Birth Secret
출생 비밀
 (2013) SBS 18 Episodes
Mystery Melodrama, Family, Grade: A

Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA

Piano Tension Music "Lee Hyun's Past"
Composer: Kim Ji Soo, from the OST
This is not just a Korean drama about a birth secret. There are family secrets, corporate secrets, friend secrets, and marital secrets involved in this well-written mystery melodrama. The acting talent in this drama called Birth Secret (2013) is really top-notch, especially from the lead male actor who was new to me, Yoo Joon Sang. Not classically handsome but still a powerhouse of an actor, I found myself rooting for his character pretty much throughout this drama. He kind of represented an "everyman" type of hero: someone of average intelligence and looks, but with a good work ethic and a good heart. Fate hands him some serious blows in life but he never really gives up in seeking to recover from them. Very admirable.

I also enjoyed the performance of the lead female Yu Ri Sung (The Snow Queen) in this drama, even though she had not been a favorite of mine before. I think now that she is maturing as an actress she appeals to me more. I liked the force and clarity and sympathy with which she played her character here, and she was also helped by having the phenomenal young actress Kim So Hyun (The Suspicious Housekeeper) playing her character when young -- they even had a slight resemblance going between them, so that when the show jumped into the future it didn't seem far-fetched that they were playing the same person. Yu Ri was 32 when she made this drama and So Hyun was 14. Yet somehow they complemented each other perfectly in looks and in the emotional ranges of their character.

Yu Ri Sung and Kim So Hyun play genius character
Jung Yi Hyun with matching authenticity

The Story: Jung Yi Hyun (Kim So Hyun) is a young woman who is gifted with a genius level IQ, a photographic memory, and an excellent education from a private high school, thanks to the hard work of her single mother, who falls ill with pancreatic cancer just when Yi Hyun is about to graduate. Yi Hyun confronts a man who had stolen a lot of money from her mother, and at the same time another young man named Hong Kyung Doo (Yoo Joon Sang) is also searching for this same crook because he owed his own mother money and now she needs expensive surgery to save her life.
In the chaos that ensues, as the three of them confront each other, Yi Hyun is able to distract Kyung Doo and flee with what she thinks is the money in a brown envelope, only to find out later it wasn't money at all in the package but religious flyers cut up to feel like money! Kyung Doo is devastated when he realizes this schoolgirl deceived him, and he goes looking for Yi Hyun, with little success; his mother dies and he has to bury her, and he swears to get even with that schoolgirl who tricked him. He has no idea until much later that she didn't receive any money either and that the guy had swindled both their mothers and them too.


Meanwhile, Yi Hyun's mother tells her about her biological father for the first time, a troubled genius academic named
Choi Gook (Kap Soo Kim), who has autistic characteristics like social impairment and sensitivity to loud noises and voices. She tells her daughter to seek out her father if anything happens to her and that he will help pay her tuition to college. She was accepted by several Ivy League colleges in America because of her brilliance, but it's possible she might not be able to attend any of them without additional funds above and beyond any scholarships she might receive. Her mother tragically passes on from the cancer and she visits her father for the first time and he seems shocked to know he has a daughter. Will he cough up any money for her to go to college? Is it possible they could forge a personal relationship as father and daughter after so many years?


As Yi Hyun the teenager falls asleep clutching her mom's picture we then cut to ten years in the future and Yi Hyun (now played by Yu Ri Sung) wakes up under a tunnel and appears homeless, wearing ragged clothes she doesn't recognize. She finds her breasts leaking milk and is shocked. Did she have a baby? She eventually discovers she has retrograde amnesia: she has lost ten years of her memory from age 17 to 27. She ends up living with her rich but emotionally cold uncle, but he has an underhanded reason for taking her in, which we discover later. She's also unable to remember her husband Hong Kyung Doo - who was the same man who had lost that money to the crook and tried to search for her afterward - and their little daughter Hae Deum (Gal So Won), who is also a genius with a photographic memory.

