Oscar winning movie Parasite’s co-writer Han Jin-won makes his directing debut with I Am a Running Mate, a peppy, pleasing but occasionally overeager high-school comedy. Adorned with bright and fantastical elements, the drama follows the ups and downs of a high school student who becomes a coveted running mate in his school’s presidential election.
Writer Han Jin-won, who is best known for winning the Academy Award for best original screenplay alongside Director Bong Joon-ho for Parasite, makes his directing debut with the bright and fun Tving streaming series I Am a Running Mate.
The show starring Yoon Hyun-soo, Choi Woo-sung and Lee Jung-sic in the lead roles, this peppy, pleasing but occasionally overeager high-school comedy series which will stream on Tving, revolves around a student who suddenly transforms into the ‘belle of the ball’ when he becomes a coveted running mate for the presidential candidates in his high school’s election.
The show consists of nine episodes, three of which have debuted at the Busan International Film Festival. The story starts with the main character about to cast his vote, before jumping back to tackle the ups and downs of the month-long campaign preceding the election day.
image source: South China Morning Post
Parasite’s writer’s show presents memorable highs coupled with fleeting lows
Bright and hilarious, the drama showcases an over-the-top version of a high-school prototype full of the dichotomy between beautiful and popular students and caricatured geeks.
In tune with the current era, it hilariously comments on the South Korean hierarchical structure and invites big laughs with its satirical views of the society’s stark prejudicial norms, a social phenomenon that begins in school and is dependent on who one’s parents are and how much money they possess – along with, as the show keenly emphasises, how attractive one is.
Se-hoon (Yoon Hyun-soo) introduces us to the hierarchy in the school through his voice over. He is at the bottom of the social ladder until an unprecedented incident makes him the school celebrity overnight, but for the wrong reasons.
One morning, on the bus to school, a woman seated in front of him mistakes his rumpled underwear for an erection and slaps him , a moment caught by several of his schoolmates on camera. The news spreads like wildfire and he is renamed as “Boner Boy”.
Things get out of hand and his reputation is through the mud until one day the leader of his choir group, Won-dae (Choi Woo-sun), asks him to stay behind after practice. He offers him a chance to rechristen his image by asking him to be his running mate in the school presidential election.
Now being allied with the typical popular guy, Won-dae, Se-hoon experiences a social bump in school. But his popularity suddenly sky-rockets when he is courted by the swoony Sang-hyeon (Lee Jung-sic), the most handsome and popular, rich kid in the school.
With his approachable smile, Sang-hyeon soon takes Se-hoon under his wing and introduces him to his world. Swept up by his rising status and fuelled by sudden confidence, Se-hoon does not question this out of the blue friendship.
But as soon as Se-hoon learns that he was not Won-dae’s first pick, feeling betrayed, he switches to Sang-hyeon’s side on the day the election candidates are registered.
Se-hoon is enrolled into a coveted private academy class free of charge and gets his very own room in a luxury study cafe, all thanks to Sang-hyeon. He also gets invited to a penthouse party with the coolest crowd in school. Se-hoon, dazzled by his new life, forgets his priorities and his other relationships begin to suffer.
With young talent showcasing energetic performances and the drama’s breezy tone, ‘I Am a Running Mate’ presents a satirical idealised version of high school different from usual portrayals of teenage bullies in school.
Although there are some limitations here and there, the series mostly unveils itself as a new version of school life which viewers are invited to experience through Se-hoon’s twinkling perspective.
Targeting a younger demographic, Han’s drama travels through high school clichés, delivered with a wink and a slight jab to the gut.
The series works its magic when it elevates its high-school clique as they swagger in through corridors filled with astonished eyes. Less convincing are its attempts at puns. The show loses its footing in such moments.
The show is cleanly staged, boasting of a talented cast, seldom reaches momentous highs, yet it knows how to speak to its audience.