30 October 2020

K Drama Review: Coffee Prince (2007)

After watching Train to Busan, I became curious with Gong Yoo. At first glance, he does not really look like my typical oppa. But there was something appealing and intriguing about him. 

Before I start my review, allow me to share my observation about the evolution of K drama leading men. While watching this show, I realized that leading men in the 2000s were hunkier and more gruff/rough and masculine. Think Hyun Bin of Kim Sam Soon, Rain of Full House, and Gong Yoo and Lee Sun Kyun from this show. They were mostly tall, quite on the dark side, and handsome. Over the years however, K dramas seem to prefer "prettier" and more flawless leading men. Think Park Bo Gum of Record of Youth, Jung Hae In of Something in the Rain, and Lee Min Ho, among others. Yes, they're still tall and handsome but their faces appear more perfect than the older leading men. I'm not sure where Park Seo Joon belongs but he's probably somewhere in the middle, though still a bit more flawless than the older ones. Yes, the more recent leading men would be the ideal guys to introduce to your parents but I personally prefer the older leading men. They just strike me as more mysterious than the young ones. 

I admit that the pilot episode of Coffee Prince was not that compelling. That's the problem with being spoiled by perfect/near-perfect dramas like the Reply series. But as I mentioned in a previous post, we've dropped too many dramas (School Nurse Files and Radio Romance), so I wanted to be more patient with this one. And I read that Coffee Prince had good reviews and it was well-accepted and critically-acclaimed. It also helped that the female lead was Yoon Eun Hye, who was in my gateway drama from long ago, Princess Hours. So we chose to stick with it. And it was well worth it. 

Story

Coffee Prince tells the story of Choi Han Kyul (Gong Yoo), a coffee company heir. Han Kyul is in his late 20s so his grandmother (Kim Young Ok) is pressuring him to get married. He was asked to go on blind dates. As a sign of protest, he engages the services of Go Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye), whom he thought was a boy, to act as his gay lover. 

Eun Chan is not well-off. She is the family's breadwinner and she keeps numerous jobs to support her family. She delivers milk, peels chestnuts, sews eyes on stuffed toys, teaches taekwondo, and delivers food for a restaurant. Her father passed away when she was young and she had to step up since she was the eldest. She lives with her mother (Park Won Sook) and younger sister Eun Sae (Han Ye In). 

Han Kyul met Eun Chan by accident. Han Kyul was standing outside his apartment building with his crush and his cousin's (Lee Sun Kyun as Choi Han Sung) girlfriend, Han Yoo Joo (Chae Jung An of Suits). A motorcycle rider passes by and snatches Yoo Joo's bag. Fortunately, Eun Chan was driving by while doing one of her deliveries. She caught the thief who turned out to be her sister's suitor, Hwang Min Yeop (Lee Eon). Although she was able to retrieve Yoo Joo's stuff, Gong Yoo suspected that she was in cahoots with the thief because they appear to know each other. That incident gave birth to Han Kyul and Eun Chan's love-hate relationship. 

Eun Chan started out as a pretend gay lover for Han Kyul. However, when Han Kyul's grandmother compels his grandson to co-manage one of her coffee shops, Eun Chan was promoted as one of the coffee shop's employees. Han Kyul's concept was to have an all-male staff so Eun Chan could not reveal her real gender for fear of losing her job. 

Han Kyul did not plan to stay at the Coffee Prince for a long time. He gave himself three months and he told his grandma that if he meets the sales target within that period, he would leave for New York to pursue his real dream of being a toy designer. 


Han Kyul had to run the Coffee Prince with one of her grandmother's trusted but non-performing employees, Mr. Hong (Kim Chang Wan of Something in the Rain and Worlds Within). Mr. Hong knew Eun Chan's real identity but he agreed to be quiet about it because he cared for her as one of his old patrons. 


