Sunday, June 5, 2011

Coffee Prince

Because it's one of my favorites, I decided to make Coffee Prince, or 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, my inaugural post. There are so many things I love about this show and it really made me view the actors in a new light. The casting, acting, music, all of it couldn't be more perfect. Yet, as with every drama or movie or book, CP isn't perfect. It has its (albeit small) flaws. Let's get started.

Watch Coffee Prince on DramaFever!

CP is a Korean drama from 2007 starring:

Yoon Eun-hye as Go Eun-chan
Gong Yoo
as Choi Han-gyul
Lee Sun-kyun
as Choi Han-sung
Chae Jung-an
as Han Yu-ju

For those of you who are Kdrama fans, this post is probably no surprise to you. CP was a breakthrough hit during its run in 2007, smashing down all sorts of barriers on conservative South Korean television. (Conservative by American standards, that is.) An intriguing premise, only helped by its fresh and committed actors, along with a soundtrack for the ages allowed Coffee Prince to become an instant classic in the realm of Korean trendies.

There are many endearing things about CP and few shortcomings. I'll try to cover as much as I can with this review, so you can get a general sense of the show.

The Premise

Choi Han-gyul is the 29-year-old son of a conglomerate family. Newly-arrived from a prolonged stay abroad in America, Han-gyul wants to continue living a relaxed bachelor lifestyle in Korea (in true, Kdrama hero fashion). His family, however, is anxious to get him settled down, and immediately begin to set him up on blind date after blind date.

Go Eun-chan is the 24-year-old daughter of a widowed mother and acts as the breadwinner of her small family. Through a series of events, Han-gyul mistakes Eun-chan as a man and hires her to play the part of his gay lover (in order to ward off his unwanted blind dates). Although Han-gyul succeeds in his scheme, the ploy only serves to anger his grandmother, who decides to cut him a deal: if Han-gyul can turn a rundown coffee shop into a successful business in three months, she'll allow him to return to America. Han-gyul eventually agrees (after his grandmother cuts him off) and hires Eun-chan to work for him.

The Good

As I've mentioned, CP has a lot going for it. The storyline is fantastic, of course, but it's bolstered by the performance of the actors. Even more than YEH pretending to be a boy, I have to give major props to Gong Yoo and Lee Sun-kyun. Gong Yoo's depiction of a confused and self-loathing, apparently straight man who just might be falling in love with another man is probably as close as it could be. Not only that, but his eventually resignation and willingness to dive in is portrayed immaculately. As a viewer, you watch him go through the various stages of acceptance before Han-gyul finally gives in to his desires, not yet knowing that Eun-chan is a woman.

On the flip side, we have Choi Han-sung, played by Lee Sun-kyun. Knowing from the beginning that Eun-chan is not a man, Han-sung goes through his own revelations and inner conflicts. On the one hand, he has Yu-ju, with whom he's spent 10 years. On the other, there is Eun-chan who gives him a new view on life. Even though I knew Eun-chan would end up with Han-gyul, there was a part of me that was grateful for her friendship with Han-sung, and he played the part of the older man, temporary crush pretty well.

But of course, aside from the characters, there are other things about CP that ensured its success. One of the things I loved best was the show's clever, subtle use of tropes and cliches. There was nothing about CP that was totally in your face--no backstabbing ex-girlfriend bitch, no emo Second Lead (though Han-sung had his fair share of problems), and no melodramatic back-stories (unless you count the subplot about Han-gyul's parentage). The pace was swift, so even the painful bits--like Han-gyul's realization that Eun-chan was a girl--were swift to come and just as swift to go. There were no characters I really hated, and even Yu-ju was entirely bearable because she was fleshed out well. 

Actually, the relationship between Yu-ju and Han-sung was another of my favorite aspects of the show. Their arguments and discussions were, in my opinion, super believable. And while you want to hate Yu-ju for being so shallow and self-preserving, even as a viewer you realize her arguments are entirely feasible--cold, but legit. 

Last good thing that must be mentioned. The eclectic soundtrack. CP is enhanced by not only songs, but also the background music that is interspersed throughout the episodes. I hate those awkward moments in dramas that are in dire need of filler music, but CP definitely didn't have that problem.

The Bad
There were a couple of things about CP that bugged me, despite all its awesomeness. The first and, in my opinion, biggest downfall was the side/subplots. I think the writer tried really hard to squeeze in as much backstory for all the characters as possible, but it fell short. I know a lot of people would disagree, and yet I can't help feeling as if some of it was unnecessary. That's not to say all the side stories were misplaced and awkward--a few of them, like the ongoing conflict between Min-yup and Eun-sae--were done well, especially because they were there almost from the beginning.

Obviously, as new characters came into the show, new side stories were brought in, and I understand that. Still, as with the story of Mr. Hong's first love, and Ha-rim's relationship with Byul, we probably could have done without. 

Another thing that bothered me was the last episode. As I understand it, the show started out planned to be a 16-episode run, as Korean rom com dramas tend to be. Then, midway through the season, an additional episode was added due to high ratings. To be honest, as nice as it was to see how things turned out for all the characters, we probably could have done without the last episode. It seemed like it was just tacked on at the end for the hell of it, without much of a purpose. The show could have gone out with a bang, but fell short of that because of the extra randomness at the end.

The Verdict
Coffee Prince will always be close to my heart. It has the right mix of humor and heartfelt honesty, along with an outstanding cast and soundtrack. The premise, though riddled with cliches, moves beyond that to give a story that's worth watching. 

If you haven't watched it yet, definitely give this drama a shot. You probably won't regret it.

And, if that's not enough, here's another picture of our Han-gyul the Hottie for the road. :)

[Photo credits to Hulu and Drama Fever, as well as MBC America.]

1 comment:

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