The Poor Woman in a Popular K-Drama

Let me ruin What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (2018) for you.

Anjali Joshi
Modern Women
7 min readOct 20, 2022


Image credit: Drama With a Side of Kimchi

I started watching What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim when I was bored out of my guts and decided to invest in a K-Drama after a long time.

The last one I’d watched was probably To the Beautiful You (2012), some time back in 2015. So, I dived in knowing fully what this meant. Devoting myself to 16 episodes of at least 1 hour each, filled with problematic themes.

Male Boss-Female Secretary love stories are always a dangerous path to tread.

I loved the premise — I have to admit.

Who does not like watching the modern Korean woman, getting ready for her urban corporate job, her dressing table decked with all the latest cosmetics (brands that are paying the drama sweetly for the occasional cameos)?

Kim Mi-so getting ready for work, hair curler in hand, sitting in front of a dressing table full of cosmetics.
Image credits:

Also, who does not like watching a strong independent working woman, in a sexist country that makes up for its anti-feminist culture with soft masculine men (who are secretly chauvinists)?

Kim Mi-so (played by Park Min Young) is everything every girl wants to be. Or is she?

Meet Mi-so — Overworked, Corporate Employee

Mi-so is overworked, clearly being exploited by her boss, Young Joon (played by Park Seo Joon). Her job role as personal secretary extends to dangerous territories of mothering Young Joon, which is totally perfectly normal in the Secretary Kim universe.

She selects his clothes, takes care of his girlfriends, makes his tea, all the while bouncing and running around in painful high heels and restrictive pencil skirts. Totally the dream.

Oh, and yes, she ties his tie for him every morning. Dude literally throws a fit when she takes a day off and he can’t tie it himself.

Kim Mi-so ties her boss’s tie in the morning before work.
Just Kim Mi-so tying her boss’s tie for him before work. Image credit: World of drama queen

The above shot looks very domestic and it’s just one of many such scenes in the drama. All along the viewer has to play along with the fact that they have nothing romantic going on. It’s a totally professional workplace behaviour going on there. Uh-huh.

Meet Young Joon, the Narcissist

Yes, Mi-so’s boss is jokingly played off as someone who’s obsessed with his own good looks. It’s a running joke throughout the drama. But it’s ridiculous, anyway.

He tells he does not need a partner because of his “aura” (which is something you’ll begin rolling your eyes at after a while).

Image credits: iflix

And he keeps the occasional no-feelings-involved girlfriends to evade the “gay rumours”. Some things are just so wonderfully Asian.

Of course, we later find out that’s only because he’s had the hots for Mi-so ever since he came across her resumé. But let’s focus on the cultural consequences, shall we?

Enter Morpheus — Who is Jacob Black Reborn

Every-fanfiction-wet-dream-ever plays out when Mi-so runs into Young Joon’s brother, who happens to be the author of her favourite book.

Morpheus (played by Lee Tae Hwan) immediately falls for Mi-so, which is literally the cue for Twilight-level competition to ensue. Young Joon wants to keep Mi-so, except he has no valid excuse other than work.

Just the regular dick-measuring contest. Image credits: Drama Current

It doesn’t help that Orpheus used to bully Young Joon when they were young. Grown-up Young Joon does not let that stop him anymore. A dick-measuring contest plays out for a few episodes until Orpheus has to back off.

Throughout this, Mi-so is just something the brothers want to win. An end to their sibling rivalry. While both of them initially want her for separate reasons, it’s intensified only because of that aggressive male need to establish dominance.

There’s a happy end to their rivalry, in case you’re curious. This is a comedy — it can’t stay dark for too long.

Consolation Prize

Perhaps something that requires applause is the way the drama dealt with PTSD. Young Joon’s fear of cable ties and Mi-so’s fear of spiders rooted from a bigger trauma of the past.

Childhood trauma can be paralysing and they rightfully depict it.

The drama also has an accurate representation of what high-paying corporate jobs mean to the broke university graduate. Go Gwi Nam is outwardly prim and proper while he lives a minimal life. He has had a poor childhood and wants to save as much as he can so that his children don’t struggle like he did.

