[First Impressions] “Prime Minister And I” – Just a Bunch of Mildly Jolly Fellows
My last first impressions article for “1 Night, 2 Days Season 3” went over fairly well. Got some great discussions going and it was nice to see that my opinions weren’t completely off kilter. So with my new found confidence I’m going to step far outside of my comfort zone and write some first impressions I had while watching KBS’s new romantic comedy drama “Prime Minister And I” featuring YoonA, Lee Bum Soo, Chae Jung Ahn, Yoon Si Yoon and Ryu Jin. Is this the glorious return of romantic comedies that I was desperately hoping for all year, or does it seem like something to fast forward through when I am bored? The first two episode might not provide all the answers but it should hopefully still be enough to get the gist of things.
Disclaimer Alert!: The writer is not really an expert at anything much and is just a mere casual fan of dramas. The writer has been known to be rather weird and cynical at times. The writer’s opinions certainly DO NOT reflect the opinion of Soompi’s news team or Soompi as a whole.
This Is Where You Proceed to Point and Laugh at My Drama Tastes
On a personal note, 2013 has been a rather disappointing year for me in terms of dramas. I have a rather specific taste in dramas, and while 2013 has provided us with some great dramas, from “I Can Hear Your Voice” to “Master’s Sun,” none of them have really captured my interests. Most of this year was spent lazily skimming through these dramas for a few episodes before getting bored and going back to watching jingle cats on Youtube.
Now is probably a good time to perhaps list out a few dramas that I really liked over the last couple years. This way you can see for yourself what kind of dramas usually take my fancy and this will hopefully help later on when you read through my first impressions of “Prime Minster And I.”
Before I begin listing a whole bunch of names, I’m going to specifically mention one drama. As for why one I’m going to single out this particular drama, that is because I personally think it was one of the greatest dramas produced in my decade or so of watching this fine art. What is this drama you ask? It is SBS’s “History Of A Salaryman” that aired in the first half of 2012. From my personal perspective, it was pretty much perfect and probably the best comedic drama I have ever seen. It had everything from brilliant production, a fantastic story that was well paced, a story that didn’t go too far down the path of insanity, and a whole host of supremely likable characters that were both subtle in their execution while also having a great amount of depth.
It was one of the only dramas where both the main cast and its immediate sub casts were all immediately likable and told their own unique stories without making the whole drama seem disjointed or otherwise confusing. The drama also elegantly moved back and forwards between comedic relief and meaningful story without ever seeming like it was leaning too much on either end. The addition of the rarely used “epilogue” cuts during the credits was also great in terms of filling in bits of story that would otherwise have been omitted from the grand picture and it really helped in building up the characters of each of the cast. It’s a drama that I have gushed about previously in some of my older articles but so far I’ve yet to see something that really came close to topping what I saw in early 2012.
It is also relevant to our discussions since this happens to be Lee Bum Soo’s last comedic drama roles before taking on more serious roles in “Doctor Jin” and “Iris 2.” Suffice to say, a romantic comedy involving Lee Bum Soo is going to carry a lot of weight for me especially off the back of “History Of A Salaryman.” In an interesting note, both “Prime Minister And I” and “History Of A Salaryman” are Monday-Tuesday dramas as well.
Moving on, it is pretty rare for me to actually complete a drama from start to finish. I have to really enjoy what I’m watching to even get past the first couple episodes, so any dramas that I actually complete are personally somethings that I found to be of exceptional quality. So here is just a list of dramas that I can remember completing. These include KBS’s “Good Doctor,” SBS “Sign,” KBS “That Fool,” KBS “Full House,” tvN’s “Reply 1997 & Reply 1994,” KBS “Oh Feel Young,” “KBS “Delightful Girl Choon Hyang,” KBS “Boys Over Flower,” and SBS “Incarnation of Money.” There are also a few where I’ve watched most of the episodes but never really ended up finishing like KBS “Dream High,” KBS “Big,” tvN/Mnet “Monstar” and a whole bunch of sitcoms like “Nonstop,” “High Kick” and “Tae Hee Hye Kyo Ji Hyun.”
