For a drama I deeply love and the one I credit for making me fall down the rabbit hole of drama addiction, Coffee Prince could do with a little more love on this blog. I haven’t even written a review of it, mostly because I fear being unable to adequately describe in words my love and affection for this show. But since this is a new year and there’s no better time to try new things, I thought I’d rewatch this show and compile a guide of sorts, which as you will see, is really a collection of
fangirl gushing musings.
I’ve also included a list of songs from each episode from both on and off the official soundtrack, since the music was flawless, and one of the many reasons why this drama is one of my favourites of all time. I’ve shamefully stolen from the amazing work of Dramabeans for this, filling in some gaps where I noticed them.
(also known as The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince)
- Genre: Romantic Comedy
- Episodes: 17
- Broadcast network: MBC
- Broadcast period: July 2nd 2007- 27th August 2007
*The synopses are spoiler free, but the commentary isn’t!*
Episode 1– First Cup
Synopsis: We meet our heroine Go Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye), a working-class girl with multiple jobs struggling to keep her family afloat. Our hero Choi Han Kyul (Gong Yoo), a rich, aimless playboy, returns from a stint in the US to find himself under pressure from his patron–his formidable grandmother. His grandmother wants him to shape up and settle down, and promptly arranges a series of blind dates for him. Meanwhile, Han Kyul’s cousin Han Seong (Lee Sun Kyun) is trying his best to ignore his old flame Yoo Joo (Chae Jung Ahn) who wants him back. Eun Chan and Han Kyul end up in each other’s orbits when the former thwarts an attempted robbery of Yoo Joo. When Eun Chan’s bike gets damaged in the process, she gets fired from one of her part time jobs. Desperate for cash, she visits Han Kyul to ask for compensation, who thinks that she is a he, and that this is all part of a scheme to hit him up for money. Cue bickering, an accidental fall-on-top-half-naked-hero hijinks, and moderate stalking, all of which lead us to the main set-up: Han Kyul asking Eun Chan if she wants to be his lover.
This is my sixth time watching this drama and it still has the ability to make me grin ear to ear from start to finish. I’ve always been a little wary before starting a re-watch–will I still love it unabashedly? Will the warm fuzzies fade?–but I never need worry because this show never lets me down. This is what true (drama) love like is, people!
It’s testimony to how well-made this show is that within minutes of its opening, you know all the main players, and the core dynamics of the central love square. You get character and hints of conflict–all within the first 10 minutes (trust me, I checked). It’s also zippy and fun and energetic, much like Eun Chan’s bright upbeat personality. It’s a marvellous economy and it’s stylish to boot. It isn’t glossy by current trendy drama standards, but it’s clear that this show is shot with an eye for detail and a love for natural settings. For instance, there’s a lovely moment with captures the rhythms of Eun Chan’s life, when she’s on a milk-delivery bike run through a pre-dawn suburban Seoul neighbourhood.
So much of this drama seems to be shot outdoors, giving it a sense of place, a geography, which makes this world feel lived-in and the story more immersive.
And I’m just about ready to move into Han Kyul’s bachelor pad.
The show makes clear this is Eun Chan’s story–we meet her first, and all the people who matter in her life. We learn she works three jobs, and bears the responsibility of being the head of her household because her mother is a bit of a flake. So she does the conventional male duties of shouldering the financial burden, and also of putting boys who get fresh with her sister in their place. She deals with Min Yeop like a boss, not just by physically showing off her taekwondo moves but with her epic appetite, in what must be the most disgusting bout of eating I’ve ever seen in a drama:
We get the sense that she’s done this many times before (both the eating and the put-down) so it fits that her sister calls her ‘oppa’. And I totally believe her when she tells Min Yeop she put someone in the hospital.
She’s also used to being mistaken for a boy. It doesn’t seem to bother her because this is who she really is–she’s not playing a role of being ‘male’.
She’s comfortable moving in and out of men’s spaces, for instance, when she marches into the men’s toilet to demand an apology from Han Kyul. Her androgyny gives her mobility and access to power that a conventional looking girl won’t have. So I get why she doesn’t correct Han Kyul when he asked if she’d gone to the military yet. It’s likely because doing so would’ve invited a patronising lecture about being a proper lady, something she’s probably heard a million times before. Eun Chan would’ve gained nothing from correcting his mistaken assumption. Being called a ‘girl’ or ‘gizibe‘ is also a touchy subject for her, as we see earlier when her douchey ex-boss complained that he only hired her because it was cheaper than hiring a guy.
And here’s another reason why I love her–she’s as susceptible to road rage as I am:
And let’s shower Yoon Eun Hye with rose petals for being so convincing and believable in this role. Eun Chan transcends character trope (i.e: a gender-bending Candy) to being a real flesh-and-blood person thanks to her. She’s absolutely without vanity here and it pays off handsomely.
