and safe for me...

The death of the chairwoman was too easy, Ye-Nam lost her father but she did way worse. She commited crime not for the family compagny but for her own greed. Jenny was already getting the airport project for them but Ye-Nam wanted to win.

I didn't really understand what they wanted to express with Jenny-Sun Woo relationship but I think it wasted Hyun-Ji-Sun Woo relationship. Jenny-Jung-Hyeok was really great, I loved their love-friendship.

Hyun Ji was a great character, they could have developped her story more at the end. I was happy that her mother was not dead but honestly it sounded weird in the story.

But for all, the Boutique was not really well used... It was just in surface but we didn't really see how it worked.

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One thing I don't like in kdramas is resolving things in public sphere, the truth is revealed, the audience gasp, the villain is arrested and shamed, done deal. It's such an cheap cope out, because most of the time it's defy logic and character build up.

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I'm disappointed with ending, they went with every trope possible except the one I really wanted Hyunji and SunWoo ending together.

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The only thing I didn't like was how very pat the ending was. I wish it had been as messy as the rest of the show.

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I wanted the police to come sooner and tell "You're making all the time wrong decisions, Madame! Let's go..."

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I don't know, for me the only really compelling and poignant - and truly original - thing here was the relationship between Jenny and Jung Hyuk, almost everything else was at best meh, and at worst pretty eyeroll-inducing - such as Ye Nam's bratty character, and C. Kim's ever-pouting lips and taking about an hour to pronounce one sentence - like, seriously, who talks like that? But the most painful thing to watch was how they took Han Jung Soo who was born to play cool badass tsundere sidekicks (as it is evident in in Arang or Iron man) and casted him as Pouty Lips' faithful minion-no brain boy-toy. That part was the worst. :(

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Kim Taehoon just...really looked at the script that indicated he'd die and immediately signed it without a word because maybe he'd get some well-needed sleep lying in a coffin or something idk

Junghyuk was fun! I loved so much about him, and also y'know, visuals with Kim Sunah was amazing too. Bring them both back for a romcom, it's what that man deserves

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Kim Sun-ah is an excellent actress to portray the sharp, refined and elegant Jenny as the role required depicting stoic conflicted emotions; however, she apparently had excessive Botox on her face till she can’t emote - her face was so stiff!

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This drama was more about the people involved and the effects of the revenge plotting than the actual success of the revenge.

Most of the characterization was pretty decent. I liked Jenny, Sun Woo, and Jung Hyuk. Their deep relationship was depicted well. Jung Hyuk was such a tragic character. His death was heartbreaking, but not surprising. The loss of his lover was too shocking and painful, even more so when he learned his own mother had sent the death order. He struggled and was in pain for a long time. In the end, he was stuck between his love for his mother and his love for Jenny.

And even Oh Tae Seok had some compelling scenes that showed he was more than the villain he portrayed in the beginning.

In the finale, the press conference caught Chairwoman Kim off guard when it ended up exposing her lies. That gave a bit of satisfaction. The public learned the truth and she was humiliated, but I would've preferred seeing her suffering in jail.

There were a lot of dialogue throughout this show. Some of it was too lengthy especially in the final hour. The finale wrapped everything up very neatly. Maybe too neat. It was lacking a little oomph.

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You put in words exactly what my sentiment for the drama was.

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Started watching Secret Boutique after reading the first episode review and I must say I enjoyed it! Really liked Kim Sun-ah as Jenny Jang. (jjang!!)

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This was such an amazing story,full of tragedy,love,devotion,greed,despair and revenge and it was a fun ride indeed...My favorite drama of Kim Sun Ah hands down!!!Loved her style to bits!!!Her relationship with Jang Hyuk was the highlight for me and how can one's heart not beat and bleed for our Sun Woo,his devotion made my heart flatter and be in pain at the same time...Do Young's life story truly is a tragedy and Chairman Kim was beyond horrible person that didn't deserve to end like that,she deserved to pay for all her deeds in prison,slowly after destroying so many lives for her own greed...She left in her own accord like a coward...
Another highlight was the OST,the BGM is truly huntingly amazing that was in tone with the darkness of it's story!!!
I mean how can u not cry at this,full of emotions!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XL-ZzbtPj6Y
I think the constant cancelation did a huge disadvantage to the whole series and it's such a pain because this is an underrated drama,a great one at that full of intensity emotion wise!!!

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Such a beautiful recap missvictrix . I like reading your writing . I honestly did not like it that much :) I hd started watching it because of Sun-woo. He did not disappoint :) But somehow I found JJ very annoying as other nasty female characters since the beginning . I ve left it after 12th episode .

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I enjoyed the show, but maybe the ratings suffered because the premise was a bit ridiculous. What was the point of this decades long revenge scheme that allows this evil woman to live well when you're sitting on more than enough proof to take her down from day one. Jenny had proof that the Chairwoman and her children were impostors. Jenny was living proof plus she had a picture of herself with her father and mother. I don't remember if her mother was wearing the ring that the Chairwoman stole in that photo, but if she was, that would've been further proof. Then you have this powerful chaebol family who just lets some strange woman walk in the door and lay claim to their estate. All she needed was a ring? She would've been investigated and multiple DNA tests would've been done to determine if her kids were heirs before they ever stepped foot in that estate. On top of that, the Chairwoman and her kids didn't know any intimate details about the Chairman's son. I enjoyed the show, but I could see all the above being enough to make viewers drop it.

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Wow...were we watching the same drama? For me...Jenny Jang followed her enemy into the same pit of greed and ruthlessness. Especially when she knew her husband's life was literally on the edge of a cliff, yet she refused to let Sun-Woo help him unless the Chairwoman pleaded for his life. Clearly the 20 years working up to her revenge clouded her vision about how kind he was to her. Jenny used him far more than he used her. He truly loved her, but she had no room in her revenge-directed heart for that. The same when it came to Sun-Woo, who had been in "puppy love' with her all these years. She discarded him close to the end for her revenge. He too was only there to be used--and their relationship was always uneven because she was always in control, because from their very beginning, she was the 'Noona' who made the decisions. Missvictrix: you said "The irredeemably evil people were broken, and met their end. The characters who were strong enough to face themselves and their deeds found redemption." But yet, the real evil character got a quick & painless 'poison exit'.....never truly feeling the pain of losing her son or ultimately caring for what happened to her daughter. No redemption there either, she just wanted to avoid the loss of dignity and power as well as the hardships of prison. The writer lost his chance to give us some satisfaction in her death. Why not at least allow us to see her die in pain, trying to save her daughter... or even better, Jenny Jang?
As for the ones who 'were strong enough to face themselves?'...Did you mean the daughter. Yes, she offered to take over Jenny's punishment, but what I really missed was seeing the steps that brought her to that act redemption. She was bargaining and begging almost up to the last half of the finale, and then suddenly we were given a 'let's make-up' scene where they erased about a decade's worth of toxic feelings in a few moments of childhood reminiscing about how they used to get along. "I was always sincere" Jenny tells her. And so the whiny, greedy daughter was redeemed & then punished first with the loss of her first love and then prison. As for Jenny, she paid for her misdeeds by serving part of the sentence, but then after playing ruthlessly with Eun-ji's life and using her husband love to get what she needed, she finally won her goal--but then--just walked away. Such a waste . And another waste? That she walked away with Sun Woo. I could see spending time with him, but only as "siblings". The real relationship for me that had any refreshing honesty and some great sparks was always between Eun-ji and Sunwoo. Disappointed by that because even though Jenny told him at the end that she'd let him choose where they would go next ...I still had the feeling that she would always be the master and Sun-woo the adoring 'puppy'.

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