Kdrama review: Coffee Prince (2007)

So, it looks like my start date as a teacher has been pushed back a few weeks later than expected. For the past few months I’ve been watching some Korean dramas to stay immersed in the language as much as possible. It looks like I’ll be doing that for another month or so until I’m back in Korea.

Many Korean shows are available on YouTube or through sites like Viki and DramaFever. So far I have picked up some new words and these shows also provide some cultural insights. So, I figured I may as well review some that I’ve been watching for other inquiring minds. Whether you want to work on your Korean, or simply are looking for a new show to watch, I’ll give you my honest appraisal.

First up: Coffee Prince (커피프린스 1호점)

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Summary: Eun-chan is a tomboyish 24 year old working multiple jobs to keep a roof over not only her head, but over her mother and younger sister too. She’s been head of the family since her father died when she was a teen. She meets the rich and handsome Han-gyul and due to a series of misunderstandings he believes her to be a boy. Feeling pressure from his family to marry (but still harboring a crush on his cousin’s long-term on-again-off-again girlfriend) Han-gyul hires Eun-chan to pretend to be his gay boyfriend and crash the blind dates his grandmother arranges.

Han-gyul’s family lay off him regarding marriage, but make him take over a run-down coffee house owned by the family company. He decides to staff the coffee house entirely with attractive young men to draw the students from a nearby women’s university. Still thinking she’s a boy, he hires Eun-chan. Things get complicated when she begins to have feelings for Han-gyul and he begins to find himself returning them.

Characters: Eun-chan is a very likeable character who has had to shoulder a lot of responsibility at a young age. Which is why it’s a little hard for me to believe she cries so often. If I do a series rewatch I will have to tally how often she cries because my goodness it’s often. I also find it hard to believe that no one realizes she’s a girl… but suspension of disbelief I suppose. She’s funny and determined and grows into herself by the end of the series.

Han-gyul is a sort of arrogant rich guy who is incredibly attractive and has a tragic back-story–pretty much textbook for a K Drama hero. However, he’s not as much of a jerk as many are. I have to gauge K Drama heroes by how often I want to punch them in the throat. I hardly ever wanted to punch him in the throat, so he scores pretty high by comparison. The chemistry between Han-gyul and Eun-chan is good as well.

The side characters are good as well for the most part. Han-seong, Han-gyul’s music producer cousin is one of my favorites. The men of the coffee shop are always amusing to watch interact as well. There is definitely some fan-service at work here, casting a variety of “types” so that most women watching the show will find at least one man to fancy. Sun-ki, one of the coffee house employees definitely stands out. His character has minimal lines, but is always able to steal a scene– I was really happy when he got his own little subplot.

Plot: The premise is a little ridiculous, but it’s supposed to be a romantic comedy. Some fluffiness is to be expected. There were actually moments when I got a strong Twelfth Night vibe from the show (it is one of my favorite Shakespearean comedies).

There were some moments that felt very real about dealing complications of relationships (though they were extra complicated in this case). There were many subplots throughout the series. Most of them were strong and you felt invested in those stories as well as the main plot. Though, I confess, when Eun-chan revealed her true identity, the show did lose a little steam for an episode or two, but it came together again at the end.

Style Points: 6/10 Han-gyul and Yoo-joo especially are snappy dressers and the coffee house setting was very aesthetically pleasing.

Feminist Points: 7/10 To be fair, I’m mostly basing this comparison off other Korean dramas. Coffee Prince presents us with a heroine who is able to use the fact that people assume she’s a man to assert herself. She’s tough (a taekwondo teacher who ends up carrying a drunk Han-gyul home as a nice parallel to countless drama scenes that involve a boy carrying a tipsy girl home). She also has her pride and works hard. She doesn’t accept financial help from Han-gyul in spite of her family’s difficulties. She also sets the terms for their relationship, determining what pace she’s comfortable with.

Overall, I really like this series and would recommend it (and not just because the very handsome Gong Yoo plays Han-Gyul… but, I mean… look). It’s definitely one of my favorites out of the Korean romantic comedies I’ve seen.

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