A Business Proposal

Greetings after a long silence. Hope everyone is still keeping well and watching dramas! Lately, I’ve been in the mood for something light and took a chance on A Business Proposal after hearing good feedback from friends.

Shin Ha-ri (Kim Se-jeong) works as a food researcher at a company and is also best friends with a chaebol heiress, Jin Young-seo (Seol In-ah). Ha-ri agrees to go on a blind date in place of Young-seo, but is shocked when the prospective partner turns out to be Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop), the president of the company Ha-ri works for…

Once in a while, I like to indulge in a good old-fashioned romcom and A Business Proposal came at the right time. It’s been a while since I finished a k-drama that I enjoyed and I would say the drama did well on stuff that I normally look for in a good trashy romcom. The story is based on a web novel that was adapted into a webtoon, and while I have not read the source material, I heard that the drama improved on a few things and reception was generally positive.

The drama shows how a romcom can rely on well-worn tropes and still make them work in a more compact frame. It knew what viewers wanted and wasn’t shy about playing up various cliché tropes, showing a good balance of humour and romance. Scenes between the leads were generally well done, charming and at times heart-fluttering, all good things in a romcom that played up the cool and confident chaebol male lead meeting his match in a spunky female lead. There were also no villains or boring corporate politics involved, thus keeping the drama vibe mostly light-hearted and fun. The fact that it was only 12 episodes helped keep pacing relatively tight (until the last two episodes) – situations were mostly resolved in good time and storytelling was fairly compact. Had this been 16 episodes, the bait and switch would have worn out its welcome and misunderstandings would have piled on, exacerbating the filler.

The humour was probably the highlight for a good part of the drama. The blind date between Ha-ri and Tae-moo, and the scene where Ha-ri and Young-seo got drunk and made a ruckus at the family chicken shop, to the embarrassment of all and sundry, were an absolute riot and the standout of the early episodes. The meta about Tae-moo’s grandfather (Lee Deok-hwa) watching a drama that provided parallels with the fake relationship was clearly an inside joke between the production and viewers, and was fun while it lasted. Several lines and scenes, helped along by Tae-moo’s pettiness and awkward determination as he bulldozed, cajoled and teased his way into Ha-ri’s heart, were hilarious and laugh-out-loud funny despite being cheesy and cringey, and I cracked up any number of times. A personal favourite was in episode 8, when Ha-ri tried to explain away their first kiss as a “fender-bender” because they were standing too close to each other, and an offended Tae-moo demanded, “A fender-bender?! Are my lips some kind of column for you to crash into?!”

What really kept me going, though, was the leads’ dynamics. They shared a common interest in food and I liked how Ha-ri was a capable, dedicated employee whose achievements were recognised and appreciated by Tae-moo. While she was your typical spunky Candy heroine, she was just an all round fun character and it was easy to take to her. They did get off on the wrong footing, what with Ha-ri pretending first to be Young-seo and then her alter-ego Shin Geum-hee, with the contract relationship one of the oldest clichés to get the leads up close and personal. Tae-moo was initially attracted by Geum-hee’s outrageous and bold “personality”, but I think he was won over by just how lovely Ha-ri was overall as a person – as he made a point to remind viewers throughout.

Tae-moo, however, did not start off very well, and I blame the drama direction for him to come off as an imitation of Park Seo-joon’s character in What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (which I loathe from what little I watched), down to the comma hairstyle which was terrible for him. As Tae-moo became more invested in his fake relationship with Ha-ri, and later when he started to love her for real, he began opening up and I really liked how devoted and caring he was towards Ha-ri, and how steadfast his feelings for her were. He genuinely loved her and wanted to be with her, but he also realised that he was allowed to be vulnerable and honest in front of her. It struck me just how delighted he was when Ha-ri acknowledged him as her boyfriend in public – and how appreciative he was of her thoughtfulness and gentleness towards his rain trauma (he lost his parents in a car accident on a rainy day and had been traumatised ever since). I confess I am a sucker for the “male lead with past trauma” trope, and loved their date in episode 10, when Ha-ri was wonderful as she tried her best to shield and distract Tae-moo from the rain. The scene where she comforted him after he shared the accident details with her also highlighted how sensitive and thoughtful she was, understanding where he hurt most and needed healing.

And therein lies the problem. While I enjoyed the drama as a whole, I found that I really only cared about Tae-moo and Ha-ri. Any scene that did not involve either or both of them, I found my interest visibly declining. A number of filler scenes could have been cut to ensure an overall sharper focus. The last two episodes were a sign the drama bit off more than it could chew and resorted to lousy k-drama clichés because it didn’t didn’t know how to end things properly. Grandpa’s initial dislike of Ha-ri and later disapproval of the fake relationship did not need to take two or more episodes, only to be shoddily resolved offscreen. The leads were separated for a one-year time skip (lasting all of five seconds) over a hastily shoehorned health issue for Grandpa that added nothing to the plot. The supposed social implications of Ha-ri dating above her were also neither here nor there, and for a workaholic like Tae-moo, being mysteriously cut off from his phone while recovering (for days!) from an injured arm in hospital should have seen him raise hell about being kept away from work because he hated wasting time. The scenes of Ha-ri’s co-workers were boring and could have been shelved.