I’m sure I don’t have to specifically mention it but as you can see from the list above, I’m am absolute sucker for decent romantic comedies. They tend to be the ones that I enjoy most and the ones that I usually go out of my way to watch. There is definitely a few exceptions on that list like “Good Doctor,” “Sign” and “Incarnation of Money” but those are mainly on the outright strength of their characters and story, of which “characterization” and more specifically “likable characters” is something that is extremely important to me.
With that out of the way you can begin to see why I’ve taken an interest in “Prime Minster And I.” It’s a romantic comedy from a broadcaster that seems to take up the vast majority of my drama viewing experience, with a lead that I’m extremely interested in (Lee Bum Soo) along with what initially seems to be a list of likable characters. So is it going to be on my grand list of completed dramas? Well…
Next Up: I try and make sense of the story of “Prime Minister And I.” Result, one mildly unamused writer.
The Story so Far in “Prime Minister And I”…
Here is where I will attempt to summarize the story of “Prime Minister And I” in a single paragraph. Guy A is a famous person that is smart, handsome, well off etc. We then have Girl B who is just your everyday working girl. Through a series of somewhat unbelievable bits of luck and misfortune, they end up getting involved in a scandal. To fight off this scandal, they enter into a contracted pretend marriage filled with mishaps and general misgivings about each other. Amongst all this, there is a whole bunch of love triangles, crisis situations, and what not to drive the story forward. Then [Massive spoiler alert], they eventually start to fall in love with each other as they interact throughout the story and they live happily ever after.
Seriously, you don’t go to McDonald’s expecting a Michelin 3 star quality full course meal, and you certainly don’t watch a romantic comedy expecting to see a story that pushes the envelope of story telling in ways not seen since Shakespeare put quill to parchment. The story for “Prime Minister And I” is merely a framework that is there to provide a reasonable platform for the cast.
One of the biggest aspects of watching a romantic comedy, especially ones like “Prime Minister And I,” is to watch how all the characters interact with each other in more and more interesting ways. The story is a just means to an end and setting aside any lofty ambitions for the story is the best course of action if you want to get some entertainment out of these lighthearted affairs.
However, if the story of “Prime Minister And I” sounds similar, that’s because it’s pretty damn similar to another KBS romantic comedy “That Fool” with Hwang Jung Min and Kim Ah Joong, except for the changed the gender roles and professions. It’s also pretty similar to “Full House” but definitely not as much as “That Fool.”
If you actually want a more detailed recap of the first two episodes, then our Soompi forum thread for “Prime Minster And I” would be a great place to start. I would do a quick recap myself but this article is getting long enough as it is without having to go through the rather rapid story pace of the first two episodes.
But at the very least here is a quick character introduction. YoonA plays the happy go lucky celebrity reporter Nam Da Jung who in a cruel twist of fate gets involved with the ever popular and talented politician Kwon Yool played by Lee Bum Soo.
Kwon Yool is a politician of some renown but hides a rather unfortunate past involving his previous wife.
Kwon Yool’s Chief of Public Affairs is Seo Hye Joo played by Chae Jung Ahn. She was Kwon Yool’s junior in university and on first impressions is a rather cold person. Obviously, she will loosen up in later episodes given the general progression of these dramas, but for now she is cold as ice.
You also have Kang In Ho, director of activities played by Yoon Si Yoon. A handsome and intelligent bloke that helps out with the general affairs of the two leads. Also seems to have hidden agendas that they casually try to hint at during the first two episodes, complicating an already bloated story.
Finally for the leads we have Park Joon Ki, the minister of finance, played by Ryu Jin. He is the brother of Kwon Yool’s deceased wife and Kwon Yool’s current rival. His own motivations and back story will probably play a bigger part in the second half of the drama. Also, don’t be surprised if he somehow manages to get involved in the massive love triangle that is soon to arise.
Next Up: I actually finally get to my first impressions of “Prime Minister And I.” Kept you waiting didn’t I? You won’t be disappointed…I think…
Enough Yapping, How was “The Prime Minister and I”Actually Like?
Lets get the easy part out of the way first. Production wise, it is typical KBS. CG is used sparingly, and any one that has watched a lot of dramas will recognize the typical KBS style of drama recording. It avoids the more gang buster movie style that SBS usually favors for its dramas, and is once again demonstrative of KBS’s more conservative tastes. It’s kind of hard to explain what really gives it the whole “KBS” touc,h but if I was to describe it in a single word, I would say it feels more “natural.” Lighting is rather subtle and camera angles are conservative.
