Thursday, October 18, 2012

Drama Review: Rich Man, Poor Woman (2012)

Grade: B-

Urban Japanese workplace drama

What it’s about
A Steve Jobs–style tech billionaire has his world turned upside down by two people—his longtime business partner and his company’s hardworking new intern.

First impression
This brisk, breezy romance is just what I’ve come to expect from Japanese dramas: it’s got quirky characters to spare, and thanks to its fast-paced plot and streamlined storytelling, it makes most Kdramas feel painfully clunky and self-indulgent in comparison. So far, though, Rich Man, Poor Woman is lacking the emotional depth of Nobuta wo Produce, my favorite Jdrama to date. We’ll see how things go—this is the first Japanese love story I’ve watched, so maybe it will just take a while to get going.

Final verdict
It turns out that what actually took a while was my realization that Rich Man, Poor Woman was not what I wanted it to be: a swoony Kdrama romance. In spite of its cheesy title, this is actually a workplace drama about the value of connection and appreciating the people around us. And while there was a romance between its two leads, their love story felt peripheral—instead, the show’s most compelling relationship was the conflicted bromance between prickly genius Hyuga Toru and his right-hand man, Asahina Kosuke. Rich Man, Poor Woman’s plot revolves largely around the corporate intrigue created when envy finally gets the better of Asahina, who spent most of his long history with Hyuga trapped in the other man’s boy-wonder shadow. Their brotherly love is this show’s true heart, and it was agonizing to watch their friendship waver.

And speaking of agonizing, it’s been a while since I last wanted to leap through the television screen to throttle someone as much as I did during this show’s speedy 11-episode run. Again and again, the leads refused to communicate and instead did idiot things that prevented them from being together. As far as I’m concerned, spineless characters who never try to get what they want are more tiresome and frustrating than fun.

Rich Man, Poor Woman was an easy, amusing watch, but it lacked the homefront-minded charm and obsession with love that keeps me coming back to Korean drama.

Random thoughts
Episode 1.

Dear Japan:

Would you please stop making it so frigging hard for international viewers watch your dramas? I would literally pay you for easy access to this show—I spent 45 minutes trying to watch part 1 of the first episode last night. All the streaming sites kept freezing or throwing me out. It got old very, very quickly.

Your frustrated friend,

Episode 1. Ye if job interviews aren’t terrible enough to begin with, I can’t imagine having to be one of twenty interviewees. I’ve been interviewed by multiple people at once, but never had the competition sitting right next to me, looking cuter and more competent. (And it’s a good thing, or I’d be chronically unemployed.)

Episode 3. How interesting to see a chaebol type who actually works. Most Kdramas with similar plots star princelings with no mission in life beyond being nasty to commoners. Not that this show’s male lead isn’t plenty nasty—but at least he has some sort of personal merit. Or so we’re told.

Episode 6. I’m glad this show’s female lead is brainy, but couldn’t they have made her smart in a less stupid way? She can memorize incredible amounts of information in no time, but she’s still more starry-eyed and naive than any human being over the age of 5 should be.

Episode 6. This is definitely more information than you need to know, but while watching this episode I got a huge nosebleed. This clearly means one of three things: (1) I am dying of cancer; (2) I just watched 2 episodes in a row of Boys over Flowers, and my brain, liquefied by their stupidity, is leaking out; or (3) it’s allergy season. Hmmm...I wonder which it could be?

Episode 7. This show is well done, but I could use a little more bedroom and a lot less board room. Has Korean drama ruined me for shows that exist for reasons other than fan service in the form of broody shower scenes and over-the-top confessions of love?

Episode 9. Although Asian dramas are renowned in the West for their serious communication problems, it’s been a while since I’ve seen something as frustrating as this episode. Just explain yourself, you stupid drama bot. Human beings aren’t psychic—if you let him draw his own conclusions instead of telling the truth, it’s your own fault if he misinterprets what is a fundamentally innocent event. Speak, damnit!

Watch it

You might also be interested in
Pasta, for its similarly workplace-centric plot (added bonus: its lead couple are way more interesting and have exponentially better chemistry) 


  1. This was such a nice mindless drama for me :) Hence I enjoyed immensely. Is it great?? Far from it.. but it had enough eye candy for it to work for me. :)

    1. I've read a number of reviews of this drama, and I'm the only person who wasn't crazy about it. What a freak ;) I just found myself bellowing "Let's get this show on the road already!" way too often for an 11 episode drama. And it ticked me off when Asahina turned into a cartoony-jump-on-chairs-with-victorious-glee bad guy. He's more my kind of eye candy than the guy who played Hyuga.

