July 1 saw the premiere of Designated Survivor: 60 Days, tvN’s adaptation of the American series by the same name. Entertainment One, the studio that produced the original series, and Studio Dragon have collaborated to make this series their first joint production in Asia (so we must expect something good, right?). The show has some big names in its credits—from Yoo Jong-sun, co-director of hits like What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim and Descendants of The Sun to Kim Tae-hee, writer of Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Beautiful Mind. Actor Ji Jin-hee, who was last seen in Misty, plays the titular role and is joined by Kang Han-na (Familiar Wife), Heo Joon-ho (Kingdom), Lee Joon-hyuk (A Poem A Day), and Son Seok-gu (Matrimonial Chaos).
Park Moo-jin is South Korea’s Minister of Environment. When a bomb goes off in the National Assembly during the President’s state of the nation address, Park becomes the only survivor in the direct line of succession to the country’s topmost political position. Overnight, he transforms from a simple family man with a low-key ministerial position to the Acting President of the country, dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack and tasked with figuring out who was behind the explosion. In the process, he locks horns with several key figures in the former President’s team as well as South Korean military.
JI JIN-HEE as Park Moo-jin, the Acting President for 60 days.Park Moo-jin is introduced to us in a domestic scene of him picking up his wife, Choi Kang-yeon (PARK GYU-RI) and son Park Si-wan (NAM WOO-HYUN) from Si-wan’s school. The family’s bickering in the opening scene manages to create a portrait of Park as a loving husband and father. Over time, we are introduced to another facet of his personality—as the calculations-obsessed Environment Minister who was handpicked by the President despite being a mere university professor with no political experience.
As far as characterization goes, Park Moo-jin is super interesting—his colleagues see him as a goody two-shoes, clumsy, and incorruptible. However, his “accident” with the American delegation and subsequent standing up to the President regarding an incorrect emissions report makes it clear that he’s not as naive as people perceive him to be, to the extent that he gets fired for not agreeing to the President’s demands. That’s how he ends up being the only minister not at the National Assembly when the terrorist attack occurred.
Ushered into a completely new life within a span of hours, Park initially appears overwhelmed and unwilling to take charge. When he finally assumes responsibility, however, he goes as far as to take on U.S. strong-arming and pressure by his own army’s chief to launch an offense on North Korea. In only the first two episodes, we know where Park’s moral prerogatives lie, but that can hardly be said of the people around him. Episode 2 ends with him breaking down over a call with his daughter Si-jin (OK YE-RIN), signalling the many insurmountable challenges this simple man is about to face.
HEO JOON-HO as Chief Secretary Han Joo-seung.Chief Presidential Secretary Han is introduced to us pledging his loyalty to former President Yang (KIM KAP-SOO), and soon after, appearing impressed when Park Moo-jin refuses the President’s request to sign a faulty agreement just to please the U.S. During the bombing, however, he appears a little too unruffled, casting some shadows on his true motivations. Han is the man in-charge of the presidential team after President Yang is killed in the explosion, and tasked with attending to the Acting President as well as helping him get comfortable with his duties—the first of which is making him sign an order implementing martial law in the country.
Secretary Han seems to genuinely believe that the late President was a good man and intends to honor his last wish—of ensuring peace on the Korean peninsula—but, under pressure, also advises Park to agree to prepare to attack North Korea. When Park tries to prevent war, it is Han who steps up to deal with the American Commander of the Republic of Korea-US Combined Forces. He seems impressed by Park Moo-jin, but also advises him not to treat politics like science experiments. As an unpredictable character whose motivations aren’t exactly clear, Secretary Han could become a game-changer later in the show.
SON SEOK-GU as Secretary Cha Young-jin.As one of the most unambiguously grey characters in the show, Secretary Cha comes across as a mysterious and intelligent man who has shown loyalty to his boss more than once. First, when he refuses to leak the President’s speech before his official address, and secondly, by being one of the only people vocally against declaring war on North Korea.
He also seems to have a firm handle on the power play going on between the Korean administration and the U.S. military authorities, with the latter wanting control over Korea, and helps Moo-jin handle negotiations with the North Korean President as they try to prevent a war-like situation.
KANG HAN-NA as Han Na-kyung, member of the anti-terrorism squad.As an investigator on the terrorism task force, Han Na-kyung is one of the first people to link North Korea with the explosion, based on the type of bomb found on the site. She also has an emotional tie to it because it seems that she’s lost her fiance to the bombing, as we end the first episode feeling sad for her character who had to work at the site of her partner’s possible death.
By the end of episode two, however, several factors have led her to believe North Korea isn’t behind the incident. As she tries locating her fiance, fishy details crop up—like the fact that he had no reason to be at the National Assembly that day. She also discovers a pretty incriminating video map of the assembly building in his phone, which promptly gets stolen, leading us to believe that her fiance is somehow related to the attack.
BAE JONG-OK as Congresswoman Yoon Chan-kyung.Yoon Chan-kyung of the Seonjin Republican Party is introduced as the formidable woman walking out of the National Assembly prior to the presidential address. As reporters question her reasons for boycott, she reveals that she disagrees with President Yang’s dealing of North Korea and views his efforts towards peace as a tactic to regain his political standing.
After the bombing, however, she’s the first politician to visit the hospital to meet the victims, revealing a shrewd political mind when she forbids journalists from taking her pictures at the hospital and relies on the more organic channel of the ordinary people posting about her on social media instead. She also seems to know everything that’s going on in the Blue House, suggesting a possibility that she has someone on the inside relaying information. In Secretary Han’s efforts to keep President Yang’s administration in power until elections, she will emerge as the biggest roadblock.
Designated Survivor: 60 Days does a good job of crafting Park Moo-jin’s character as a simple family man caught amidst life-changing situations, but also makes sure to inject him with surprising wit and political acumen so that his character always stays unpredictable. Watching him handle intense political conflicts using his scientific bent of mind made for quite a thrilling watch. With several key players in the show, it will be hard for the viewer to decide in whom to place their trust, and at the end of the day, that’s what makes a political thriller tick—you can never guess who’s hungry for more power and who is willing to go to extreme lengths for it.
Personally, I also found this show to be a fairly accurate picture of the North-South Korea relations and the extent of U.S. meddling in South Korea’s policies. The power play between the President and the Korean plus U.S. military officials is intense, considering South Korea’s history with military coups as well as the fact that if Park resigns as Acting President, the authority will shift to the military. Because of these factors, the negotiation scene in the National Security Council managed to be the most thrilling scene in the first two episodes.
Reasons To Watch
A solid cast: Ji Jin-hee, Son Seok-koo, Heo Jun-ho, Bae Jong-ok, and Kang Han-na are all actors whose performances I’m looking forward to. And Lee Joon-hyuk, even though he hasn’t formally been introduced in the show yet, is sure to pack a punch. In addition to a tight script, it’s only the actors who manage to elevate a show like this to the next level.
Power games: Park Moo-jin will inevitably end up locking horns with existing authority figures like the Commander of Korean army and the Commander of Combined Forces, as well as members on his own team, and I’m looking forward to how he handles these conflicts using his scientific temperament. Amongst our key players, I’m not sure whom to trust yet, and for me, that thrill of not knowing who will turn on whom is what keeps me coming back.
Political insights: This show will interest anyone wanting to take a good look into the political relations in East Asia, between the three major players South Korea, Japan and China, as well as how much influence U.S. and Russia exert over them.