TV Review: Chief of Staff S1 (Spoilers!)

When I was first getting into Korean dramas, years ago, one of the actresses that caught my attention and has been a bit of a favorite of mine is Shin Min Ah. While I haven’t seen everything that she has done, I absolutely loved her in “My Girlfriend is a Gumiho”, which was one of the first few Korean dramas I watched, and holds a very special place in my heart. So, when I heard that Shin Min Ah was going to have a new drama, “Chief of Staff”, this year, I knew I had to watch it as I also really liked its premise. The first season of “Chief of Staff” was quite a ride, but its one worth taking, especially with its stellar cast and premise, and as this first season is only ten episodes long, making it a good binge watch. (The second season will be released sometime in November 2019).

The first season of “Chief of Staff”ran for ten episodes on JTBC from June 14 to July 13 2019, and was also released on Netflix. It was directed by Kwak Jung Hwan (Ms. Hammurabi, The K2) and was written by Lee Dae Il (“Bring it On Ghost”, “Life on Mars).

Image Source: JTBC

The drama primarily focuses on Jang Tae Joon (Lee Jung Jae), an ambitious Chief of Staff of Assemblyman Song Hee Seob (Kim Gap Soo), an ambitious and ruthless assemblyman, and his journey and struggles in reaching his dreams of becoming an assemblyman no matter what the cost so that he can have enough power to make the right changes needed in society today. Along for the ride are first term Assemblywoman Kang Seon Yeong (Shin Min Ah) and her Chief of Staff Go Seok Man (Lim Won Hee); Yoon Hye Won (Lee Elijah), a secretary whose close to Tae Joon and who also works for Assemblyman Song; Han Do Kyeong (Kim Dong Jun), a young intern whose ideals are still intact; Assemblyman Lee Sung Min (Jung Ji Young), who is one of the few righteous and not corrupt assemblyman in the National Assembly; and Oh Won Sik (Jung Woong In), a rival Chief of Staff of Tae Joon’s within Assemblyman Song’s office. Along the way, loyalties and ideals are tested as each character deals with their own sets of situations, especially when push comes to shove, and things need to be taken care of to reach political and personal goals and ambitions.

Boasting wonderful performances, a great cast, and a compelling emotional journey for each of the characters, this political drama will also have you at the edge of your seat as often as thrillers do, and the first season ends with viewers wondering what will happen next to each of these characters.

The drama doesn’t delve too deep into the actual political process that Korea utilizes, but instead looks at the  emotional journeys and struggles that each character goes through as they make difficult decisions in order to get things done. And in doing so, it also explores morality in the context of politics. What makes this even more obvious is the fact that each of the characters on the show are  very interesting foils of each other. It is also really interesting to see how all of those decisions lead to where they are at the end of the first season, and it really makes you wonder if it really is possible to get things done while being idealistic and upright in the midst of chaos, personal ambition and corruption.

I thought that the storytelling and pacing was tight, given that we only had ten episodes for the first season; and the direction was well done as well.

Interestingly, this drama was Lee Jung Jae’s big drama comeback, and he definitely knocked this out of the park.

Lee Jung Jae as Jang Tae Joon
Image Source: JTBC

Shin Min Ah always manages to impress me in whatever role she takes on; and Lee Elijah is another actress that I have my eye on, especially after watching her on “Ms. Hammurabi” last year.

Shin Min Ah as Assemblywoman Kang Seon Yeong
Image Source: JTBC

I’ve had my eye on Kim Dong Jun thanks to Black. I am not very fond of “Black”, but I absolutely loved Kim Dong Jun there, and he did well again here. I am very much looking forward in seeing how his character evolves in the second season; and I am looking forward to see Dong Jun’s growth as an actor as well.

Lee Elijah as Yoon Hye Won
Image Source: JTBC
Kim Dong Jun as Han Do Kyeong
Image Source: JTBC

“Chief of Staff” Season 1 is a thought provoking yet very timely drama that showcases the emotional struggles and decisions made by those in politics, and also takes a good hard long look at the morality of politicians as well. This is definitely heavier fare, but its well worth the watch, and very much binge worthy as well.