  2. Somehow I wish the show had stuck to one angle instead of two: either the budding romance between the rich man and poor girl; or, the workplace-industry commentary on creativity vs. rote learning. I loved both sides of the drama individually, as they were presented in the first half: Makoto getting Hyuga to learn to socialize, and him opening her boundaries a bit; and the status of Next Innovation (aptly named) as a maverick in a conservative staidbound industry.

    Instead, I think the second half of the drama kind of went off on a kdrama-esque tangent that looped around to where it began with very little change. Still, I'll remember the first five episodes as sweet and funny and charming. And FINALLY, a heroine who dresses well in the workplace (barring ep. 1, of course ;P)


    1. I agree about this show descending into a whirlpool of Kdrama pointlessness :b It's a pity, because as you said it started off really well and the office setup was fun. The new company name killed me at the end—I kept hearing the Oasis song "Wonderwall" every time somebody brought it up. And Next Innovation's "Personal File" product was pretty funny. Watching as an American, I spent a lot of time imagining the political furor if someone decided to create a Big-Brother-esque master file on every single citizen. They'd probably be deported.

      I've only seen a few Japanese dramas at this point, but I have yet to see one that speaks to me as a love story.

  3. Ahhh!! I've been house sitting for my inlaws all week and the live out in the middle of freaking nowhere and they can't get cable internet because the cable company won't run lines out there and so they have DSL and then this old fossil of a computer that literally takes 30 minutes to boot up and then the internet constantly freezes because it is old and virus ridden, so I have been unable to watch dramas or blog, because the internet on my smart phone won't even work out there, there is no wifi, 3G or 4G signal. I am going crazy!!! I am at my parents' house visiting them so I'm going to catch up on blogging and Arang while I'm here lol.

    Anyway, Rich Man, Poor Woman doesn't sound like something I'd really enjoy.

    1. Ah! Only the possibility of zombie apocalypse is scarier than being trapped at a home with insufficient internet service. My office was without power for a few hours one day last week, and even though most people had things they could on paper, productivity hit a record low. Much to my surprise I'm no longer capable of coherent thought without easy access to Google. We spent a lot of time huddled near the windows, waiting for the nightmare to end.

      Rich Man, Poor woman clearly didn't turn out to be my cup of tea, either. Which is a pity, because most reviews of it are really positive. I guess I'm just impossible to please, now that I've been ruined by classics like Coffee Prince and Answer Me 1997.

      I'm catching up on Arang right now, and I'm so glad you suggested that I read Peony in Love. It really allows me to understand what's going on in that drama a lot more than I would have been able to.

    2. The horror.. no internet...

      I started rewatching AM 1997 with my sister who's visiting. I clearly didn't marathon this fast enough the first time.. Already forgetting so many wonderful and new little details, this time of course in the context of knowing how it will all go down. It's also fun to hear someone else's comments as they're watching it for the first time.. thought trains or red herrings that I missed or never noticed.. almost as good as seeing it again for the first time!

      Come to think about it, I also haven't yet run into a Jdrama that struck a straight romantic chord with me. Tatta Hitotsu no Koi is probably the closest (does a good romance) but it deals a lot more on social issues too (sort of like a Kdrama but not as fluffy). Buzzer Beat I thought might be a good rom-com and it sort of started out that way, but I think it lost itself in the plot somewhere and became progressively less "fun" to watch.. I think I actually like watching Jdramas more for the variety they give me in genres. But when I crave romance, I crave a good old "saranghae" romance.. :)

  4. Peony in Love really does do a good job of explaining how hungry ghosts and the afterworld work. Plus it's just an awesome book.

    I just finished Arang yesterday and it had a wonderful ending. I am thinking about marathoning it before I write my review.

    Sara, I agree that jdramas provide variety, but there's nothing like a cheesy Kdrama romance :).

  5. Way late in commenting on this but I couldn't agree more about the frustrating lack of communication. The hard thing for me is that Japan used to have romcoms down pat and then they started fooling around with (maybe what they thought was more modern) plotlines that were completely dissatisfying. I really felt RMPW was their attempt to make a Kdrama because it had such a Korean-flavor without the charm. It's a pity because I really like the leads, they deserved a better script. There are better examples of Jdrama romance out there- still saying you should check out Pride ;)

  6. I only watch Korean dramas. There are so many I have to catch up on I don't have time for another country's dramas too!

  7. If you want try another good drama, on par with nobuta wo produce try Bara no nai hanaya. It has an excellent plot. A human drama. Give it a try. This drama rich man, poor woman are at the lower end of dramas a I liked. No where near nobuta or bara no nai hanaya,