Perhaps the best romantic comedy of 2022 so far, Netflix’s Business Proposal is a Korean show based on a webcomic of the same name. The show follows the romantic entanglement of Shin Ha-ri (Kim Sejeong), a young food researcher, and the president of her company, Kang Tae-moo (Ahn Hyo-seop). The show is hilarious with plenty of romantic moments to boot but the strength of Business Proposal really lies in how it utilizes some common romantic tropes to create chaos for its characters. It makes masterful use of both the mistaken identity trope as well as fake dating to create a slow-burn romance that leads to as much stress as it does cuteness.
The romance of Business Proposal all starts when Shin Ha-ri’s heiress friend asks her to go on a blind date in her stead. Her friend, Jin Yeong-seo (Seol In-ah), has used this excuse before whenever her family tries to set her up. Since Yeong-Seo wants to marry for love, she asks Ha-ri to sabotage the blind dates, hoping that this time would be the nail in the coffin to stop her father from forcing this to continue any longer. As luck would have it though, the other party in this blind date fiasco happens to be the new president of Ha-ri’s company, Kang Tae-moo. Luckily, she wears hair extensions which is a pretty meager disguise, but it works (for a while). He’s also been forced on these dates by a relative and he’s determined to make the blind dates a one-and-done by marrying the first woman he meets so he can get back to focusing on his work. Thus begins a “romance” built on deception: Ha-ri trying her hardest to make Tae-moo hate her and Tae-moo hoping to tie the knot and move on with his life.
Ha-ri’s masquerade as Young-seo doesn’t last very long. The truth of Young-seo’s initial deception is unraveled by Tae-moo and his assistant relatively quickly. But fearing her exposure as a liar would cost her job, Ha-ri quickly constructs a new fake identity: Shin Geum-hi (a name she stole from a TV drama). Tae-moo coerces her into starting a contract relationship which she reluctantly agrees to. Tae-moo and “Geum-hi” set off on the next chapter of their fake relationship while Ha-ri tries desperately to avoid letting her boss know that his fake girlfriend is actually his employee.
The mistaken identity cases here add tons of tension to the story by dangling the possibility of an identity reveal in front of the audience’s noses for episodes on end. Ha-ri’s fears regarding her true identity are more than understandable and so we feel the weight of this deception just as much as she does. Seeing Tae-moo and Ha-ri’s lives start to intersect more and more, we long for the truth to be revealed but also fear the fallout. Tae-moo says he values the Ha-ri for her honesty which twists the knife on this charade even further. The mistaken identity dovetails neatly into the fake dating idea, only adding an extra layer to the whole deception that builds an even stronger sense of anticipation. Ha-ri and Tae-moo get closer to each other with every fake date and half-truth-filled conversation, but it’s all a house of cards we know could collapse at any moment.
Once the mistaken identities are revealed, the drama escalates. As he now has true feelings for her, Tae-moo agrees to play her fake boyfriend (to impress her friends) in an attempt to woo her – and thus we enter round two of the fake dating schemes. Tae-moo uses this opportunity to express his true feelings for Ha-ri under the guise of the whole relationship being a ruse. He buys her friends an expensive dinner, dotes on her, calls her beautiful, and lets his true jealousy shine through when they meet up with Ha-ri’s old crush. But because Ha-ri is convinced he’s out of her league and that he’s doing this for business reasons, it ends up becoming even more convoluted.
Round two of their fake dating schemes is even more frustrating than the first because, by this point, both Tae-moo and Ha-ri are aware of their own feelings (albeit to different degrees). And so the tension shifts from “when will the lie be revealed” to “when will their feelings be revealed”. The problem is no longer about the farce itself but when the two leads will admit it isn’t a farce at all. Without the guise of mistaken identity, this second relationship takes a sort of transitionary role. It’s a test run in which Tae-moo can try his best to show Ha-Ri what a real relationship with him would be like while still having plausible deniability for his feelings.
Fake dating works so well here because we see it evolve alongside their feelings. The first fake relationship is a full lie, one wherein one half isn’t even using their true name. But the second fake relationship is built on hidden truths. Tae-moo is fully aware of his own feelings by this point and is determined to make Ha-ri fall for him while Ha-ri has finally started to notice just how much Tae-moo makes her heart race. This shifts the tension away from the external pressure of when the fake relationship will be exposed to the world to when the characters will admit their feelings to themselves or each other.
The tension in the second fake relationship is immediately more intimate because the foundation is actually something real. Usually, fake romances just function to show the characters what they’ve wanted all along, but in Business Proposal, it is only because of the fake relationship and the mistaken identities that the characters even grow close in the first place. The feelings are fostered by the slow transition from lie to truth but the relationship could not flourish the way it does without the many pitfalls and blunders that happened along the way. The Tae-moo from Episode 1 would not fall in love with Episode 1 Ha-ri; it took the lie to find the truth.
The fake dating and mistaken identity tropes bounce off of each other precisely because of their roots in deception. The farce heightens tension both for the reveal of the act but also for the expected secondary reveal of the character’s true feelings. The lies create a nerve-wracking web that somehow pulls Tae-moo and Ha-ri together and only after the last lie has been revealed can we reach the true resolution. The light-hearted tone of the show also contributes to a safe sense of tension. We know that this situation will eventually implode but we are granted a sense of safety simply through familiarity with the genre. The lies can get as messy as they like because, in the end, that tension will be rewarded with a grand true romance.
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