Apart from Eun Chan, the Coffee Prince had three other employees. Sun Ki (Kim Jae Wook whom we saw in The Last Princess) was the handsome half-Japanese wafflemaker. He used to live in Japan but he went to Korea to follow the love of his life. 

Ha Rim (Kim Dong Wook) was Han Kyul's friend. He appears to be from an affluent background too like Han Kyul but he ran away from home because he refused to fulfill his father's dream for him to be a doctor. He's a big flirt and he loved teasing Eun Chan. 

Min Yeop also got a job at the Coffee Prince through Eun Chan. 


The other pair to complete our love square was Han Sung, a musical director and Yoo Joo, an artist. They have been together for several years but Yoo Joo broke up with Han Sung when she fell in love with DK (Kim Jung Min). Yoo Joo ran off to New York with her new boyfriend. A few years later, she returned to Korea after breaking up with DK. She wanted get back together with Han Sung. Although the two agreed to be a couple again, they had a lot of trust issues to deal with. It didn't help that Han Sung, who met Eun Chan as his milk delivery person, started to develop feelings for her. Han Sung and Yoo Joo almost broke up again but things ended well for this two. 

Han Kyul had to face a lot issues throughout the show. His first challenge was running the Coffee Prince. It was initially difficult because his heart was not into it. Things picked up eventually when he was challenged to do better after learning that his grandmother had cancer. 

A bigger issue Han Kyul had to deal with was his real identity. He thought he was his father's (Choi Il Hwa) son from a different woman. He never brought it up because he loved his mother so much. However, he found out eventually that he was actually an adopted son. His father fell in love with a girl whom his grandmother did not approve of. The girl married and got pregnant with another guy (Nam Myung Rul as Myung Jae). However, about a year into their relationship, the couple separated. The father left for Australia while the mother died while the child, Han Kyul, was still a baby. Han Kyul was left in an orphanage. But Han Kyul's adoptive father probably still loved his biological mother and that led him to adopt Han Kyul. Han Kyul found out the truth after his grandmother told him and he met with his biological father. It was truly a heartbreaking moment for Han Kyul.


The other big problem Han Kyul had to face was his feelings for Eun Chan. He was torn between admitting and denying what he felt. He fired Eun Chan in an effort to resist his feelings. But the Coffee Prince (and Han Kyul too!) needed Eun Chan. When he could not hold it in any longer, Han Kyul decided to take it all the way with Eun Chan, never mind what other people had to say. But then Eun Chan's real identity gets revealed at this point (no thanks to Ha Rim). Han Kyul felt so hurt and deceived. He refused to work with Eun Chan again. But he must have really loved her because he got back together with her after a few days. 

The next problem was getting the approval of Han Kyul's family. His parents and grandma thought Eun Chan was a guy so they were scandalized when they found out that the two were dating. But when they learned that she was a girl, they still could not accept her because she was not feminine at all and she did not come from a good family. However, after they got to know Eun Chan better, they all agreed that she was actually a decent person and was good for Han Kyul. 


Everything seems to be all set. Han Kyul even rejected an offer to work full time in New York because he wanted to marry Eun Chan so badly. But Eun Chan had other plans. She had dreams to fulfill. And while she wanted to marry Han Kyul too, she wanted to wait a few more years. (So, yes, this reinforces my opinion that Jeong Ha should not have broken up with Hye Jun in Record of Youth. There's absolutely nothing wrong with fulfilling her dreams while being in a relationship. Haha, sorry, can't help it. I'm still not quite over it.)

Han Kyul's grandmother had a solution. Since Eun Chan wanted to be a barista, she would send her to Italy to study for two years. Of course, Han Kyul was against it. But he loved Eun Chan and he can't really say no to his grandma. So he obliged. 


After finishing her studies in Italy, Eun Chan won a world barista competition. One of her prizes was to study for more one more year, all expenses paid. Han Kyul refused but again, his love for Eun Chan prevailed. But I guess it was time to reward Han Kyul for all the heartaches he went through. Eun Chan went back home instead to help open their new shop, the Coffee Princess. And all's well that ends well. 

