Prime Minister & I reads like a romance novel – the closed-up dashing hero who’s about a decade older with a dark past; the plucky, optimistic much younger heroine; the rather grandiose make-believe fictional setting; the caricature side characters, and an incredibly predictable story line. You’re swept in for the ride and swoon over each cheesy, sweeping romance arc, gulping the mediocre storyline with fervor to reach the happy-ever-after epilogue …or maybe to reach that one kiss – just one kiss, please! – before the happy ending. When you’re done, you’re left with residual giddiness but days later, you’ve easily moved on to another.
If you want me to be completely honest, on paper and initially, nothing about the show caught my attention. Everything was predictable, predictable, and predictable.
When I read that Girl’s Generation‘s Yoona was cast alongside heavyweight actor Lee Bum Soo as his love interest – in my anti-idol acting stance, I swore off the show immediately. They then announced that Yoon Si Yoon was onboard – I love this guy so, so much – as a secondary character, which surprised me – and many others, I’m sure, because last we checked he’s leading man status now – and left me all the more convinced to skip it. So I did, for three straight weeks.
Funnily though, the drama sphere was abuzz about the show; I came across one positive impression after another. During winter break – that wonderful period when I had the luxury of time to pick and choose whatever I wanted to do – curiosity finally got the better of me and on a whim, I gave the show a try. One episode turned into two, which turned into five and by the time I (impatiently) waited for the sixth episode, I was… invested, yo. I was genuinely emotionally invested, and not long after that, openly and happily swallowed my snarky past commentaries about Yoona‘s acting.
The Sunny Upsides
1) The Writing & Execution
Prime Minister & I is not a great show – I am the first to admit this right off the bat and I love this show – but it is incredibly well-done. The story line is predictable, the conflicts are cliched and overused. In short, there’s hardly anything fresh plot-wise. Despite the shortcomings though, the writers delivered. How? They made use of the good bits; they took what they knew, and perfected them.
There was nothing really fresh, but the payoffs and journey were satisfying. The plot points weren’t anything to write home about and they knew it, so they made use of pacing instead by avoiding lingering too long on rehashed conflicts. The rom-com elements were standard fare, which they knew, so they kept it light, breezy and humorous, focusing instead on the courtship development. The writers also knew the age gap would ignite discussion, so they addressed it outright and incorporated it believably within the context of the show.
The result? Fantastic move, really smart, because the transition from strangers to bickering allies to contract marriage spouses to confidantes and lovers felt incredibly organic; predictable, but so damn natural.
For the most part, the writers didn’t try to surprise us with anything outlandish or crazy for drama’s sake to lure ratings; they went with what they knew and believed would work, which is the process and journey of the relationship between two completely opposite individuals, who learned to meet halfway through love and understanding.
2) The Acting
Partly why the writing and execution worked so damn well – or perhaps arguably, exactly why they worked so well – is thanks to the actors who were tasked as our main couple. Lee Bum Soo molded into character so effortlessly and believably, and really took it home with his wide range of emotions. He moved from slapstick humor to dashing Mr. Darcy to righteous leader with so much ease and commitment to the role, not holding back in any scene, that Prime Minister Kwon Yool grabbed our hearts simply for being himself.
Then there’s Yoona, who surprisingly, was on fire here. Nam Da Jung is that typical plucky heroine found in just about every Kdrama ever, but Yoona breathed the character to life and meshed into her like a second skin. She was straightforward, endearing, and surprisingly relatable; what you see is what you get, simple as that. I could tell that she committed herself to the role – that’s dedication right there – because she was there, always there, in each scene, you know what I mean?
I was surprised, honest to God, because by the end of episode one it wasn’t Yoona I was seeing on-screen and cheering for, but Nam Da Jung. Plus, honestly while it’s true it’s not like the show demanded weighty acting chops from her, I gotta say she’s really improved since her Love Rain days, which yes I sat through and enjoyed. There’s depth in her acting here, which was lacking before.
(and for the record, yes I think she’s really pretty, too)
3) The Journey to Love
The chemistry between the leading couple was believable, trust me. I admit I was one of those skeptics who’d pffft at the announcement of the two, and squirmed uncomfortably at the thought …until I saw them in action and thought woah, you know what? They positively sizzled on-screen. Addressing the age gap was a smart move in my opinion, and they dealt with it realistically too, which I appreciated.
What makes Prime Minister & I so winsome as a rom-com is that it focuses not on the destination – the happy-ever-after – rather, the journey to getting there. They focused on the budding friendship, the friendly banter, the daily interactions and finally, the natural transition where like turns to love, and care develops into commitment.
The winning formula in all of this though, in my opinion, is the fact that this couple actually communicates – you heard me right; they talk and discuss things with each other, and make decisions together. Conflicts between the two don’t drag because oh hey, before things get out of hand, they sit each other down and make the other listen. I know, who knew? In Kdrama land! Now that’s refreshing.
The irony really is that their marriage is anything but a typical one, so the insistence to not play house is frequent, yet the way they behave with each other is exactly standard married couple fare. It’s so damn enjoyable to watch, because everyone around them can tell how much they’re married to each other, really, except for the two of them. The attraction, chemistry and easy camaraderie are obvious to everyone but themselves, which makes the journey all the more delightful to watch.
4) The Absence of Evil Stepmothers and Crazy Antics
No one’s really evil in this show, and even the supposedly most evil person turned out pretty tame in my opinion. I appreciate this because it means that the dramatics in this show didn’t stem from crazy mother-in-laws with screaming prowess, or anything of that sort so common in weekend drama fares.
The writers were also smart to not waste time on the politicking – let’s face it, no one really cares unless it’s directly related to the romance – and so while it’s true the hero’s a Prime Minister, mostly we get glimpses of him in his residence where the real drama takes place.