The second leads, Young-seo and Cha Sung-hoon (Kim Min-gyu) – Tae-mo’s best friend and secretary – had a romance of their own where they fell for each other at first sight after a run-in at a convenience store. Most people I know seem more enthralled with their love arc, probably because the actors had some pretty good chemistry and were clearly comfortable with each other. However, I think their relationship is not well developed, nor do I understand their attraction to each other or how they have helped each other grow and mature because it didn’t seem as though they tried to make an effort to understand more about the other. Young-seo’s little independence streak in the last episode pretty much came out of nowhere because she spent the bulk of the drama either mooning over Sung-hoon or getting upset with him for sticking up for Tae-moo – lady, they were long-time friends way before he met you!

The short shrift on Sung-hoon’s characterisation means a missed opportunity to showcase further his close friendship with Tae-moo, and what he means to the Kang family. They grew up together and were, as Grandpa put it, so “joined at the hip” that they could have been dating (Sung-hoon deadpanned that his boss wasn’t his style, to the mock affront of Tae-moo). While Ha-ri and Young-seo’s friendship got a lot of play, which was great to see as the girls were fun together and stuck up for each other, it would have been nice if we got a deeper look into Sung-hoon’s background and how he and Tae-moo grew to be so close, especially in the wake of the accident that killed Tae-moo’s parents. It would also have helped add more meat to the scene where Young-seo’s father, thinking Sung-hoon to be a mere secretary who didn’t know his place, tried to pay off Sung-hoon to leave his daughter, not knowing he is like an adopted son of the Kang family.

Acting was more or less a pleasant surprise as most of the actors acquitted themselves well. Having watched some behind the scenes videos, ad-libs and various interactions of the actors outside of the filming set, I think the script did a solid job of incorporating the actors’ real-life personalities into the characterisation to allow them to play to their strengths. All four leads were around the same age and meshed well together, which was nice to see. Kim Se-jeong was effervescent as Ha-ri and I think it’s safe to say at times she overcompensated (in a good way) for Ahn Hyo-seop’s rather bland and sometimes awkward portrayal. I appreciated how she gamely stepped up to every ridiculous scene required of her character, from the stand-in blind dates to singing up a storm in karaoke, and how it fitted the over-the-top vibe of the drama. She made Ha-ri easy to like and root for (not to mention those great outfits she wore as Geum-hee), and it was not difficult to get swept along as Ha-ri navigated her growing feelings for Tae-moo. She and Seol In-ah also had excellent chemistry as long-time best friends, and the depth of the girls’ friendship was sometimes more interesting than the surface secondary romance. I have not seen Kim Min-gyu before and though he was cute as Sung-hoon, I don’t think he had much to work with.

I liked Ahn Hyo-seop’s chemistry with Kim Se-jeong and enjoyed their couple scenes, which were sweet, charming and made me smile, but will admit she did a fair bit of selling. I think he was visibly uncomfortable in the first few episodes and it showed, but he was better once he settled into the role and the change in him was almost palpable about a third of the way in. Overall, I thought his acting could have been much more nuanced and given the character more oomph, especially in the emotional beats where it seemed he was struggling to overcome some sort of invisible acting wall. His kissing scenes with Kim Se-jeong were also a tad underwhelming, though the makeout scene was a pleasant surprise and makes you wonder why the heated kisses there weren’t more of a thing earlier. That said, it was nice to hear him speak fluent English and the stylist clearly liked him, because he wore a number of well-fitted three-piece suits that worked like a charm on me.

The OST was pretty good and my favourite is Love, Maybe by Melomance – the group also featured in one of the episodes, so that was pretty neat. This video contains a number of kisses the leads shared, so that might be a spoiler for some:

Overall, a fun watch if you like your romcom tropes. A good-looking chaebol decked out in three-piece suits never hurts!


2 thoughts on “A Business Proposal

  1. “A good-looking chaebol decked out in three-piece suits never hurts!” Yup, suit porn is always appreciated. 😀

    Didn’t watch this myself but I did follow it via recaps, every now and then. It’s kinda odd how kdrama writers still don’t seem to know how to end their stories properly. There have been SO many dramas that sort of “die” during the last couple of episodes and quite a few that go totally of the deep end.


    • LOL suit porn! That’s a good way to put it.

      The drama was fine for 10 episodes, and then it decided to shoot itself in the foot, sigh. It had enough material not to go that way but … well, the urge to default to lazy writing must have been too strong.


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