The Good

Gong Yoo as Han Kyul


After watching the Coffee Prince, I would have to say that my curiosity of Gong Yoo was very legitimate and valid. He has such a nice build and there is something very manly about him. I've had my fair share of K drama oppas and I would have to say that we must trust the Koreans' eyes. They know how to pick their leading men. Like Rain, you won't easily notice Gong Yoo. He is not that oppa-ble by usual oppa standards. But these guys will grow on you. They have this certain charm, appeal, and x-factor that will make you fall in love with them. And whatever they may lack physically, they surely make up for it with their credible acting and nearly perfect comedic timing. And I am a firm believer that an average looking funny guy is always so much better than a good looking but boring guy. 

Since this is an old drama, we can still expect to see some rough and abusive traits from our male lead. But I found it more understandable here, and in a way, more acceptable (compared to Kim Sam Soon or Full House), because Han Kyul thought Eun Chan was a man. Hence, a bit of roughhousing should be fine. And I loved the transformation of how he treated Eun Chan after he found out that she was a girl. 


I also loved how genuinely giddy he looks whenever Eun Chan does something cute or when they reconcile after one of their numerous petty fights. I loved how totally detached, cool, and chill he can be in one scene and then be super swoony over Eun Chan in the next one. 


I liked how Gong Yoo can handle both the funny and the dramatic scenes. He did cry a bit here like when Eun Chan left for Italy. And it all looked so natural. No awkward, ugly crying for him. Among his contemporaries, he is probably the best actor in my books at the moment. (Hyun Bin is still probably the best looking, hehe.) I'll discuss his character more in a bit. 

Yoon Eun Hye as Eun Chan


Although I last watched her more than a decade ago, I can still remember being impressed by Yoon Eun Hye in Princess Hours. She made me laugh but she made me cry even harder. I expected nothing less from her here. And she did not disappoint. 

There is something really cute and funny about Eun Hye. Again, she is not your typical K drama actress. I can only compare her to Song Hye Kyo because Full House and the Coffee Prince were released around the same time. Yes, Hye Kyo is prettier but I'll pick Eun Hye over her. Her acting skills really shine regardless of her role. And her puppy dog eyes make her look even sadder and more pitiful during her drama scenes. 


I loved Eun Chan's character because of her positivity. Yes, she felt the burden of being the breadwinner of her family. Her issues with Han Kyul affected her. But these problems never took away her passion for doing the things she really loved. She was both carefree and responsible and it was just a joy to see her everytime. 

Sun Kyun envied Eun Chan for being young and innocent in her mid-20s. But Yoo Joo said she preferred being in her 30s. And I would have to agree with Yoo Joo. Yes, it's fun to be young like Eun Chan but there's also beauty in being more mature. There's more stability especially when it comes to relationships. You no longer need to (or you just don't care at all) guess about how other people feel. Your preferences matter more and that's totally fine. 

Lee Sun Kyun as Han Sung and Chae Jung An as Yoo Joo


I loved Sun Kyun in Parasite. He seemed like a great guy based on how he was on Summer Vacation. So I was happy to watch him as the second lead here. Oppa was saying he looked like Ely Buendia, a Filipino singer. :D

Sun Kyun does not seem to have aged at all from the time this drama was aired. He still looks quiet but playful. 

I liked Han Sung because he was a very great support buddy for Eun Chan especially when the latter fought with Han Kyul. It helped that he knew who Eun Chan really was. 


I found Yoo Joo very pretty. I was surprised to know that she was part of Suits. She looked totally different. And I prefer the 2007 Yoo Joo over the 2018 version. 

Her acting was just okay. Nothing spectacular. There were actually some scenes where her acting was almost bad. But I didn't mind her that much since she was a second lead. 