Speaking of handsome, say hello to Choi Han Kyul. He loves himself to death–he practically licks himself in the mirror when we first see him. (And we must thank PD Lee Yoon Jung for making darn sure we get plenty of chances to admire Gong Yoo’s fine form too.) It’s not a stretch to say that before he met Eun Chan, I doubt he’d ever came across another person he liked as much as himself. (It’s beyond doubt though, that she’s the first person he’s ever openly admired and looked up to.)
At first, I wasn’t inclined to like him all that much. He’s the prototypical crabby chaebol fuss-pot. What made all the difference for though me was how adorable he was with his grandmother. Plus he made this face, the first of many legendary Gong Yoo expressions of which will forever turn me to goo:
His grandmother adores him equally, and their relationship is a treat to watch unfold.
He’s also apparently secure enough in his manhood to first, be photographed being affectionate with other men, and second, having the public (i.e. the eligible bachelorette circle) think he’s a gay man. Which goes a long way in making his eventual acceptance of himself as being able to love a man more believable.
In yet another way this drama messes with many a standard trope, here we see that the alpha male has a terribly low tolerance for alcohol, which comes in handy when you need a comedic set-up or two down the line (see next episode).
Additionally, Han Kyul plays the third wheel, which is not what you’d expect from the alpha. What I liked about this is that although he pines openly for Yoo Joo, his love and genuine affection for both Han Seong and her remains undimmed. It’s a complicated dynamic. When he tells Yoo Joo that she could rekindle her relationship with Han Seong, he does so because he knows they could be genuinely happy together.
The three of them have a long history, one that’s rooted in close friendship and familial bonds. But we sense that his primary connection to her was as an older, sophisticated woman he crushed on as a kid in the past and is not destined to be a part of his future. Romantically, at least. This much he pretty much blurts out when he calls her “noona” by accident (which by the way, inexplicably makes me melt).
None of this is said outright, but as we’ve seen with it’s efficient opener, the show is so good at establishing a lot with just the slightest touch, either through deft acting or clever edits.
Han Seong and Yoo Ju
When I first watched the show, I was so dazzled by Han Kyul and Eun Chan that I’d treated this pair with a lot disinterest. I understood that they were meant to be the adult foil to the youthful Han Kyul-Eun Chan pair. But boy was their angst such a downer, and they were no match for the exciting heat generating between the alpha couple. But now, I appreciate that we get to know Han Seong and Yoo Ju as individuals with separate connections to both Han Kyul and Eun Chan first, and then later on as a couple. She’s the free-spirit commitment-phobe, while he’s the one who got burned and is still nursing a broken heart. She’s obviously set-up as the girl you want to hate–the conventional feminine beauty in every way that Eun Chan isn’t.
“It’s flowing so smoothly just like rain”
Episode 1 really tells us that this show not going to be shy. Eun Chan’s first encounter with Han Kyul involves staring at his nethers while he’s half-naked on his couch. The second time she meets him, she again sees his crotch before she sees him! Pretty risque in my books for K-drama standards.
I’m also fascinated by the numerous references to poop–Eun Chan’s sister takes a crap with the door open; Eun Chan fixes a blocked toilet and has a conversation about bowel movements with the butcher. There’re a lot of bodily functions on display in this drama–from eating, to crapping, to peeing–everyone can’t wait to show or talk about their what goes in and out of their body. And they do it pretty elegantly at times too: “It’s flowing so smoothly just like rain,” describes Han Kyul.
I’m not sure what all this means, except that it might be useful to start counting the number of times poop or a bodily function is mentioned.
Episode 1 Song list:
1. Gazer Razor- Tearliner
2. Tango Italiano – Connie Francis
3. Goodbye -The Melody
4. Immaterial White – Free Tempo
5. Honey – Moby
Episode 2–Second Cup
Synopsis: Han Kyul employs Eun Chan to be his fake boyfriend in order to scare off all his dates, and after some protracted negotiation, she takes to the job with relish. He rewards her with a meal and bears witness to her huge appetite, heightened sense of smell and champion drinking skills. Being a lightweight, he passes out and she carries him back to her taekwondo dojo. In the morning, while cleaning up at her home, he learns of her multiple jobs and crammed schedule and feeling a sense of respect for her, decides to give her a loan. Meanwhile, Han Seong sleeps with Yoo Joo only to tell her it was a mistake the morning after. Han Kyul’s grandmother wakes Han Kyul up and takes him to the Coffee Prince cafe and introduces him to Manager Hong, his new boss. Across town, Eun Chan has just learned that her taekwondo boss has skipped town without paying her. Ottoke?
Go, Eun Chan go!
How much do I love that Eun Chan doesn’t stand for Han Kyul’s bullshit? She demands an apology for insulting her parents and stalks him until she get it. She might even be the first person in his life to ever really stand her ground with him, earning some grudging respect from him. We also see her resilience and how much of a ballast she is for her family. This girl will never give up.
