Probably the most romantic comedy of 2022 to date, Netflix Business Proposal is a Korean film based on a webcomic of the same name. The show follows the romantic engagement of Shin Ha-ri (Kim Sejeong |), a young food researcher, and the president of his company, Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop). The show is hilarious with lots of romantic moments to boot but the strength to Business Proposal it’s really about how it uses some typical romantic trope to create chaos for its characters. It makes skillful use of both the false identity trope as well as fake dating to create a slow-burning romance that leads to as much stress as this cuteness.
The romance of Business Proposal It all started when Shin Ha-ri’s successor friend asked her to blind date instead. His friend, Jin Yeong-seo (Seol In-ah), has used this excuse in the past every time his family tries to settle him. Because Yeong-Seo wants to get married out of love, she asks Ha-ri to sabotage the blind dates, hoping this time is the nail in the coffin to stop her father from forcing it to continue. As luck would have it, though, the other party to this blind date defeat happens to be Ha-ri’s new company president, Kang Tae-moo. Luckily, she wears hair extensions that are a bit of a cover-up, but it works (for a while). He was also forced into these dates by a relative and he was determined to make one-and-end blind dates by marrying the first woman he met so he could return to focus on his work. Thus begins a “romance” built on deception: Ha-ri tries very hard to make Tae-moo hate him and Tae-moo hopes to tie the hole and move on with his life.
Ha-ri’s disguise as Young-seo doesn’t last long. The truth of Young-seo’s initial deception is as easily broken by Tae-moo and his assistant. But for fear of his exposure as a liar costing his job, Ha-ri quickly built a new fake identity: Shin Geum-hi (a name he stole from a TV drama). Tae-moo forces her to start a contractual relationship to which she is reluctant to agree. Tae-moo and “Geum-hi” begin the next chapter of their fake relationship as Ha-ri tries very hard to avoid letting his boss know that his fake girlfriend is actually his employee.
The cases of misidentification here add tons of tension to the story by hanging over the possibility of an identity being revealed in front of the audience’s noses for the final episodes. Ha-ri’s fears about his true identity are beyond comprehension and so we feel the weight of this deception as much as he does. Seeing the lives of Tae-moo and Ha-ri begin to intersect more and more, we long for the truth to be revealed but are also afraid of falling. Tae-moo says he appreciates Ha-ri for his honesty in twisting the knife in this charade though. The wrong identity dovetails smoothly into the fake idea of dating, only to add an extra layer to the whole deception that builds a stronger sense of anticipation. Ha-ri and Tae-moo get close to each other on every fake date and half-truth conversation, but it’s all a house of cards that we know can collapse at any hour.
When false identities are revealed, the drama intensifies. As he now has real feelings for her, Tae-moo agrees to play his fake girlfriend (to impress his friends) in an attempt to seduce him – and so we get into round two of the fake dating plans. Tae-moo uses this opportunity to express his true feelings for Ha-ri under the guise of the whole relationship being a hoax. She buys her friends an expensive dinner, greets her, calls her pretty, and warns of her genuine jealousy when they meet Ha-ri’s old crush. But because Ha-ri was convinced he was no longer in his league and that he was doing it for business reasons, it became even more complicated.
Phase two of their fake dating schemes are more frustrating than the first because, at this point, both Tae-moo and Ha-ri are aware of their own feelings (albeit to different levels). And so the tension shifted from “when to reveal lies” to “when to reveal their feelings”. The problem is no longer with the comedy itself but when the two in the lead admit that it is not a comedy. Without the cover -up of the wrong identity, this second relationship requires some sort of transitional role. It’s a test run where Tae-moo tries his best to show Ha-Ri what a real relationship with him is while there is a credible denial of his feelings.
Fake dating is very good here because we see it thrive with their feelings. The first fake relationship was a complete lie, with half not even using their real name. But the second fake relationship is built on hidden facts. Tae-moo is fully aware of his own feelings at this point and is determined to make Ha-ri fall for him as Ha-ri finally begins to notice how much Tae-moo has done in his heart. It shifts the tension from the external pressure of when the fake relationship is exposed to the world when the characters admit their feelings to themselves or to each other.
The tension of the second fake relationship is closer immediately because the foundation is actually something real. Often, fake romances work only to show the characters what they all want, but in Business Proposal, it is only because of fake relationships and false identities that the characters are even closer at first. Feelings are developed by the slow transition from lie to truth but the relationship will not develop in a way without the many pitfalls and mistakes that occur along the way. Tae-moo from Episode 1 won’t love Episode 1 Ha-ri; it takes a lie to find the truth.
Fake dating and false identity tropes bully each other because of their roots in deception. The comedy raises the tension for the revelation of the work but also for the expected secondary revelation of the character’s true feeling. The lies create a shocking web that somehow pulls Tae-moo and Ha-ri together and only after the last lie is revealed can we reach a real resolution. The light tone of the show also contributes to a safe sense of tension. We knew this situation would eventually explode but we were given a sense of safety just by being familiar with the genre. Lies can be as troublesome as they want because, in the end, that tension will be rewarded with a great real romance.
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