While I was okay with Han Sung and Yoo Joo individually, I was not a big fan of their relationship. I got tired of how they would always bring up the past during their arguments. I could not understand why Yoo Joo was rushing Han Sung into moving on from his feelings for Eun Chan. It was obvious that he was not over her yet so I don't know why she had to keep on asking him about it. I guess their relationship is proof that you can be together for so many years but still not really know each other that well. 

Other Characters

I loved almost all of the actors and characters in this show. I especially loved the boys and the special relationship they had with Eun Chan. They were all perfect for their characters - quiet Sun Ki, annoying Ha Rim, and clueless Min Yeop. It's sad to note that Lee Eon (Min Yeop) passed away in 2008 due to a motorcycle accident. 


One of the cast members I was curious about was Kim Ja Ok who played the role of Han Kyul's adoptive mom. I've watched her in a number of dramas like Worlds Within and Kim Sam Soon. And I was wondering why I no longer see her in the more recent dramas unlike Youn Yuh Jung, who was with her in Worlds Within. Yuh Jung appears older and I was still able to see her in Wonderful Days in 2014. A Google search revealed that Ja Ok passed away in 2014 due to lung cancer. Such sad news about someone whom I enjoyed watching in my older K dramas. 

The nice thing about Coffee Prince is that apart from having great actors and characters, the writers exerted effort in developing the characters, even the secondary/minor ones. I especially liked the back stories about Sun Ki and Mr. Hong. And I loved how these side stories were resolved or closed and not merely left hanging. 

Han Kyul and Eun Chan


When Han Kyul began developing feelings for Eun Chan, I knew that this show is not for everyone. You need to be really open minded to appreciate it. And I mean seriously open minded, not merely the lip service kind of open minded where you say you're okay with same sex relationships out of respect for your LGBTQ friends but deep inside you're really not that okay with it. If you're not totally open minded, then this show might not be for you. 

I liked Han Kyul and Eun Chan's scenes when they were starting out. They were funny and cute. But I was not sure if I liked them because I knew Eun Chan was a girl. 


But when they started becoming more physical with each other (like that hug in episode 6) and when Han Kyul told Eun Chan that he was ready to take their relationship all the way, I realized that I was really okay with the two of them, even if Eun Chan turned out to be a man. Their moments gave me the feels of all the other swoony K dramas I've watched in the past. Their scenes made me feel giddy. After all, we need to appreciate and respect love in whatever form it may be as long as it's pure and true. Love should never ever be ridiculed or made fun of. And we should never be grossed out by it. 


I loved Han Kyul's journey in coming to terms with his feelings. Yes, he resisted and he was quite mean towards Eun Chan. But it was understandable. He was frustrated and he probably wanted to repress his feelings. And that should be acceptable because coming out is a process. At least he did not deny his feelings and mask them by humiliating, bullying, or disrespecting Eun Chan. 

I initially felt that the grand reveal of Eun Chan's identity was quite anti-climactic. But I guess the show used it as a twist to make things quite unpredictable. 


I felt how conflicted Han Kyul was after he learned that Eun Chan was a girl. Yes, he should have been happy and relieved. But you have to understand the roller coaster of emotions he went through - repressing his feelings, admitting them, and coming out. Then, all of these seemed to have been invalidated because Eun Chan was actually a girl. I totally understood why he felt deceived. And while that kiss to taunt Eun Chan was not acceptable, it was mitigated by the fact that his feelings were still too raw and fresh at that time. We must also remember that he just found out that his parents lied to him too. So it was perfectly fine for him to have all these trust issues. And although I understood why Eun Chan had to lie, she should have confessed when Han Kyul told her that he'd take it all the way. 

After all the things they went through, I loved how Han Kyul chose to handle everything in a very mature way. He told Eun Chan that they should tell each other everything. That is a very pure plea coming from someone who was deceived by his family and his partner. Although we all know that in real life, that is easier said than done. 

Han Kyul had a lot of quotable quotes here too. Lines that made me fall in love with him even more. 

