We are talking a lot of Kpop this month at Dramas With a Side of Kimchi but I feel like we have time for a little classical music. If we find it in Kdramas it counts, right? Although there is a lot of interesting background music I could talk about, I remember being pulled in most strongly by the piano playing that took center stage in Secret Love Affair. I listen more often to orchestral music than piano solos, but I loved this. Three years ago Yoo Ah-in astounded us by playing Schubert and Rachmaninoff in concert.
I first saw Yoo Ah-in in Sungkyunkwan Scandal, where he played a rebel who frequently hid out on rooftops and up in trees. Being new to Korean dramas and having difficulty with the names, my husband and I dubbed him Robin Hood. (Song Joon-ki, who flitted around gossiping with the ladies, was Peter Pan.) Anyway, Robin Hood was memorable enough that when I heard he was in a new drama I was interested. Interested that it was about a piano prodigy, but not so happy about the affair with a married woman part. When I saw the sexy promotional pictures I almost didn’t even watch it.
Then came the 21-minute trailer. Who ever heard of a trailer that long? I saw remarks that it was amazing, and decided to just watch it. It begins with him peering longingly at a concert grand piano from behind a black curtain. We see him playing the piano with a view of his head, then his back, then hands.
My husband and I both play the piano and we are pretty disdainful of bad fake instrument playing. Nothing is calculated to take you out of the moment faster than fingers wobbling randomly over a violin or piano, not matching up with the music at all. So tacky. This looked different; someone was actually playing. When the view showed Yoo Ah-in’s face with hands playing in the same frame, I was hooked. I doubted he was really a concert pianist, but it looked good. By the time the duet came along, I was sold. I only had to say “piano” to my husband and he was sold.
In the trailer, after Yoo Ah-in’s character Sun-jae looks through the curtain we jump to our leading lady, Hye-won (played by Kim Hee-ae) talking to security about an unauthorized person having played the concert grand. We see snippets of them both at her house when he comes to play for her; she threatens to call the police if he can’t really play. It takes him a minute to get going because he had heard two people playing a duet which he had tried to reproduce. He stops suddenly to show her how he condensed the 4-hand duet to a 2-hand version. Then he plays her some pieces he has learned; Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier (which is not really very hard) and a fast Paganini Etude (which is).
Clips of Hye-won with the owners of the music school are inserted here, and then we go back to see her asking Sun-jae how he learned the piano. He says he took lessons in elementary school and his mother locked him in the apartment when she went to work, so he had nothing to do but practice. Since then he has learned from watching YouTube. At 13 minutes in we get the famous duet.
We watch the whole piece and it is beautiful. They are a little stiff at first but soon get into it and begin to move together; she gives him a side-eye to coordinate coming in on a phrase. As it becomes louder and reaches its climax, they start to lean forward simultaneously, striking the chords together, carried away. When they come to the end they sit silently for a minute, spent and sweaty, and amazed at themselves. This is what got people talking. Everyone wanted to know what that song was.
In the end she pinches his cheek, saying that is her best approval. It was a gesture that was picked up and copied. She is exhausted; he is too elated to go home. He wanders around, reliving moments that made him happy, standing on a bridge “playing piano” on the railing to a moody wash of excerpts.
The 21-minute trailer communicates to us how deeply and emotionally these two people connect over music. They both love piano, have given a lot of their heart to it, and suddenly find someone they can share it with. This is the beginning; their love of music is the core of the love affair and the great care taken with it by the music staff is the core of the drama. Oh, and that duet was Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor.
There was great stuff on Soompi and Yoo Ah In SikSeekLand about what pieces were played, how they did it, and little meta stories. For example in Episode 10 Sun-jae plays a concerto with an orchestra, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini. Someone found out they got the Incheon City Philharmonic. Big stuff. For an encore he plays from Brahms’ Six Pieces for Piano. Brahms was in love with Robert Schumann’s wife Clara, and dedicated that piece to her. Sun-jae was making a statement.
Mind you Yoo Ah-in didn’t play it all. They chose 18-second snippets for him to do and edited them in. Still, he had to know the music well enough to do the general arm and body movements, and he was good. Song Young-min, a professional pianist of similar build, did the playing for the soundtrack as well as the close-ups of hands and shots from the back. Here he is with Kim So-hyung (the stand-in for Kim Hee-ae and also Yoo Ah-in’s piano coach) playing some of the wonderful score written by music PD Lee Nam-youn.
I hope I’ve made you want to go watch the rest of Secret Love Affair. There’s a lot of real music. The actors who play Hye-won’s friend Professor Jo, his student Min-woo, and nasty rich girl Yoo-ra (Sun-jae gives her some great set-downs) are all professional musicians. The quintet he plays with in college is made up of actual music majors.
I thought we were in for a slightly racy story of a love affair with a little classical piano for bait. Instead we got a big plot twist early on, complicated interactions, and an unexpected ending. And of course wonderful music.
Here’s hoping you enjoy it all,