Like I previously mentioned, CG is also used rather sparingly and is for the most part done rather tastefully, especially in the scene where Kwon Yool is introduced in the form of animated news paper articles. The only real blight in this otherwise decent package is the rather glaringly awful CG they used to put the “Scandal News” logo on the building in the first episode. It was only seen for a fraction of a second though, so its mainly just me picking knits like an OCD monkey picking fleas off a flea circus.
I previously mentioned most of my opinions on the story, so I rather not focus on it too much again. However, lets go through some of the finer points of the story. There appears to be a rather convoluted back story in regards to Kwon Yool’s past and specifically his wife. It’s mentioned a few times during the first two episodes and it has the hints of a story element that’s going to rear its ugly head at random points in the story as an easy way of adding tension to the story.
Another story element that I have some reservations about is Kwon Yool’s family with his daughter and two sons. It’s clear that some of the initial story push is going to involve Nam Da Jung (YoonA) trying to get close with the kids, which naturally leads to Kwon Yool’s acceptance of his new make believe wife. Then, we have the rivalry between Kwon Yool and his brother in law Park Joon Ki, both connected to the same back story involving the Prime Minister’s wife. Then, we got the obvious love triangle between the four main leads, the little tussles with the two core leads, and then finally the war with the reporters.
If you can’t tell, I’m not really swooning over the story. I think it has a bit too much complexity to it and a whole lot of intertwining conflicts that might end up spreading the story a bit thin, especially if this ends up being a 16 episode drama. In essence, there seems to be quite a lot to cover but not really enough episodes to do all of them justice. “That Fool” avoided some of this complexity by simplifying some of the back stories of the lead characters and not having a large love triangle. Whether my misgivings about the complexities of the story for the “Prime Minister and I” are a bit premature remains to be seen, but at the very least I can say that the story moved forward at a fairly decent pace in the first two episodes.
Lets now move onto the characters before calling an end to these first impressions. At this point I would like to make some comparisons to the two SM actresses currently involved in acting projects. By that, I mean YoonA in “Prime Minster And I” and Go Ara in “Reply 1994.” Lets get the most important point out of the way, it feels like the two actresses have finally found a role that suits their personality and general demeanor to almost perfection.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of either YoonA or Go Ara as actresses. Their previous dramas have never really caught my fancy and their previous roles always felt rather conservative and in some ways a bit dull. Not so, however, in their two latest roles. Both actresses have really taken to their roles like Winnie the Pooh in a honey store and it shows in their acting, which is both expressive and interesting to watch.
There are of course other similarities in the two roles, both play comedic roles, both are meant to be rather down to earth characters with a bubbling personality, and both of them appear to have minimal back story to keep their characters moving forward rather than dwelling on back story for character complexity. If there is however one difference between the two characters then it is in their execution. Go Ara’s character, Song Na Jung, in “Reply 1994,” is superbly written and naturally ebbs and flows with the overall story. Her character is both subtle and filled with depth, and her character doesn’t have to continually resort to exaggerations to get maximum comedic effect. Most importantly, she seems like a natural and believable character through and through.
So, what’s my issue with Nam Da Jung? Her character in comparison seems somewhat over-exaggerated, especially in comparison to her other leads. Song Na Jung appears exaggerated at times as wel,l but she never goes above and beyond her other fellow leads. Not quite the case with Nam Da Jung, whose exaggerated voice and gesture seem to occasionally overshadow all the over leads in the episodes so far. It’s not helped by the fact that both Chae Jung Ahn and Yoon Si Yoon’s character seem to be rather subdued so far, and it doesn’t appear that their characters will lean heavily towards being more lighthearted.
They tried to address some of this character exaggeration in the 2nd episode (and to some extent in the first episode) by injecting some depth to her character through her more sincere interactions with the prime minister and her father. It would have perhaps been nice to see her character build up a bit more slowly, but it’s sort of inevitable given all the story events they will need to cover over the course of the drama. In short, YoonA acts out her character brilliantly, but her character is written out in such a way that she seems to overshadow everything else in the drama much to my concern.