All I can say is – thank goodness for that.
5) The Kids!
Bless the little ones, they cast the right trio for each role. The little guy who played Kwon Man Se was especially adorable, and I thought the eldest brother role was also well-acted (I swear I’ve seen this boy elsewhere, but I can’t place where). Their emotionally closed-off selves and cold demeanor towards their stepmother in the beginning were believable and understandable, so when the ice finally broke, the familial relationships were genuinely heartwarming to watch.
Typically the roles of children are forgettable and not weighty, but I thought these three acted believably. It took me no time at all basically, to realize my heart has softened for them and I couldn’t be happier when they accepted Da Jung as their new mom.
The Less Exciting Downsides
I’m of two minds honestly, when it comes to the sunny upsides aforementioned. I want to say they’re representative of the show as a whole, but… they probably applied to the first 14 episodes, not so much the last two. I’ll get to that in a sec.
1) Caricature Side Characters
No one was terribly bad and mostly they were endearing – come on, even the driver was endearing – but let’s be real, no one was terribly exciting. Yoon Si Yoon‘s character was mopey and puppy-eyed throughout much of his scenes; Chae Jung Ahn was a good character, but under-explored and Ryu Jin‘s character was rather inconsistent, more plot-plodder than anything I think, plus the switch between his evil and good deeds were sometimes so random that I’m like, “wait whaaaa-?”
2) Sorely Underutilized Yoon Si Yoon
I need to get this bit out of my system, I can’t help it. I love him, and I think he’s a really good actor and I’ve said this plenty times by now – I think it’s great that he chose to join this show as a second lead because I’m sure he picked up plenty good acting tips from Lee Bum Soo and the others that will benefit him (and us) in future, but his character was oh my goodness, a challenge to watch.
The writers attempted to breathe life into the character and Yoon Si Soon did his fair share, but they were also adamant to keep him as the typical, pining second lead turned Daddy Long Legs that frankly, got old fast. I thought they had plenty opportunities to make good use of Yoon Si Yoon and his expressive eyes, but all they did with him was have him send faraway, pining glances to Da Jung’s way.
Given the background of his character, I thought more depth and weight could have easily been written into his character, like I said to make good use of such a fine actor but alas, the writers didn’t realize what a great actor they have under the stroke of their pens. Director Kang’s totally not the worse out there, but Yoon Si Yoon was so sorely underutilized that I… can’t. So frustrating.
(spoilers ahead in points 3 and 4)
3) Back From The Dead
Yeah, that apocalypse of a plot twist…
I actually took this plot development with an open heart and mind, and so I actually enjoyed episodes 13 and 14 – which I heard lots of people hated – which revealed this plot point, but then they tried too hard to sell it with justifications and gratifications that were unnecessary, especially since for the past 12 episodes, we were made to believe differently and not care, then suddenly – oh hey, whaddya know? Turns out the story’s not so mysterious after all, and that everyone who’s supposedly evil is good.
The short answer? I didn’t enjoy this arc, and thought it took the magic away from the earlier episodes.
4) The Ending
It was… a snoozefest. Not kidding, I literally fell asleep watching episode 16, and had to return a few nights later to finish it. The thing is, the ending’s obvious and predictable from Day 1, so obvious that the writers really should’ve just done away with the last-minute plot twist (which isn’t really a twist) and focused on the good parts we’re familiar with and love: the warm, family interactions; the romantic gestures; the lovely undertones and the camaraderie between our central couple.
But noooooo… It went in an entirely different direction, stretching and dragging so many things which we no longer care about, and gave everyone happy endings. I don’t have anything against happy endings, but when you’re just throwing happy endings randomly to each character in the show – even say, someone who’s been in a coma for the past seven years – I refuse to jump onboard at the absurdity. It’s frustrating, because for the most part the show was consistent with its tone; introspective, somewhat realistic and emotionally engaging.
Then it got greedy, or the writers did I suppose, and tried to shoehorn something that didn’t fit. The result was a haphazard ending, so the show unfortunately, ended with a whimper. The last ten minutes or so were lovely and if it’s one thing I’m thankful for, it’s that our couple communicated verbally and honestly up to the ending, but the ending as a whole was mediocre. Such a shame, cos the show started off with so much bubbling heart and zippy feel, only to falter, literally, at the end.
Did the ending suck? No, it didn’t. Did the execution of the ending suck? Yes.
Despite the show’s misgivings, overall I really, really enjoyed Prime Minister & I and would still recommend it to others. It’s an incredibly light, breezy and easy-to-watch show, perfect when you’re looking for something to help you de-stress. The old-fashioned romantic gestures are really, really cute and worth-watching cos Lee Bum Soo as the older man suitor; oh my god, so inappropriate of me to admit this but… swoon. The relationship development of our central couple, ergo where two people actually communicate and handle a contract marriage in a non-ridiculous way earn brownie points from me – cute, romantic, endearing and heartwarming to watch.
In short, though Prime Minister & I doesn’t offer anything new, it still earns a spot in my heart for the honesty in its story-telling, and the injected doses of realism when it comes to emotional connections, familial ties, and old-fashioned courtship. Whatever the show lacked, it made up for with lots of heart, an optimistic tone, a refreshingly forward heroine and of course, an inherently principled and kind hero.
I like the fact that the show knows what it is and isn’t, and for the most part, delivered within its means so earnestly. It reads like a romance novel, trust me, but a good one. You know, the kind that leaves you all warm and fuzzy? The kind that doesn’t make you wonder if the hours spent reading it were worth it or not? Yeah that’s Prime Minister & I – I enjoyed my time with the show!
Final Verdict: 7/10.