[Revisiting Dramas] Prime Minister and I, where a handshake is considered skinship
by Guest Beanie
I remembering enjoying the beginning of Prime Minister and I the first time around, but having some major gripes about how the plot played out. A young tabloid reporter gets mixed up in several coincidental encounters that become ridiculously misconstrued (and yet they were relatively believably written incidents) with a man due to become prime minister who is old enough to be her father. In order to avoid a scandal that will kill his election before it can even begin, the two of them play out a ruse of a romantic relationship, which escalates into a contract marriage.
I remember really not liking Nam Da-Jung’s character setup. She was a tabloid reporter, chasing down celebrities to get a photographic scoop on their private lives. I also thought the age difference between the OTP to be pretty squicky—it was too realistic when thinking back on Clinton-era days.
And then, once the leads finally started to show some chemistry, the writer threw in a not-really-dead wife. The shades of adultery required the OTP to exit the relationship immediately, almost at the end of the series, which seemed to undermine all the work that had gone into building their relationship in the first place. And after all that, when we were all hoping for a powerful ending to make up for it, we were shortchanged with a one-year time skip and the OTP reuniting with a handshake. No kiss. No promise of anything to come. A handshake. Really?
However, during a long drama slump in which nothing seemed to grab my heart, I decided to watch it again, and I found that some of the things I didn’t like at first affected me differently the second time around, and I began to admire the deft plot-crafting the writers put into this little gem. (Writers Kim Eun-hee and Yoon Eun-kyung also cowrote the famous Winter Sonata.) Even though the drama wasn’t the typical love story of two similarly-aged individuals, I found myself appreciating the victories of these immature characters maturing together as a direct result of their entirely unexpected relationship.
I was impressed by the continued rise in stakes and the cause-and-effect chain that the writers crafted from episode to episode. In the first two episodes, we have the tabloid reporter Nam Da-Jung, who makes a living essentially ruining the lives of others, trying to save Kwon Yul’s young son from a predatory reporter; but the effect is that she gets blamed and they get caught in what looks like a scandalous relationship.
He prepares to back out of the race rather than reveal her name and ruin her reputation; she responds by telling the media that they are dating, in an effort to protect his position.
They agree to a short-term contract relationship, but of course events continue to prevent an easy exit, and they continue to sacrifice to protect each other, each time increasing the level of their public relationship to the point that they end up in a contract marriage. And we all know how contract marriages end up in dramaland!
One of the strong points of this drama is the comedy that leans slapstick, which is such great fun! I was left wondering how they managed to keep their hands so tightly stuck together when the daughter supposedly filled the soap dispenser with superglue, and other hilarious situations which led to all sorts of skinship hijinks!
While on the surface the drama appears to be heavy on the comedy, a real romance blossoms between the unlikely couple. We were made to see how alone they each felt, and how even though it was a contract relationship, they were better together and able to be at their best when they knew that someone they trusted had their back. I liked how their relationship deepened their already nascent characteristics of loyalty and respect, and how their identities flourished as they observed each other in an intimate rather than public setting. It’s kind of amazing how humor and dignity were intermingled in this drama.
I still think there could have been a better bridge to the sudden appearance of Kwon Yul’s wife. We had all the Blackbeard sort of symbolism with the locked room, but we needed to have hope that there could be a happy ending, and that clarity was missing. The wife could have been declared dead for being missing for seven years or something of that nature, which would have decreased the icky adultery connotations that marred our loyalty to the OTP.
But I actually didn’t resent the wife’s appearance as much the second time, I think because the human poignancy stood out more to me on the second viewing than it did the first time around, when I was more focused on the comedy and the central romance.
And while I do think we all wanted more skinship at the end of the series (Come on, they were married, for crying out loud! How come we only get a handshake?), I felt like the ending was a redemption of dignity. Here they had come through all sorts of false accusations and assumptions and awkward situations to cover up the lie of their relationship. But at the end of the show, I believed that they were going to start again, this time on their own terms, with dignity and on purpose. I just would have liked to see a little more of that beginning than a handshake.