Like that time when he told Eun Chan that he was not going to New York because of himself and not because he can't stand being away from Eun Chan. Of course that is probably not true. I'm sure Eun Chan made up at least 50% of the reason why he's staying. But that was very considerate of him. It was a nice way of saying things so as not to burden Eun Chan and make her feel guilty that Han Kyul was passing up a huge opportunity because of her. 


Or that time when Eun Chan was asking Han Kyul if his grandma was not doing well that's why he was rushing their marriage. Han Kyul said he wanted to marry Eun Chan because he wanted to live with her, eat with her, talk to her, sleep with her, and be with her forever. Yes, a lot of guys can say these stuff. But Gong Yoo delivered these lines in a very heartfelt manner that you would never doubt his sincerity. 


Or when Eun Chan was asking Han Kyul if he really wanted her to leave for Italy. Han Kyul said he did not want Eun Chan to stay just because she loved him. And he acknowledged that while it would be difficult for them to be apart, it was only temporary and they would have a lot of time later on. Like when Eun Chan makes their first kimchi, holds their first child, attends their first parent-teacher meeting, marries off their kids. That was such a sweet proposal. Something like an old-fashioned version of Capt. Ri's pretend drunk proposal to Se Ri in Crash Landing on You.

I loved the Coffee Prince because it was ahead of its time. It bravely tackled same sex relationships, which was probably considered taboo in 2007. Even if it were not, it was a very socially relevant topic that was not a normal theme when you look at the other dramas that came out around that time. And it was not just their courage in talking about it. What was even more amazing was how they dealt with it in a very respectful and realistic manner. 

I know Korea is a patriarchal society. This is very evident in most of the dramas that I've seen. And that's why I admired the Coffee Prince even more because it tried to veer away from this norm. Eun Chan was her family's breadwinner. Her mom refused to get married and just depend on some other guy to provide for their family. Eun Chan refused to depend on Han Kyul. Yoo Joo loved working and she was not willing to give it up just so she can be a submissive wife to Han Sung. Han Sung and Han Kyul should have felt offended, given the patriarchal society they lived in. But I was so proud of them for acknowledging that although men loved to control and tame their women, they were humble enough to admit that that was wrong and that they should support and help them broaden their horizons and fulfill their dreams. 

The Not so Good


Apart from the same sex relationship storyline, some people might not like the humor and the gross eating and hygiene habits like Mr. Hong frequently picking his nose. Yes, they could have done away with these stuff but I was willing to let them slide because I felt that the story was so much bigger than these trivial things. 

Oh, and I didn't like DK too. But, that's just me. 


I also did not like that prelude to the skinship in episode 16. Yes, the skinship itself was okay. But the buildup was too exhausting. I'm sure there would have been a romantic yet funny way of doing it. 

While I had a lot of nice things to say about the Coffee Prince, I would just like to remind you again that this was shown in 2007 and would thus still be in the mold of old K dramas. There will be slapstick humor, abusive guys, illogical and disjointed storytelling, confusing timelines, stretched out stories that waste airtime, slow pace, rich guy-poor girl storyline with the rich guy's family trying to buy out the poor girl to break up with the guy, etc. The most obvious flaw was probably how someone like Eun Chan who had very soft and feminine features be mistaken for a guy. But being an old drama, I'm giving it a lot of leeway. 

The finale started out okay. The boys were paying homage to Eun Chan before she left for Italy. But later on, it felt quite stretched considering how little time was devoted to the scenes that happened two years later. Time could have been managed more efficiently so that we could have at least witnessed Han Kyul and Eun Chan's wedding. Oppa felt that the director did not know how to end the show because with only 13 minutes left, we still didn't seem to be getting anywhere. Yoo Joo and Han Sung's storyline also seemed totally different or detached from the main story during the ending. Good thing this show has earned more than enough brownie points with its unique plot and good actors that the ending did not entirely ruin the drama for me. 

So, yes, I loved the Coffee Prince but I acknowledge that it's not for everyone. :)

Oppa says...3.9.

Noona says...4.5.



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