This is starting to get a bit long so I’ll try and keep this next part short. It’s about Lee Bum Soo’s character, Kwon Yool. Once again just like YoonA, you can’t fault the actor’s interpretation of the character, and frankly this can be said for pretty much all the other actors in the dramas. They all act out their roles exactly as how I imagine them to be in accordance with the story. On a personal preference however, I definitely prefer Lee Bum Soo when he lets his hair down a bit and acts more down to Earth.
It’s clear how his character is going to develop from this point onward (From a some what cold and stiff man to a more caring and lighthearted individual), but I would have preferred the character to have developed in the opposite direction. I tend to find that having a lighthearted character develop to a point where they have moments of pure sincerity to have a much bigger impact on me as a viewer. But this is more of a personal preference thing rather than a fault of the writing, especially given that this is status quo for how characters of this type develop over the course of the drama (See Kim Ah Joong in “That Fool” and Jung Ji Hoon in “Full House“).
However, I have a slight concern. A character becoming more lighthearted worked fine in “That Fool” and “Full House” because as celebrities, it doesn’t seem really out of order for them to have more bubbly personalities. However Kwon Yool is a prime minister, and they’ve spent a lot of time in the first two episode developing him into this character that is this just and upstanding fellow who is the height of gentlemen personalities. If they then spend the rest of the drama dismantling this image bit by bit to get his character more in line with Nam Da Jung, I get the sense that it might feel a bit jarring and rather hard to believe given his profession.
Yes yes, I’m well aware of watching dramas with a willing sense of disbelief but even still, I can’t help but have some concerns about how Kwon Yool’s character is going develop. One concern I won’t have, howeve,r is Lee Bum Soo’s ability to express a more laid back character if and when it eventually comes to it. Why? Because he has already demonstrated his brilliant ability to do exactly that in the few “out of reality” scenes that were shown in the first two episodes (The scene where YoonA is trying to convince her fellow Scandal News colleagues come to mind).
The other characters are something I’ll reserve judgement for now. They’ve only really set a baseline character for Yoon Si Yoon, Chae Jung Ahn and Ryu Jin’s character in the first two episodes, and they definitely have the scent of slow burning characters that develop at a snails pace over the course of the whole drama. Whether they get more interesting thou remains to be seen, especially with Chae Jung Ahn’s character, Seo Hye Joo, who so far seem so uptight as a character that I wonder how far they plan to loosen her character up just to get maximum dramatic/comedic effect.
Next Up: Lets try and summarize everything I’ve said up to this point and come to a fitting conclusion: should you or should you not watch “Prime Minister and I?” Hint, the answer ranges from very yes to kind of yes.
Lets Try and Summaries the Massive Wall of Text
Lets get down to the most important question then. Should you watch this drama and give it a chance? If you are a fan of romantic comedies then, yes, it’s a no brainer. While it doesn’t immediately capture my interests as “History of A Salaryman” or “That Fool” did, it certainly had enough promising elements in the first two episodes to at least keep up with it till the mid way point. At that point, we can probably make a better decision about whether to keep up with it or cut our losses.
If you’re just a general drama fan, the decision becomes a bit less clear. Nam Da Jung’s over exaggerated character might come off as being crude and overbearing while the other leads might not have the depth in character that you might desire. It is still, however, at the very least worth watching the first two episodes to just see if the characters suit your fancy, and if they do I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy the rest of the drama even if the story ends up resulting in nothing.
It does, however, unfortunately appear that the drama has yet to strike a chord with domestic viewers. “Prime Minister And I” started off with a rather poor 5.9% in the ratings war and continued to drop further in its second episode. It’s a worrying start in a way, but it could be more of a sign of the times rather than any issue with the quality of the drama in itself. Lighthearted affairs seem to be doing rather poorly on the main terrestrial broadcasters in recent years, giving way for more “serious” affairs that try to tell detailed expressive stories about the human condition.
However, sometimes you just want to sit back and have a bit of a laugh for a few hours a week, in which case you might as well give “Prime Minister And I” a chance. It might not wow you with the complexity of its stor,y but I can certainly guarantee it will give you few smiles even if they resort to crude comedy to do so.
*Lordbordem is the writer that cures his boredom by occasionally writing long and snarky articles on Soompi. He also once went head to head with a Koala. He lost.