We can also see how infectious Eun Chan’s bright personality is–she’s really shown Han Kyul a good time, completely bulldozing over his fuss-pot don’t-touch-my-perfect-car ways with her natural exuberance. It’s no wonder she starts appearing in his dreams. Speaking of which, just look at Yoon Eun Hye’s awesome face here. It’s so pitch perfect, I’m dying!
Again, I sing Yoon Eun Hye’s praises because Eun Chan’s plucky tomboy could so easily have been insufferable and over-the-top. But she’s already a person I want to be besties with.
Hurrah for bromance!
Eun Chan also gets the first of her two Cinderella makeover moments in a fantastically fun sequence where Han Kyul dresses her up exactly like himself. Again, that’s how much he fancies himself. And the look of approval he gives her–I’d wager that this was the moment he started to find her sexually attractive 🙂
What I love about this makeover sequence is that we don’t get the sense that she’s changing anything overt about herself. She’s not posing or pretending to be anyone other than who she is and is completely comfortable in that suit. We see this reversed in a later episode which makes that awkward transformation more painful and gut-wrenching to watch. But I’m getting ahead of myself….
What this is is the start of a truly beautiful bromance. How much fun do Han Kyul and her have to together? And how hysterical is their epic strut down the street where their collective handsomeness blows doors open and shocks ahjummas into losing their fruit?
And it’s only possible because Eun Chan does not present herself as traditionally feminine. Take for instance, her insatiable appetite and horrendous table manners. As a girl Han Kyul would’ve probably swatted her away. The fact that she holds her liquor way better than him and even piggybacked him, one doubts Han Kyul would’ve found this appealing in a girl. The reverse is also true: Han Kyul isn’t her type of man at all.
“What kind of man is he? One cup and he’s knocked out.”
The truth is Han Kyul cuts a lonely figure, so it’s no wonder he’s completely taken by her sunny ebullience and plain-spoken lack of pretense. More than anything Han Kyul needed a friend. In Eun Chan he was lucky to get both a friend, a soul mate really, and a lover.
Yoo Joo and Han Seong
Meanwhile over in angstville, we learn more about the dynamics in this relationship and boy, is it complicated. What irks Han Seong is that he’s far more needy than her. He notes with frustration that while he can barely cope at work, she’s seems perfectly able to compartmentalise. His effort to hurt her has backfired and come back to bite him.
She doesn’t deny it, and neither does she apologise for it. She does say she’s sorry but it’s for her decision to leave him and not for being the way she is. I like this about her, that she owns her decisions. Right now at this point, the drama isn’t interested in making her the cookie-cutter second lead we’d love to hate. It’s a shame because I do really want to hate her.
Ironically, what drove Han Seong to Yoo Joo was his conversation with Eun Sang earlier that night. I almost feel surprised that they don’t already know each other because they are seem comfortable and friendly, and have a frank conversation of the kind that you can only have with a stranger you have a connection with. They speak in code about Yoo Joo and Eun Chan’s pure-hearted straight-forward answer to his doubting whether he still loves her surprises him: “How could you not know?” she asks. “If you miss her and want to hear her voice that shows you still love her.”
It’s an intimate conversation, and it’s evocatively set during a warm summer night. Perhaps it’s the heat and the intimacy that gets to Han Seong too as he reaches to wipe ice cream off her chin, which stuns Eun Sang–it’s the start of her crush on him.
I’m still not entirely enamoured with Yoo Joo-Han Seong’s melo right smack in the middle of my very funny comedy no matter how surprisingly relatable and realistic their exchanges are. But I know it gets better later.
It’s only episode 2 and we get not just one but two kisses, the latter one between Han Seong and Yoo Joo being particularly passionate. They also have sex, and lots of physical intimacy seen in flashback. It’s an early sign this drama isn’t going to be chaste. One of the things I really love about this drama is that it depicts people who enjoy being intimate both physically and emotionally with each other. The drama is chockful of playful touching. We’ll also see later on, the ugly side of skinship for what it is, that a kiss can be brutal and cutting.
Also I forget that our OTP kissed very early, and it totally counts in my book. Kudos to Han Kyul for kissing a guy and thinking nothing of it!
Eun Chan’s taekwondo kids are full of shit. So much so that Han Kyul can’t stomach it and throws up on himself:
Eun Chan: Don’t you poop?
Han Kyul: Stop talking about poop.
Episode 2 Song list:
1. Go Go Chan! – Tearliner
2. White Love Story (instrumental) – As One
3. Goodbye-The Melody
4. Red Night – Blue Knights
5. Bada Yeohang – Tearliner (feat. Han Hee Jeong)
6. Fly Me to the Moon – Julie London
7. Flowerpot – Loveholic
8. November – Fanny Fink
9. Depapepe – It Was a Good Day
10. Children – Tearliner
11. Copacobana – Blue Knights