Shin Mi Rae (Kim Sun Ah) is the lowest level government official in a small bucolic town. By lowest level government official, I mean she is the one that gets everyone coffee and is an assistant to the secretary. In addition, she is 36, unmarried, and without any prospects, which in the Korean drama world is a hopeless case. She also has a crush on a director, Lee Hyung Chul, who is married to a shrewd, spoiled, and selfish councilwoman, Min Joo Hwa. Min Joo Hwa is Shin Mi Rae’s frienemy.
Min Joo Hwa is pushing her husband Lee Hyung Chul away, so Shin Mi Rae may have a shot. But wait, enter Jo Gook (Cha Seung Won). Jo Gook is a high ranking civil servant that is on the fast track to the national assembly and is outpacing his former classmate Lee Hyung Chul. Jo Gook also has ties to the David H. Koch (U.S. Republican party mastermind/ strategist) of Korea. Jo Gook is sent back to his hometown by his mentor/political mastermind. Jo Gook’s mission is to help his political party by ousting the current Mayor and replace him with a party puppet. Most importantly, Jo Gook is good looking and Shin Mi Rae has found a new crush.
Shin Mi Rae is also having debt problems, so to solve her debts she enters the town’s beauty contest defying the contest’s age limits. While Shin Mi Rae’s journey focuses on repaying her debts and realizing her self worth, Jo Gook falls in love with Shin Mi Rae. Jo Gook recognizes her strengths and cajoles her into running for Mayor.
For Jo Gook and Shin Mi Rae to be together they both have to overcome several hurdles. Jo Gook has to break up with his fiance, soothe his mistreated mother, escape the powers of the Korean political mastermind, and make it to the national assembly as an independent. At the same time, Shin Mi Rae has to pay back her debt, win a beauty pageant, run for mayor, and overcome an administration that does not think she is worthy of her title.
Not Another Slow Female Lead: After seeing My Lovely Sam Soon, I really started to appreciate Kim Sun Ah’s acting. Kim Sun Ah can portray multidimensional characters well. Oftentimes, the women in romantic comedy dramas are stupid, slow, or lacking common sense to the point where it is unbelievable (see Personal Taste). Kim Sun Ah comes off as insecure and inexperienced, but never dumb.
More than a Love Story: Kim Sun Ah’s characters seem to be fun with a side of crazy. In City Hall rather than going against a straight man like in My Lovely Sam Soon, she goes against Cha Seung Won who also has a knack for playing pompous and hilarious characters. The scenes between Kim Sun Ah and Cha Seung Won were the highlights of this drama, i.e. the tango. My favorite scene was when they were pretending to be in a relationship at the chicken shack. On the other hand, the focus of this drama is less about the relationship between Shin Mi Rae and Jo Gook, and more about their individual journeys. Both characters face their fears, go against the grain, and find solace in each other.
Friendship: It is nice to see true friendships on display. Everyone should have a friend like Jung Boo Mi and Lee Jung Do. Jung Boo Mi always did right by Shin Mi Rae, even when it was not in her best interest. Lee Jung Do repressed his feelings for Shin Mi Rae after he recognized the power of Jo Gook and Shin Mi Rae’s relationship. It was also nice to see a love triangle where the 3rd party was not trying to ruin his competitor’s life.
Lessons on Korean Government and Business: City Hall is very informative for those not familiar with the Korean government and how their party system works. There was also some environmentalist action. Query, what is more important employing citizens or preventing the building of an energy plant that imports toxic waste from foreign countries to make energy?
Transformation: I really enjoy when dramas take a woman that does not have it together in the presentation department and transform her into a sharp well-dressed confidant woman. Still, Shin Mi Rae is not and never was King Kong, so stop calling her that.
Disappointments in the Storyline: How Much Can You Overlook?
The problem with having a plot that combines two hero’s journeys with a love story is that it can create too many subplots. Here, there were too many subplots. Even though the subplots were great and added to the story, City Hall’s theme was diminished because the subplots highlighted the story’s shortcomings.
- Jo Gook it is not okay to have fiance and a lady on the side. Furthermore, don’t go on a trip and do other things with your new lady when you have not broken up with your fiance.
- Jo Gook I know that is not technically your kid, but he is yours so spend more time with him and less time trying to please your awful father.
- While Jo Gook’s mother had a lot of depth, her character was never fully explored.
- It wasn’t clear why Min Joo Hwa and Lee Jung Do stayed together. I am happy that they did, but the storyline made her close to unforgivable.
- It is unfathomable that Shin Mi Rae would work with the directors after they beat her, tore her dress, and threw stuff at her.
- I really enjoyed the public servant dance scene, but Jo Gook and Lee Jung Do should have joined in. How did the actors escape that?
- Why is Jung Boo Mi’s husband portrayed as weird and unemployed, at least give him a steady job. Jung Boo Mi deserves better.
- How many scenes are there with fried chicken? When I watch it again, I am going to count.
Since I am not as forgiving as characters of Shin Mi Rae, Jo Gook, and Lee Jung Do, (they would remain friends with the person that stole their dog), I give this drama 4 stars.
Up Next: Hani Yori Dango
- Kim Sun Ah talks about her off-screen relationships with male co-stars (allkpop.com)
- Cha Seung Won discusses acting in T-ara’s new music video (allkpop.com)