K Drama Review: “Coffee Prince”

“Coffee Prince” AKA “First Shop of Coffee Prince” was a mega hit K Drama which ran in 2007. The premise might be a tough one to swallow; a young tomboy-style woman is mistaken for being male and befriends a handsome, rich man. They fall in love, but the rich man doesn’t realize his buddy is a woman.

Wait, what? Give it a chance, this show works.

It’s to the credit of the clever writing and the scintillating star of the show, Korean actress/singer, Yoon Eun Hye. She is stripped down of her usual glamorous stylings as Eun Chan, an androgynous young woman who passes as a young lad. She doesn’t mind because she’s too busy being the head of her household and chief bread winner since her father died. Her mother is silly and materialistic, and her younger sister is still in high school and needs tuition money. Eun Chan juggles many jobs and has super-heroine like strength and stamina. (Yoon Eun Hye will amaze you as she hauls her male costars on her back and in her arms). She meets Han Gyul (Gong Yoo) who is the heir to a food company conglomerate. His family is on his case to find a proper wife, but he wants to remain a carefree bachelor, so he devises a plan to hire Eun Chan as his fake gay boyfriend to chase away female bride candidates. Han Gyul’s family is fed up with his antics and force him to work at a run down coffee shop, which Eun Chan frequents. Faux gay romance sparks fly after Eun Chan is hired.

There is another man who enters Eun Chan’s life: Han Seong, the sensitive, understanding music producer who happens to be a cousin of Han Gyul. The cousins are in a love triangle with Yoo Joo, a beautiful, sophisticated but free spirited artist. Eun Chan and Han Seong have an honest open, and soulful friendship. With Eun Chan the love triangle becomes a love square. Other handsome young men are hired to work at Coffee Prince, including the old boss who knows Eun Chan’s true gender, and has a soft spot for her mother. All employees are male, so Eun Chan feels she must continue with the masquerade to keep this well paying job. Besides she needs to be with Han Gyul–he is simultaneously her worst nightmare and dreamboat.

As a man Eun Chan has more freedom. She bonds with her male co-workers, frolics and rough houses with them. One by one they discover her true gender, but remain loyal to her. Eun Chan is an extraordinary character, a grab bag of oxymoron. She is not an intellectual, but is street and people smart. She’s clumsy, but strong as an ox. Above all she has heart and a rough charm.

How does a show like this work? As I mentioned in my review for Flowers Before Boys bishonen (kkon-mi-nam in Korean) are characters that are found in manga, anime, books, stories, and popular TV, movies, and music. They have “soft masculinity.” They are pretty, youthful and androgynous and they possess both masculine and feminine traits. It is acceptable that Eun Chan would be mistaken for a young man if one accepts the premise of these pretty boys. In shojo manga (sunjeon manhwa in Korean) plain girls are paired with handsome strapping men. This is the case with the coupling of Eun Chan and Han Gyul. The original source for Coffee Prince is a popular romance novel by Lee Seon-Mi.

Watching Eun Chan stumble, rally, and triumph is inspirational and highly entertaining. She overcomes the obstacles of her low status and hurdles over them with spunk and pluck, eschewing self-pity. When she has the girly makeover it is refreshingly appropriate. Without giving away juicy plot details, Eun Chan will emerge a graceful swan, but still retain the original duckling traits that make her enchanting.

Secondary characters are well fleshed out and have interesting side stories. My one complaint is the very dull and lackluster side love story between sensitive Han Seong and seemingly perfect Yoo Joo. The two actors don’t generate heat and their characters are so low key, I wished both had left country.

All 17 episodes available on Hulu. Episode summaries and notes can be found on dramabeans.com. One final note the young model turned actor, Lee Eon, who played lunkhead Min Yoop, tragically died in 2008 from a motorcycle accident. Coffee Prince was his second to last TV series.

11 thoughts on “K Drama Review: “Coffee Prince””

  1. I wish I had words to add for this, but I can’t because I want to squeal out of sheer joy.

    YEH is one of my favourite kdrama actresses- I already loved her in Princess Hours, but she outdoes herself here (and the supporting cast is fantastic too).