Probably the only romantic sub-plot that I actually liked is the one between Go Gwi Nam (played by Hwang Chansung) and Mi-so’s trainee Ji-a (played by Pyo Ye Jin). It’s the generic polar opposites falling for each other story, except they both learn a little from each other — not spend luxuriously yet not forget oneself in the mad race to save up for tomorrow.

Go Gwi Nam and Ji-a put together an important shredded document and fall in love. Image credits: Cheyenne Mapeso

Poor Mi-so

One thing is obvious — Mi-so was doing so much more than her job entailed her to do simply because she was plagued by the fear that she was under-qualified for the position.

She is also poor and the sole breadwinner of her family which puts her in a very vulnerable position vis-a-vis her job. And Young Joon makes her work overtime, emotionally harassing her when she underperforms. All of this is portrayed as normal corporate workstyle.

There are constant parallels made between Mi-so and the company President’s secretary, who is a chaotic and careless mess. The point is quite obvious — Mi-so is the perfect personal secretary because she’s dexterous and pays attention to detail.

The Bottom Line — I Hate How Happy the Drama Makes Me Feel

It’s all very cute, that’s the problem. Especially once the boss-secretary duo starts dating. The occasional family flashbacks with good and bad memories are all carefully added ingredients to brew a drama that people find difficult to hate.

Mi-so and Young Joon take shelter under his jacket when it rains during an office trip.
Image credits: Chasing Carefree

Towards the end, we also warm up to the hateful boss character that Young Joon is initially portrayed as, simply because the poor guy had a traumatic childhood experience.

You give him the pass because he’s actually — surprise, surprise — beginning to understand that he’s not the center of this girl’s life and that she wants to live it on her own terms. More surprise — he proclaims that he will support her regardless of what she chooses to do in her life.

This basic act of decency from her billionaire partner is supposed to make everyone swoon at this point.

The Concept is Shitty, But You Can’t Dismiss It Entirely

The drama has a little dose of everything — girl with eating disorder, hyper-chivalrous man, woman who wants to be pampered in chivalry, brotherly feud, absent parents, poverty and the boon of the corporate job in the face of it, and so much more.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with the situation Mi-so traps herself in, according to the plot. She is poor and had to be the sole breadwinner for her family.

I think what the drama wanted to portray was the life of a personal secretary who had been taken for granted all her life, until she suddenly decides to quit her job and live her life. Add a plot twist of a shared past of trauma with her boss and suddenly everything has changed. They are both victims finding solace in each other.

Mi-so also cannot be bought back to her old job with money, so the boss has to step down from his pedestal in a way. This is also probably the point of the drama, because this self-sufficient powerful man realises he isn’t everything without this woman by his side.

Him “winning her back” inevitably leads to romantic situations, pushed by the competition that Orpheus unexpectedly brings forth.

What I find tragic is the romanticisation of the work she willfully agrees to. Any real-life underweight, anorexic woman in her place would have lived a short, painful life.

I also cannot come to terms with the fact that her corporate boss only starts treating her with kindness once they start dating. Now what message does this give to women in corporate?

This is worsened by the fact that Mi-so decides to stay at the company and not quit after all, proving that nothing’s really “Wrong with Secretary Kim” as the title suggests. She realises that her place in life is right next to her boss’s side, helping him through his difficulties.

How cute, right?

Bonus mention because I found this random possibly queer coded moment in the drama. Young Joon introduces Mi-so to Yu Mi, this pretty childhood friend of his. On my first watch I was convinced that Yu Mi is a transwoman. I have no clue how I came to this conclusion except for the reference to the fact that she has abandoned inheriting her family business, to pursue her own restaurant business.

She says something along the lines of “It’s great to live my own life, doing what I want to do”. On rewatching, I realised I’d completely misread the dialogue out of context. Nevertheless, it was an interesting possibility to pursue.

Thanks for reading!



Anjali Joshi
Modern Women

Indian. Lazy English major and part-time book hoarder |Currently grappling with my student and writer alter-egos.