Impressive, entertaining, daring, thought provoking, bold, polished, emotional – that’s Coffee Prince. This 2007 smash-hit Kdrama is one I wish everyone would see. You don’t even need to be a Kdrama fan to enjoy it.
Choi Han-Kyul is a single guy, raised in a well-to-do family. His grandmother is the matriarch, a no nonsense business woman who wants her beloved grandson to settle down, get married and become a responsible adult. But that’s not even close to what Han-Kyul wants. She decides to try and force things along by setting him up on blind dates but Han-Kyul outsmarts her by hiring a young man, Go Eun-Chan, to pose as his gay lover, chasing away all the potential girlfriends. What he’s unaware of is the fact that Eun-Chan is not a guy! Eun-Chan is a single young woman who feels the burden of taking care of her mother and younger sister after the death of her father, and she’ll take any job that helps ease her financial stress. So if she can make a few bucks pretending to be a man, why not? After all, she didn’t start it. Han-Kyul thought she was a man, she just went along with it. Han-Kyul wants to go to America and his grandmother agrees to send him there but it’s under the condition that he makes a success of an old, failing coffee shop in just three months. Having no choice, Han-Kyul begins working on his new business venture, deciding on a gimmick- hire only good-looking male servers and call the place Coffee Prince! That should bring in a crowd of girls, right? Needing a steady paycheck, and knowing that Han-Kyul thinks she’s a man, Eun-Chan gets a job at Coffee Prince. And that’s when the romance begins.
The more Han-Kyul and Eun-Chan are together, the more they come to like each other. That’s not a problem for Eun-Chan. She can love him from afar while still masquerading as a man to save her job. But for Han-Kyul that challenges who he is to the very core. He’s never been attracted to men. He’s even had a crush on his cousin’s girlfriend for years. How could this be happening? I’m not going to tell you any more about the story, other than to say, what the poor guy goes through, battling his growing attraction for Eun-Chan, is heartbreaking.
Coffee Prince is a daring drama, especially for seven years ago. They tackled a serious subject and did a fantastic job. It’s not until almost halfway through the show that the characters actually use the word “homosexuality” but you know what they are referring to the whole time. To me, the show isn’t as much about homosexuality as it is about love. Love challenges Han-Kyul’s governing values and who he, himself, really is. You see, other dramas have made characters choose between love and something else that is important to them -family, friends, a job, wealth… – but Han-Kyul has love challenging who he is. He’s definitely not gay, but he finds himself in love with a man. This puts poor Han-Kyul in great turmoil and sheer agony. What does this heterosexual guy do when he realizes he’s falling in love with a man?
So, let’s put the moral of the story behind now and focus on other things.
Gong Yoo plays Han-Kyul, and what a brilliant job he does! I was blown away with his acting. You know the saying, “A picture’s worth a thousand words”… Well, Gong Yoo’s face says everything he’s thinking and feeling. You can see his questioning turn to frustration, then to fear, and then to out and out pain as his heart grows closer and closer to Eun-Chan. You can’t help but feel sorry for that usually happy-go-lucky young man.
Yoon Eun-Hye is Go Eun-Chan. She is every inch a tomboy so it’s not surprising Han-Kyul thought she was a man. This poor girl has taken it upon herself to be the bread winner of the family and is more than willing to do whatever job is available. As she gets closer to Han-Kyul she agonizes over whether or not she should tell him she’s a girl. She hints at it once, asking him what he would do if she was a girl and, in trying to keep his distance, he answers, “I’m glad you’re a man.” So she realizes if she wants to stay near him she has to keep hiding her true identity. Selfish? Yea, but you can understand her way of thinking.
Lee Sun-Kyun plays Choi Han-Sung, Han-Kyul’s older cousin. He is a successful music director and a very sweet guy. Eun-Chan likes him the minute they meet but then as she becomes closer to Han-Kyul her interest changes to just friendship. Han-Sung gradually comes to like Eun-Chan but it’s a little too late. And, deep down, he’s never really stopped loving Han Yoo-Joo.
Chae Jung-An is Han Yoo-Joo, an artist who left Han-Sung, after an eight year relationship, to go off with another guy. Han-Kyul has had a crush on her for years but she was only interested in him as a friend. Now, she’s decided she made a mistake when she left Han-Sung and she’s come back to start over.
There are several Kdramas out there where girls try to pass themselves off as male but, in my opinion, this is the best one of them all. The make-up and wardrobe departments did a great job stripping her of her femininity. Yoon Eun-Hye was wonderful at coming off a bit on the masculine side – the way she sat, the way she walked, the way she ate… not lady-like at all. And because Eun-Chan is a tomboy at heart, she didn’t need to change much at all. I think that’s the reason she got away with it for so long. When a girl tries to look and act like a boy she is definitely a fish out of water. A tomboy’s a bit closer to the real thing so there’s less acting involved. Eun-Hye is not shaped like a man but she did a darn good job acting the part of a woman who is acting the part of a man.
Coffee Prince‘s average rating was 24.2% nationwide. That’s like just shy of 1/4 of the country watching it at the same time. After the 5th episode it ranked second place for the rest of the run. Twelve solid weeks of being in second place. That’s impressive. I don’t always agree with who award ceremony winners are but this time I think they were right on. At the MBC Drama Awards Gong Yoo won the Excellence Award in the actor category and Yoon Eun-Hye won the Top Excellence Award in the actress category. She also won Best TV Actress at the 44th Baeksang Arts Awards. And at the 20th Korea PD Awards Lee Yoon-Jung won the Best New TV Director Award and Coffee Prince took home the Best Drama Award.
The soundtrack is very unique. I’m not really sure how to explain what I mean by that. It just has an unfamiliar sound/feel to it. There’s lots of acoustic guitar music and quite a few songs are sung in English. Most of the music in the show is very soft and subtle – complimenting a scene, not overpowering it. It’s different but it grows on you.
The main filming location in the show is, of course, the coffee shop. The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince is a real place in Hongdae. It was remodeled and then when they stopped filming the show they reopened, leaving the flowers that Yoo-Joo painted on the wall. They also have other props from the show on display. I’d love to go there and see the place.
I had no idea what a barista was until I watched this drama. When Eun-Chan said she wanted to be a barista I decided I’d better find out what it was. It’s a coffee artist. You can see demonstrations on YouTube if you’re interested. The pictures they can make on the coffee are unbelievable. I’d love to have a job like that, but I hate the smell of coffee. There goes that career.
I hope you’ll take the time to watch Coffee Prince. I promise you, it may be old but it’s still one of the best Kdramas out there today. Honest.
Award winning acting
Daring subject matter
I’ve got nothin’