Holiday Reviews: Secret Forest S1 ep 1-3

Among the great things that coincide with the start of the holidays (like the Zhongli re-run), there’s time to (re)watch really good dramas.

For a long time, I put off rewatching Stranger/Secret Forest mostly because I was worried that it wouldn’t match up to the enjoyment in my memory.

During the end half of my very first semester of university, Secret Forest S2 was airing live. Watching those episodes and then chatting with the community on Soompi was a really good end (or start?) to every week.

It’s really one of the dramas that are worth watching for sheer enjoyment, and one of the very few shows that I would watch from end to end, without pressing the right arrow to skip ahead.

For a predictable drama that’s only good for wish fulfilment I could shave an hour into 15 minutes. Secret Forest makes you watch each minute (and you’ll soon realise later on, that whatever you skipped meant something.)

So that’s the goal of this rewatch, to not touch anything once you press the ‘play button’. As Si Mok tells us eventually, the culprit whom we don’t know could always press it. I always recommend this drama whenever I’m asked for the best crime/thriller/detective dramas, alongside Signal and Tunnel. This is still the best one though.

Secret Forest is both fast and slow – that pace is honest and doesn’t overpromise. But the number of things that there are to enjoy in the first three episodes as a rewatcher are enough to make you full. It’s not a show that I would binge-watch, since each episode leaves me quite… heavy?

Today’s screencap comes from the first episode, which is an opening scene into Si Mok’s disability. We see him also struggle with headaches and a fainting episode at the end of the third episode.

To that end, I have the same question as Lee-chajang (as of this point, still a deputy.) How does no one at work know that Si Mok has fainting and dizzy spells, when he can blackout for over an hour?

Maybe the answer comes later in the episodes, but nothing rings in my memory. From the watcher standpoint, this doesn’t make as much sense logically, though it’s great plot in S2. I’ll talk about that when we get there!

The opening scene is a bit dramatic in the way those people climb out of their car and yell, rather than horn, considering that no one walks over to his window. It gives me a little bit of PSY’s ‘Right Now’ vibes, though that’s only the car.

Episode 1 is a great hook, though, in retrospect, I still couldn’t catch that Officer Kim (with curly hair) had laughed with Si Mok told him that he was a personal acquaintance with Park Moo Sung. I still can’t see it – and had thought that the scene served to exonerate him from knowing, though it turns out it is otherwise.

I also thought that it took extremely long before Si Mok called the police (and that they arrived extremely quickly). The good thing is that when I thought so, he proceeded to call for the police.

Si Mok and Yeo Jin got off on a rough start, but it made me smile to see that Yeo Jin was warm and upright the way I remembered her.

I’ve also come to wonder more, how Park Moo Sung and Si Mok became allied, and (though I already know who it has to be), as to how Si Mok came to hear from this sponsor that only two people in seven years had ever declined his advances.

The granny is a lot frailer than in my memory, and it knocked on my heart when she said eventually that she had been working at someone else’s party. A realistic dose of trying to save face, and also there, showing that she had brought the food back to her son.

When I first watched Secret Forest, I remember that I didn’t enjoy seeing Seo Dong Jae or Young Eun Soo very much. After seeing Eun Soo’s actor in Mr Queen, though, I think I’ve become more sympathetic to her plight as well. Towards the way that Si Mok replies her, to the way that she wanted to take on the case, relied on Dong Jae who seemed obviously like a warmer senior.

It’s clear that Si Mok can’t be the kind of senior that Eun Soo is looking for – since he doesn’t act with her interests at heart, only justice.

And it’s also odd to realise now, that within the first three episodes they already showed us that Lee Chang Joon wasn’t always a bad guy. Looking at Eun Soo’s expression, she probably did see and recognise him even as he walked away from the hospital door.

Questions like, how did he know where a minister was staying in the hospital? fall by the wayside when you realise that Eun Soo is desperate to save her father from himself.

Another touch was the way Chairman Lee always refers to Lee Chang Joon as Lee-seobang, reminding him that he is his son-in-law, and only in that title does LCJ exist to the Hanjo chairman.

I really like the translation where Si Mok tells Chang Joon to ‘drag me along’, compared to ‘guide me’. ggeul-eo sib-syeo makes a contrasting sound, where you can hear Si Mok’s polite and emotionless request to be dragged along.

The only thing that tops this, is of course, Chang Joon pushing Si Mok into his own chair physically making him ‘sit down’ like a child, but also subordinating him.

Si Mok who doesn’t do emotions well, still reads this power play. When he tells him to ‘please, give me this seat’, as if trying to flip the situation around, Chang Joon reacts in surprise.

Until later on, I guess we wouldn’t have realised that this might have been genuine disappointment. All the same, Lee-chajang doesn’t smile nor express any satisfaction at finding what appears to be Si Mok’s weakness.

We do see the first scene where Si Mok doesn’t get to eat his food. His Division 3 Head buys him jjajiangmyeon without letting him choose (we see that it’s the same dish that bujangnim has for himself).

But what sort of relationship is this, where a superior calls someone to a restaurant they’re familiar with – down to the room that doesn’t need to be specified. And then, a warning of an internal investigation.

Would we call it corruption? Si Mok doesn’t appear to particularly appreciate the heads-up, but bujangnim seems to care, somehow.

The same Division Head who bursts through the doors while Si Mok’s assistants are fawning over flowers and the comments under articles about Si Mok, and the one who tells him to write a written statement in his office.

I’m fond of Kang Won Cheol, but that only grows later on. In the first three episodes, he’s neither here nor there.

And I have to say, the way Si Mok’s assistants wondered if they would be fired if Si Mok was fired didn’t particularly inspire confidence.

Finally, closing thoughts on the first three episodes. Yeo Jin taking the granny home was really heart-warming. Seeing her confront her senior, and making him take the laptop out of the drawer (and the rest of the team groaning when he did) gave me hope.

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