Jun-seok is a screenwriter who hasn't produced a decent script in a decade. Despairing that the muse has left him, he surprises himself one day by hooking up with one of his students, Yeon-hee, after running into her by chance outside of class. Their sexual affair soon heats up, but after they begin sharing ideas and writing together, inspiration returns to him and he begins writing with new passion. Yeon-hee, for her part, displays a growing talent that may even surpass her teacher-lover.
Meanwhile, Jun-seok’s son Min-soo follows his dream and begins work as an understudy to the well-known chef and TV personality Hee-sook (who, it turns out, also happens to be Yeon-hee’s mother). Hee-sook, despite her fame, is living through a creatively barren period when none of her culinary inventions stir up much excitement. However, one day the starstruck Minsoo seduces her in the dressing room, and before long the two are sharing a bed as well as their ideas for inventive new dishes. Just like the screenwriter, Hee-sook’s creativity is rejuvenated by her young lover, and she also recognizes that Min-soo’s talent may rival her own.
My Secret Partner can be classified as a sex comedy, with an emphasis on the former word. Much of the film's 120-minute running time is passed in intimate circumstances, and it ranks as one of the more explicit Korean releases of 2011. The history of Korean sex films is long and interesting, but recently they have undergone a shift. While a decade ago, young or middle-aged men were the clear target audience for films like Kwak Ji-kyun’s coming-of-age erotic drama Plum Blossom (2000), these days a growing percentage of the audience for such films are women over 30. One can sense that My Secret Partner was written to appeal to women as much as men, and in that regard, it's a bit smarter than the average sex film.
In its own playful way, the film makes much of the symmetrical relationship between the two couples, while also managing to raise some questions about the power relations between teachers and students in a broader sense. But to his credit, director Park Hun-soo (Junomyung Bakery, Two Guys) never attempts to get too serious. The humor in the film, often centered around nosy or prying acquaintances, is handled well, and scene by scene the story always manages to hold the viewer's attention. The cast also turns in solid performances, particularly Kim Young-ho (Hong Sangsoo’s Night and Day) as Jun-seok and TV actress Kim Hye-seon as Hee-sook, making her return to the big screen after 18 years.
Local critics, unsurprisingly, trashed the film (one commented, "only the sex scenes remain in the memory"), but one suspects that is more because of its genre than its execution. Although not perfect by any means, My Secret Partner does remain in the memory, and not just the sex.