    Other good kdramas:

    1. Boys Before Flowers (it’s OTT, but I really like the way they rewrote certain characters, like Ga Eul- she was much more annoying in the original. Also, great casting, this version has my favourite version of Makino from any of the Hana Yori Dango adaptations)

    2. Princess Hours, as mentioned above- it’s Yoon Eun Hye’s debut drama. A little long, but still a good watch. Like the title suggests, it’s about a girl who becomes a princess by marrying into the Korean royal family…at 18 (19 in Korean age), and how she deals with that. Lots of angst and politics, but lots of cuteness too- if you like Yoon Eun Hye in Coffee Prince, you should watch this!

    3. My Girl: the heroine is a conwoman, the hero hires her to pretend she’s his cousin because his grandfather is dying, then the hero’s cousin falls for our conwoman heroine, who is getting cold feet about her charade while the hero gets progressively colder around her….it’s really a fantastic drama.

    4. Iljimae: I know a historical drama is a strange thing to pop in here, but this one is fantastic- about a son who develops amnesia after watching his father get murdered. He grows up and gets his memory back, and then vows to get revenge on the people who did it…by becoming a Robin Hood kind of figure. (this one is one of my favourites, ever)

  2. Hey, for Taiwanese, Korean and Japanese dramas you can try out mysoju.com, although the episodes are usually split into several parts.
    I’ve been living in Taiwan since august 09 and occupied my last year of university by watching TW dramas!

    Mars is definitely good because it’s not as predictable as the others.
    Meteor Garden has the two lead actors of Mars and it’s pretty good.
    Smiling Pasta is one of the more enjoyable, fun ones as far as I’m concerned.
    Devil Beside You is okay (I personally only watch for Mike He), and if you like it you’ll probably like Why Why Love which has the exact same cast (Mike He, Rainie Yang, Kingone Wang)
    ToGetHer/Superstar express is one of my favourites (ignore the terrible name) although it wasn’t very successful
    Fated to Love you is great, but it’s about five episodes too long
    Bullfighting is good for people who like Mike He
    It Started with a Kiss is pretty good

    And I’ll stop here because I’ve just realised I’ve watched far too many of these!

  3. This is probably one of the strongest k-dramas out there in my opinion. Along with Kim Sam Soon, I can rewatch this one multiple times. I love how Han Kyul struggles with **spoilers** and ultimately decides what he does while thinking that Eun Chan is male.

  4. I didn’t know this was on Hulu! I watched the first few episodes on another site, and the show is really light-hearted and funny. There were definitely some laugh-out-loud segments where Han Gyul kept kissing Eun Chan at a fancy restaurant.

    I’ll be sure to watch the (higher def) episodes now that I know where they are! Hmm, I wonder if Hulu is hosting Taiwanese dramas as well…

    1. Hi Raederle,

      That’s what hooked me, the first episode. I’ve found that Korean dramas have lots of BANG in their pilot episodes, very enticing.

      I didn’t find Taiwan dramas on Hulu. I know youtube has some, such as “Meteor Garden”, Taiwan’s version of “Hana Yori Dango”. Do you have any good shows to recommend??

      1. I watched a lot of Taiwanese dramas when I was procrastinating in college. My favorite was the very angsty MARS, which I liked because it wasn’t 30 episodes of “I like him does he like me??” ridiculousness. It’s about a very introverted artist and a bad-boy motorcyclist, each of them have their own can of worms, and they help each other deal with their past traumas. There’s tons of melodrama, murderous stalkers, evil exes, and a twin who killed himself.

        For complete ridiculousness, I liked The Rose, which involved a girl who goes to live with a rich family (that she’s somehow related to), falls in love with the oldest brother, and has the youngest brother fall in love with her, but this brother’s also in love with the oldest brother. Plus there’s an annoyingly perfect dead fiancee.

        As for newer dramas, I quite liked Fated to Love You, though I never finished it. It’s about a mistaken-identity tryst that results in an accidental pregnancy (of course).

        Then there’s Silence, in which a girl and boy meet as children, then find each other years later. She’s mute and he’s dying of liver cancer. A tearjerker, but I liked it quite a bit.

        Knock Knock Loving You is about a woman with a real terror of a father. She basically runs the family business empire, but is horribly unappreciated. She falls for a sensitive violinist. This show was fun mostly because it was great to see a very smart, savvy female character (for a change).

        I recall enjoying Devil Beside You, which is a more romance-focused series.

        Anyway, this is a great site for streaming lots and lots of shows: http://sugoideas.com/idol-dramas/

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