Didn’t think i’d watch another contract relationship series this soon after my last one, but here i am (already over the finish line) with Business Proposal, owing to my propensity for not reading drama synopses beforehand.
Sometimes, i don’t want to be spoiled of the premise and just let the first episode speak for itself. With mixed results. Sometimes i’d be intrigued, sometimes confused, or even get the wrong idea. For example, the opening scene wherein the male lead transforms from 2D to 3D flashed me back to W, but that’s the only time it happened, which is probably to highlight the fact that this is a drama adaption of the webtoon. The English title and poster gave the impression of a regular office romance, but it actually is a substitute-blind-date-turned-contract-relationship romcom, among other tropes.
Business Proposal goes from one trope to another throughout its run, but they’re incorporated quite nicely into the plot so it isn’t a bad thing. It has a fast pace and upbeat tone too, making the watching experience an easy one. It takes just one and a half episode to break the stand-in blind date, a few mins into three to sign the titular papers, four to discover female lead’s real name/identity, five to break the contract, seven to embark into the rich fake-boyfriend act, and so on.
Shin Ha-ri (Kim Se-jeong) often stands in for her bestie Jin Young-seo (Seol In-a) in the latter’s arranged dates, to act up and turn off the heiress’ suitors; for she prefers to find her soulmate naturally than through business marriage. So when Young-seo’s dad sends her to yet another blind date, she asks for Ha-ri’s favor again, one last time, in exchange for some cash the not-rich girl happens to need.
So off Ha-ri goes… and is rattled to find the young president of the company she works as food product developer at sitting across the table. Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop) is a tough nut too, as he’s unfazed by her cringey antics, having caught her nerves. He even greenlights the marriage talk, as he hates wasting time on meeting other candidates and would rather settle on the first one; besides, he likes her frankness, red flags notwithstanding. To the ladies’ horror.
And since he isn’t backing down despite the other party’s disinterest, they have no choice but come clean about the impersonation. Which doesn’t solve the problem for Ha-ri since now Tae-moo is half-offering half-pressuring her to continue the act — as his girlfriend this time, to fool his grandpa (Lee Deok-hwa) and stop the marriage talk. So for the second time in two episodes, Ha-ri agrees to be an impostor for money, and well, under some kind of threat.
Like any other drama with this trope, the pretense is the root of affection and the fake dates are soon pervaded with real feelings… from the guy’s side first as the girl is still nursing a seven-year crush on her college friend, Lee Min-woo (Song Won-seok). Who may actually like her too, considering that he not only remembers her birthday — when he ain’t that kind of person — but also gifts her tickets to her favorite artist’s concert, for her to watch with a guy. Which i thought was totally a hint.
Despite the long-held infatuation, Ha-ri moves on rather fast (by the third episode!), giving her plenty of time to open up to new love. And it’s one of a few good things about this drama: it executing some of the clichés atypically. Like how Ha-ri stops liking Min-woo after getting her closures instead of the presence of another man; how the chaebols are grounded and kindhearted: Tae-moo does appear haughty, narcissistic, and petty at the outset but doesn’t condescend whereas Young-seo barely frets about her dad seizing her black card upon moving out and has enough savings to live independently; how Grandpa is a drama lover and open-minded about the possibility of Tae-moo fancying his secretary/childhood friend Cha Sung-hoon (Kim Min-gue); or how Tae-moo’s childhood trauma is dealt with.
But there are also eyeroll-inducing ones. Like meticulous Sung-hoon getting the listed candidates’ profiles but their pictures (in this day and age?); keen Tae-moo easily fooled by a fake — twice! — and failing to recognize “Shin Geum-hee” as the star employee Shin Ha-ri he’s come face-to-face with a few times (when the former’s heavy makeup, longer wig, and eccentric fashion don’t make her look that different); or Min-woo dismayed by the news of Ha-ri going to the concert with a guy indeed and then jealous of her ending up dating the said guy, when he himself just got back with his on-off girlfriend. So, yay for Show not dragging out the unrequited love but nay for the fickleness.
Love triangle is fortunately skipped here so the two pair of buddies can have their own fleshed-out love stories. And though it’s not unusual for the secondary couple to have cuter loveline, this is the first time (in a long while) i was way more invested and charmed by Young-seo/Sung-hoon. Theirs felt zippier and more candid whereas Ha-ri/Tae-moo felt more clichéd and superficial. Theirs had fewer missteps (not to mention hotter kisses 😏) too. The secretary kept the heiress at arm’s length but once the line was crossed, they never looked back. Meanwhile, the president had a phase where he was pushing the contractor around; the latter wasn’t being herself and was always on edge whenever “Archaeopteryx” rang her phone until the truth was out.
The two couples also have reverse dynamics yet parallel progress, so we got double the fun, the heat, and the frustration. The rich elders’ non-rigid disposition gave me hope that for possibly the first time ever a drama with rich-poor trope could do without disapproving (grand)parents conflict and end without any angst. Alas. The father said he wanted to make up with his only daughter and looked into Sung-hoon’s background to see if he could succeed the company, then backpedaled right after. The grandfather said he would honor Tae-moo’s pick yet acted otherwise upon discovering that he’s dating Geum-hee/Ha-ri who’s gotten on his bad side. All in the final week. Resulting in an underwhelming and boring finale.
I’d rather have a couple more future-in-laws meals hijinks than this turn.
At 12 episodes, i thought Business Proposal could keep the entire run fluffy. They arguably did for almost two-thirds of it. But i guess four dull/filler episodes is somehow inevitable regardless of the total length. I personally lost interest soon after the main couple got together (which is often the case with most romances i’ve watched), and the last-minute opposition zapped the remaining no-brainer fun i had of the series.
Petering out enthusiasm aside, i liked the comic effects added into some scenes and the overall performances of the main cast. I could sense Red Sky‘s Ha Ram in Ahn Hyo-seop’s portrayal of Tae-moo, and he delivered the cheesy lines cheesily, but his chaebol character was surreal. Shin Ha-ri was bubbly but Young-seo was even more so, so together they lit up the screen. Kim Se-jeong and Seol In-a had amazing friendship chemistry too. The former had over-the-top moments which were giving me secondhand embarrassment, but this might be her best role yet. Seol In-a was the show stealer, though. Kim Min-gue was collected but not stiff, which offset some of the show’s campiness.
Verdict: Business Proposal offers quite a fresh take on tired tropes and stock characters, is easy to digest though not exactly funny with some cringey parts and side characters i didn’t care about, until it falls into the same old holes toward the end.
Director: Park Seon-ho
Screenwriter: Han Sul-hee, Hong Bo-hee
Production: SBS, 2022
Cast: Kim Se-jeong, Ahn Hyo-seop, Seol In-a, Kim Min-gue, Lee Deok-hwa, Kim Kwang-kyu, Jung Young-joo, Choi Byung-chan, Song Won-seok, Lee Ki-young
Genre: Romantic Comedy, K-drama (12 Episodes)