“Coffee Prince” (커피프린스)


By Jae-Ha Kim
February 18, 2016

3 stars

Eun Chan (played by Yoon Eun-Hye)
Han Kyul (played by Gong Yoo)
Han Sung (played by Lee Sun-Gyun)
Yoo Joo (played by Chael Jung-An)

On the surface, “Coffee Prince” is your standard boy-meets-girl romantic comedy with a few roadblocks thrown in for good measure:

☑ Handsome, rich man whose family wants him to get married.

☑ Beautiful, but poor woman, who is too proud to take his handouts.

☑ Meddling elder (in this case, the man’s grandmother) who disapproves of the relationship.

☑ A misunderstanding between the man and woman that can threaten their future together.

Thanks to the chemistry shared by the attractive leads (Gong Yoo and Yoo Eun-Hye), the series is highly watchable and I understand why so many fans are repeat viewers.

But beneath the cute exterior, the series deals with issues such as sexual confusion, gender roles and poverty in a surprisingly open manner.

Han Kyul’s family wants him to get married. The heir to the family business, he’d much rather stay in the United States, where he works as a freelancer at a Legos-like company. In order to deter all the blind dates that his family sets up for him, he hires deliveryboy Eun Chan to pretend he’s Han Kyul’s gay lover.

One problem: Eun Chan is actually a tomboyish young woman. But he doesn’t know that and she doesn’t tell him, especially when she lobbies to work at the coffee shop Han Kyul’s grandmother is forcing him to manage. His coffee shop only employs men.

Though the series doesn’t go into it, it is not out of the realm of reality to assume that as her family’s primary breadwinner (her father died when she was young), it’s easier for Eun Chan to find work as a young male than a female. She delivers milk in the morning, teaches taekwondo during the day and delivers meals in the evening.

And while we are told that Han Kyul’s coffee shop concept of only having handsome men — princes — as employees is a means of differentiating it from his competitors, the fact remains that Eun Chan wouldn’t have been hired as a woman. Though gender discrimination exists everywhere, it’s still more blatant some ways in Korea than it is in the U.S.

I know. I’m taking some of the fun out of it by getting too analytical, right? Bear with me, OK? 😉

Though the series doesn’t delve into why Eun Chan has always felt more comfortable dressing in “boy” clothes rather than traditionally feminine garments, like her younger sister, the writers make it clear from the get-go that underneath her short mop of hair and ugly clothes beats the fluttering heart of a young woman who’s smitten with her handsome boss.

There is a love triangle (quadrangle?) between the primary characters, as well as Han Kyul’s cousin, Han Sung, and Han Sung’s on-again off-again girlfriend, Yoo Joo. The relationship between the four was a little too close for comfort for me. The cousins both were in love with Yoo Joo at one point in their lives and now are both in love with Eun Chan (though Han Sung has always known she was a woman).

Released in 2007 on MBC, this 17-episode Korean drama handled the feelings of sexual confusion in a compassionate manner. Though Han Kyul was fighting his attraction for another “man,” he gave in to love, regardless of the gender. That’s a progressive view in a society that still views homosexuality as shameful.

And, not for nothing, but I could watch Gong Yoo laugh for days on end. His smile is one of life’s simple pleasures.

Coffee Prince 2

Because every drama has to have a villain, Han Kyul’s beloved grandmother becomes the de facto bad guy (for a bit). I found it odd that while his family didn’t seem to have a problem with the gay rumors — surely it must’ve gotten back to them that his blind dates caught him “making out” with a man — they took issue with him dating a boyish woman.

In one of the best scenes in the series, Han Kyul’s grandmother angrily lashes out at Eun Chan, calling her an androgynous, ugly “thing.” Eun Chan quietly asks her to stop saying those hurtful words and to try to remember that she is precious to her mother.

There is a happily-ever-after ending, but it doesn’t come easily, which I liked. In real life, love doesn’t automatically guarantee a happy life.

As Yoo Joo says to Han Sung, “When love isn’t enough to live on, I’ll try harder.”

Spoiler alert:

There is an adoption subplot. Han Kyul grew up thinking that he was father’s illegitimate son. He later learns that his father was in love with a woman, but didn’t marry her because Han Kyul’s grandmother forbid it. The dad’s friend ended up marrying the woman, had a baby with her and left the marriage. She died shortly thereafter. Han Kyul was placed in an orphanage, until his adoptive parents got custody of him and raised him as their own.

Adoption in Korea is still a touchy subject and until recent years, many adopted children grew up never knowing they weren’t related to their parents biologically. Though I was incensed that everyone kept this a secret from him until he was 29, I also understood that they had done what they thought was in his best interest.

Hopefully, this series helped show that transparency is what’s best for the adopted child and that while adoptees may long to know more about their birth families, that doesn’t take away their love for their parents.

@2016 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (10)

  1. 친구님~ you’re watching Coffee Prince? That was one of the first Korean dramas I ever watched! It’s a great one! And is actually how I got started in Korean cooking! Because in the first or second episode when 은찬 downs like 5 huge bowls of 짜장면 and I had to know what those weird black noodles were! So I googled it and ended up on Maangchi’s recipe for 짜장면! ?????

  2. Vera Vujisic says:

    I watched that show. I love it. It`s very funny. 🙂

  3. Robin Seabloom Kim says:

    I’ve always felt that “Coffee Prince” was rather deep with comedy thrown in so viewers wouldn’t be too offended by the seriousness of the topics. I loved it because it made me think.

  4. Jessica Gant says:

    What makes it so rewatchable for me is the serious issues it addresses. The concept of poverty, family roles, gender constructs and their positives and negatives, independence in a relationship, what makes a relationship healthy, identity and sexuality, there is so much that makes it a thoughtful show beyond a cute cindarella story.

  5. Maurice Ball says:

    Hmm. Looks intriguing. Where can I find this movie? May have to watch!

  6. Mi N Yu says:

    Inlove with this movie..

  7. Icha Zye says:

    I like it n very very good

  8. I watched that k comedy drama… So funny… Love it

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