Now, you know the drill! From here on out, there will be spoilers!

For me, the drama works not just because of its direction and storytelling, but because of the relationships that each character has with each other and the internal conflicts that each of them go through. Thankfully, this drama cast the right people who were able to pull it off well, from the  the beautiful mentor-mentee relationship that Tae Joon and Assemblyman Lee Sung Min have, to the well-lived in and believable five year relationship that Tae Joon and Seon Yeong had with each other, to the internal emotional conflict that Tae Joon had to face once opportunities started going his way that would allow him to reach his goal all the way to Do Kyeong realizing what kind of politician he wants to be the in future.

As mentioned earlier, each of these characters do also serve as wonderful foils to each other when you delve deeper into them. Aside from this, all of these characters, although they may be in the political arena, are very much relatable as well.

Lee Jung Jae as Jang Tae Joon
Image Source: JTBC

Lee Jung Jae’s Jang Tae Joon is an ambitious person who is willing to do whatever it takes to achieve his dreams and goals. He is a realist in the sense that he knows that he will never get anywhere if he doesn’t play dirty at times, but still an idealist in the sense that he does want to be in a position of power not for his own personal ambitions but because he knows that that is the only time he will be able to affect the kind of positive change that he wants to happen. However, this means that he has no qualms of sacrificing his own morals and ideals for the sake of the bigger picture, even if it means the death of a good friend of his, and probably tanking his own relationship with Seon Yeong. By the end of the first season, we see Tae Joon being given a nomination to become a counselor, but that also means that he’s now “sleeping with the enemy”, so to speak, and I do really hope that he will always remember why he decided on this path and fall into corruption in the end.

Shin Min Ah as Assemblywoman Kang Seon Yeong
Image Source: JTBC

Shin Min Ah was wonderful as Assemblywoman Kang Seon Yeong. Unlike others, like Assemblyman Song, Seon Yeong never really resorted to corrupt means to get things done, but unlike Assemblyman Lee Sung Min, she knows how to slyly manipulate things into her favor. For me, even when thinking about Tae Joon, she knows how to safely dance in the middle without going to deep into a situation where she cannot go back from. This is why, at the end of the first season, I felt pretty devastated for her with the loss of her chief of staff, with her romantic partner making big power plays, and with her political career beginning to sink.

Kim Kap Soo as Assemblyman Song
Image Source: JTBC

 

Jung Jin Young as Assemblyman Lee
Image Source: JTBC

Both Assemblyman Song and Assemblyman Lee are polar opposites of each other- one will resort to corrupt means for personal gain, while Assemblyman Lee tries to walk the harder yet upright path. However, at the end of the season, we see that just like in real life, unfortunately, it seems that those who try their hardest to walk the more upright path are overpowered by those who are corrupt.

Lee Elijah as Yoon Hye Won
Image Source: JTBC

I have liked Lee Elijah in everything that I’ve seen her in, and this drama is no exception to that. Here, she portrays a former reporter who decided to work for Assemblyman Song, or, actually, she works more for Tae Joon, as she does believe that Tae Joon, even though uses questionable means to get to a good end, has the power to make the world a better place once he gets into a position of power. Meanwhile, Kim Dong Jun’s Han Do Kyeong is the perfect foil to her. He idolized Tae Joon as he helped their family once, but at the end of the first season, decides to learn how to go against Tae Joon as Do Kyeong stands firm in his belief that questionable means does not justify the end, no matter how good it may be. Do Kyeong also reminded me that even if the situation may seem hopeless, there are still those like him who will try to stand for the path of righteousness, even though it may seem unattainable. I honestly hope that Do Kyeong does manage to prove Tae Joon wrong, and I’m looking forward to see how that will happen in the second season.

Kim Dong Jun as Han Do Kyeong
Image Source: JTBC

“Chief of Staff” is a wonderful yet timely drama that delves into the morality of politics, and allows viewers to explore different sides of that coin through its interesting characters. I cannot wait to see what will happen next in the second season come November!

Have you seen the first season of “Chief of Staff”? What did you think of it? Are you looking forward to the second season? What do you think will happen next? Let me know in the comments below!

Image Source: JTBC

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