I’m concurrently watching both shows, and I can’t help but notice the strong similarities between the two. Since both shows are produced by the same PD, stylistically they look the same. There are the cute manhwa representations of the OTP that begin each ep, and the OSTs are light, fluffy ballads, suited to romcom.
However, there are still differences between the two…and one clear winner between them.
1) The Candy
Both Da-hyun and Yoo-mi meet the Candy basic criteria, being middle class, working women. But Yoo-mi in particular, manages to check all the boxes for “Candy” requirements. She remains positive, despite having to face certain difficulties in her life – namely her previous prolonged unemployment, and her mother, who leeches from her.
And like most Kdramas’ Candy, her soft spoken, gentle and considerate nature is taken advantage of by the male lead, and a few annoying frenemies. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she is a doormat. Like other Candies before her, Yoo-mi does have a fiery temper, when pushed to the brink. But such a trait only enhances her overall “cuteness”, especially from the male lead’s POV.
In contrast, although Da-hyun also has an upbeat attitude, she doesn’t allow herself to be bullied like Yoo-mi. We have seen several instances where she can bargain as hard as Businessman Jae-in, and isn’t above voicing out her displeasure when she gets the short end of the stick (like how she points out a real couple will try to squeeze time out to date, and not do a work-date). Whereas Yoo-mi juz tries to take as much bullying from Jin-wook as she can until she blows up.
And it is interesting that in the Jae-in/ Da-hyun OTP relationship, it’s Da-hyun who keeps reminding herself and Jae-in about their contractual romance, even though she clearly has fallen for Jae-in. It’s like she is throwing Jae-in’s words back at him since he is the one who came up with the silly idea of pretend-date in the first place.
There is something weirdly gratifying in having Da-hyun wield that much self-control and power over their relationship, like the ball has always been in her court and the outcome depends on how she wants to play it, instead of being the usual passive-receiver of a traditional courtship (like Jin-wook/Yoo-mi’s romance).
2) The power balance
And that leads me to the power struggle inherent in both romantic relationships. Although Secret is only at ep6, it is pretty obvious that Jin-wook is in a more superior position. Not only is he Yoo-mi’s boss at work and can abuse his authority to make her scamper around preparing dosiraks for him at godforsaken hours (and even on weekends!!), he is always the one who physically (and menacingly) advances towards a retreating Yoo-mi.
It kinda got me irked after a while. I understand that Jin-wook is frustrated that Yoo-mi is trying to forget the one-night stand which he cannot un-remember, and he wants to stir up a reaction from her because he still likes her. But is it necessary to keep invading her personal space? Yoo-mi’s response to Jin-wook’s aggressiveness is to have bouts of wide-eyed hiccups, which to me, is like the reaction of a scared rabbit in the face of a tiger.
Da-hyun, in contrast, will juz stomp Jae-in’s foot (as she has done so on several occasions) if he comes too close or perform unsolicited skinship with her. So while Jae-in loves to perform the Kdramas’ Chaebol Wrist Grab, his aggressiveness pales in contrast to Jin-wook.
3) The Chaebol
One owns a hotel + shopping mall chain, and the other, a men’s underwear company. Probably Jae-in beats Jin-wook in the wealth department, since Jin-wook did mention to his dad that their company “isn’t THAT huge”. Whatever the case, like the ladies, both men do meet the criteria for the rich chaebol who is cold (and mean) on the front but soft and cuddly on the inside.
Surprisingly though, Jae-in displays his soft underbelly to his ladylove much faster than Jin-wook. It doesn’t take many months for Jae-in to assume the role of a protective, hovering boyfriend, who caves to his girlfriend’s whims. Like how he knocks off earlier to rush to meet her, and hilariously tries to explain why he had makeup on his jacket (when he really doesn’t need to, since their relationship is “not serious”). This is in contrast to Jae-in’s earlier caustic behaviors, where he overrides all of Da-hyun’s objections, whether they are issues relating to skinship or watching a classical piano concert.
Jin-wook remains generally mean to Yoo-mi, even though we get to see his softie side ALL the time (especially in the epilogues, where he mopes alone in his empty house, lovingly feeds his stray cat, or takes Instagram pics of the dosiraks Yoo-mi prepared for him in his office, while gushing over how cute they are…)
I’d say Jin-wook is probably prouder than Jae-in, and his refusal to let his guard down in front of Yoo-mi likely stems from their one-night stand 3 years ago. Yoo-mi had “left him in the lurch” to face the ridicule of a group of ahjummas alone, after a night where he had removed his usual cynical mask (among other things) in front of her. Subconsciously, he may be preventing himself from being forced into a vulnerable position again.
4) The Narrative
Both are unconventional in their own ways. For 1%, we have a contractual romance that morphs into an actual romance after a few weeks. Both parties unwittingly end up playing the roles of real boy-girlfriend despite having the relationship’s expiry date hanging above them. And the relationship’s end-date is THE main obstacle blocking our OTP.
In 1%’s case, we don’t have kimchi-slapping, water-tossing mother-in-laws or a chaebol family who is resistant to having a “normal” (aka POOR) girl marrying their precious son/ grandson. In fact, Grandpa plays matchmaker and WANTS Jae-in to marry Da-hyun. Mum also has no issue with Da-hyun as a daughter-in-law. Only impediment (in addition to the contract’s expiry) is Da-hyun’s parents. So refreshing to have parents who actually are not in favour of having their daughter marry a chaebol.
Secret, on the other hand, starts with the end first. By having the OTP engage in a one-night stand, (where both parties are mutually attracted to each other) it colours the proceeding dynamics between the OTP. So instead of discovering that they do LIKE each other after bouts of bickering and pigtail pulling (like in a conventional rom-com), Secret’s narrative goes into having the OTP confirm that they do like each other, from Day (or Night) 1.
I am juz waiting for Secret’s narrative to get even more twisted when (and if) Jin-wook mistakes Yoo-mi 3-year old little brother as their son begotten from their one-night stand. That will be hilarious.
5) The Second Female Bitch (SFB)
The ONLY constant in both Secret and 1% is the unnecessary but conventional evil called the Second Female Bitch. Joo-hee in 1% is juz illogically ridiculous. I have no idea why she (and many other SFB before her) is so dead insistent on marrying the male lead (in this case, Jae-in), to the point she stoops to all sorts of dirty tricks that only make all of us hate her. And that kidnapping stunt? That’s a crime.
Similarly for Hye-ri. She throws herself (literally, sometimes) at Jin-wook, insisting that they are a “couple” to anyone who wanders near. Like Joo-hee, she also suffers from some severe delusions (or is it a language barrier?) where “Go away” means “I love you”.
In conclusion, I’d say 1% wins hands-down in terms of characterization and narrative. However, it is still early in the story for Secret. Who knows? It may turn out to be a dark horse.