When the loss of her cell phone coincidentally puts her in touch with her lost family, Kyung Doo is delirious with joy when he recognizes her, for he had thought she might have died when Hae Deum was a baby. He shows up at her place of work, a successful family run company (but with a lot of secret illegal activity going on underneath the surface) where her uncle is CEO. She has risen to executive status at the company, after earning a degree at Harvard University in America, and when Kyung Doo frightens her with his boisterous public protestations of love and joy at seeing his wife again she is shocked. She has no idea who he is! Security guards force him out of the building but Yi Hyun is profoundly affected by the experience. She totally doesn't understand how she could have married such an overly emotional, unsuitable man, much less have a daughter with him.


However, once she meets her daughter Hae Deum in person her heart warms to the little girl and she wants to help her have a better chance at life than the smart child could have with her poor father, who struggles to make a living making dumplings in a shop. She tries to bribe Kyung Doo with company stock into giving up their daughter to her for full custody. At first he is highly offended but then he unselfishly considers that little Hae Deum will receive a far better education with her genius mother with all her wealth and privileges, instead of with him since he can barely scrape a few dollars together. He sacrificially agrees that she can take their daughter to live with her in the family mansion. In the meantime Kyung Doo establishes a relationship with Yi Hyun's father
Choi Gook and takes the elderly man to live with him, which makes Yi Hyun feel guilty. Choi Gook is walking with difficulty now and has even more troubles relating to people, and it turns out someone had tried to bump him off -- someone who happens to be close to Yi Hyun.

With time and in new meetings, old feelings bubble up between Yi Hyun and Kyung Doo and to me this was the most delicious part of the series, to watch their new, more trusting relationship develop slowly but surely. The many side characters were only of moderate interest to me: the usual meddling relatives who only cared about money, the friends on the sidelines who can't really do much to help the couple because they have their own issues going on.

What I loved most was watching Kyung Doo and Yi Hyun mature in their relationship with one another, their ensuing honesty, and how Yi Hyun's new security in that relationship helps to bring old memories to the forefront so that she can deal with them instead of suppressing them. Kyung Doo tones down emotionally so that he isn't flying off the wall all the time, and he also becomes more successful financially, and Yi Hyun realizes there's more to life than financial success, and that to have someone who puts you first before themselves is a blessing that few ever experience.

Yi Hyun had totally forgotten how they'd met again years after their mothers had died, and how they had fallen in love. In moving flashbacks we are shown that it happened at the brink of their dual suicide attempts on a mountain top. He had been super kind to her and they had decided to rely on each other for strength instead of dying -- the genius gal and the simple guy with a tender heart. Little by little her memories start returning, and some pretty disturbing ones that could implicate her in a crime related to a slush fund she could have implemented at the company. Will Kyung Doo be able to help Yi Hyun regain her memories completely, and make sense of their life together, past, present, and possibly future?

Actor Han Sang Jin is quickly becoming one of my favorite character actors in K-dramas --
he always gives cool, multi-layered performances

Skeletons in her family's closet are revealed, threatening everyone's lives and economic status. Yi Hyun also deals with old feelings of anger against her father. The more she regains her memories of the ten years missing in her life the more responsibility Yi Hyun feels to make things right in her personal and professional life, even though her actions could make key family members angry enough to harm her, Kyung Doo, and their daughter. I particularly enjoyed watching the moral vacillations of Yi Hyun's uncle's son, who was also a chief executive at the company. This character, Choi Ki-Tae (actor Han Sang-Jin who cleverly played the funny conniving cousin character in Hyde, Jekyll and I), goes from a bastard to nice guy by the end of the story. Love, love, love the reforming of characters in Korean dramas: that is the prime reason they keep me coming back for more, time and time again! 

I loved this heartfelt family story of second chances and opposites attracting. Despite the overdone amnesia angle I thought this drama quite unique and at times even thought-provoking. The soundtrack was also beautiful and effective, especially a tension music piece on piano that I loved. I wouldn't miss this show if I were you. It's special.