[J-Drama] Big Money: The Three Fallacies of Jdrama

Big Money Cover

Synopsis

Big Money is a human drama with a suspense twist about a young man who learns the tricks of the trade about stock exchange from a well-experienced investor. The backdrop of this story is the elaborate world of banking and the stock market. Shirato Norimichi (Nagase) lives off the money his parents send him, and his winnings at pachinko while waiting to find permanent employment. One day, Shirato is recruited by a mysterious elderly gentleman by the name of Kozuka Taihei (Ueki). Shirato later finds out that the small, yet mild mannered Kozuka was once a legendary trader. Although clouded by the mystery surrounding Kozuka, Shirato begins to work for him. In time, Shirato finds himself being mesmerized by the wave of numbers of the market.

First Impression

My initial rating for this drama was a 3/10. I’ve heard that this drama involved geniuses, psychological dueling, strategic battles across a human chessboard, etc., which brought back fond memories of Liar Game and Death Note Before L Died (DNBLD). Alas, reality is cruel and the drama in no way played up to expectations. Thus, 3/10 is my “what a letdown” score but “5/10” is the unbiased “true” rating of this show.

What’s so terrible?

Big Money unfortunately hit three of my biggest pet peeves about Japanese dramas. The “5/10” rating is given in consideration that it is a jdrama. If I had compared Big Money to the best of Asian dramas in general, it would have really deserved my initial “3/10” rating.

#1 Pet Peeve: Absurdly Exaggerated Acting

Maybe over-acting is just a negative externality of producing a show in the birthplace of anime. Maybe too many mangas have been converted into jdramas that comic book expressions are the new normal. Maybe the Japanese just vocalize and express their emotions more than other cultures and thus in dramas, expressions just become even more dramatic. Whatever the reason, when MC is angry, he clenches his teeth and opens his mouth so wide that we can see his entire set of pearly whites. When MC is shocked, he jumps back ten feet and hugs a door frame for protection. When MC is stunned, he is actually frozen for thirty seconds.

I get that this over-acting is supposed to provide the comedy element in this serious drama, but instead it just makes the actors look like bipolar amateurs and the screenwriters look like they need some serious inspiration. When the male lead continues to be spooked back ten feet by the silent entry of a yakuza thug after their twentieth such meeting, the writing is not just bad, it’s also lazy. Character development exists for a reason. Even the pigeons on the street don’t fly away anymore when humans approach because they learned that no harm will come to them. MC is becoming a stockpicking hotshot. His brain can’t be smaller than a pigeon’s.  

#2 Pet Peeve: Juvenile Suspense

The writing in Big Money is so terrible that a suspense drama doesn’t even create suspense. No matter how much you play that suspenseful music in the background, my heart just will not jump into my throat if you already tell me what will happen. Imagine an auction: Bad Guy B wants item. Good Guy A wants to make trouble for him. Ergo, whenever B places a bid, A jumps in with a higher bid, forcing B to bid even higher. However, what nobody knows (except the viewers) is that A was the one who put the item up for auction. He wants to get X amount to make a really nice profit, with X being the highest that B can tolerate. A jacks up the price in the bidding war with B and stops bidding when B finally bids X. And viola! A triumphs over B!!! YES!!! WOOHOO!!! …we totally didn’t know this was going to happen…yay…

In Big Money’s financial battles, there are no “random”, third party factors. Because the leads are really smart, everything goes according to plan, except Bad Guy B’s plans always fail and A’s plans always work. And not only does A’s plans always work without a hitch, he always explains how they would work … before he executes the plan. This would be nice … in a “how things work” show. Sadly, this handholding happened in a suspense drama instead.

#3 Pet Peeve: Too Cliche

Don’t want to beat on a dead horse…but I can’t help it. The writing. Big Money is just filled with an incredible amount of cliches. The wise old man who guides and trains the MC. The girl-next-door childhood best friend who sticks by MC through thick and thin, but whose love is ultimately doomed to failure because he doesn’t see her as a “woman”. The rival who is a genius stock trader and has already made billions (of Yen) but who nevertheless will fall before the rising amateur MC. And last but not least, the deadbeat MC – unemployed college graduate working at a fast food restaurant and wasting his money gambling all day – picks up awesome opportunity to become a stock picking god’s disciple because he unknowingly helped the old man out of the kindness of his heart (among other things). Yes, this kind of good fortune just happens everyday…

I don’t particularly mind the suspension of disbelief required (this is fiction, after all) but the show should then follow up with something amazing and novel. Not a parade of walking stereotypes. This drama might have more been interesting in 2002, when it first aired, but not in 2014 when audiences are just tired of the same old tropes again and again.

Conclusion

To summarize, I’m just not impressed. Big Money does have a few redeeming spots – the premise is still interesting even if the execution is terrible. It also earns points for practicality. The financial spiels and tactics depicted in the show are true (though not all legal) and applied in real life today so viewers can actually learn quite a bit about stockpicking from watching Big Money. Nothing gets too complex so the setting of Big Money serves as a nice introduction to the financial world. That said, there are some really good jdrama out there (GTO, Jyoou no Kyoushitsu, Ninkyo Helper, etc.). And this is not one of them.

Rating: 5/10

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