Review – Coffee Prince
Plot, Short Version: An irresponsible young rich kid takes over a coffee shop to prove his worth and falls in love with one of his male employees… only to discover he’s a girl!
The BEST Korean Drama of All Time. A perfect 10/10.
And here’s why… (mild spoilers follow)
SO MUCH REALISM.
So many times, we watch dramas because they’re not realistic. We aren’t looking for realism. We want emotional sagas, blackmail, revenge, torn apart lovers, high fashion and pop idols. We want ghosts and plot twists and costumes and improbable situations that lead to convenient and equally improbable endings. And why not? That is the nature of escapism.
But sometimes it’s the realism in a show that will draw on your heartstrings like nothing else. Cause it feels like it could happen… like it might happen… like maybe, hopefully, life might be like this somewhere. Coffee Prince lives in the world of believable realism. It presents us with a fairytale we want to embrace as a real possibility. A fun, playful, adorable fairy tale.
This show introduces you to South Korea. The street scenes, the neighborhoods, the restaurants, shops, saunas… the museums, the gyms, the parks… the apartments, the homes, the factories… movie theaters, batting cages, public toilets, apple orchards, recording studios, back alleys and parking lots… all of it varied and real.
If you think about it, this is a major feat. Most shows don’t bother with this. They give you a few set houses, pile some books on the shelves, hang a picture or two on the wall and call it done. Not this show. It looks like people really live in their homes. And better yet, it looks like the characters live there. All their personalities are evident everywhere, from the knick knacks to the bath towels. Stuff looks old. And stuff looks used. Some stuff looked cherished while other stuff looked like it had been collecting dust for a while. I think the settings made it easier for all the actors to fully absorb their characters and know who they are and what they’re about. It also helped us viewers get to know the characters, too, and reflected their lives.
Again, it’s all about realism. There are so many characters in this show coming from so many different places. Rich, poor and all the varied steps in between that make up the middle classes. From what they wore to what they ate, everything was carefully constructed and layered. How they responded to stress, how they acted when happy, what made them mad or what cheered them up, it was individualized. I also didn’t feel like there was one hair stylist and wardrobe consultant for this show. Everyone had a casual uniqueness that is representative of real life. Bad hair days. Scuffed shoes. Different styles. From No Sun Ki’s chipped black nail polish to Go Eun Chan’s collection of polo shirts, it worked so well you don’t notice it.
This show rolled out the full spectrum of human relationships. We had old friends who had grown apart. We had siblings. We had coworkers. We had the uniquely varied bonds of family members through extended family trees. We had old acquaintances that had become a part of each other’s lives and lovers who had split apart and wanted to get back together. There were crushes that were one sided. Friendships new and old.
The relationships in this show shifted and settled and shifted again as outside influences and other people moved through their lives. The natural progression of all the relationships from episode one until the very end were beautiful to watch. Everyone truly grew in this show, in age as well in life experiences. And it was never so much that you didn’t believe it. I believed it. And I envied it.
There was more happening in this show than just the revamping of a local coffee shop. People worked. And it looked like work when they worked.
Han Kyul’s grandmother and mother wore hairnets when visiting the factories.
Choi Han Sung’s music career was fully explored and reflected in his home. We actually understood what he did and it was integral part of his being.
Han Yoo Joo worked on paintings and filled sketchbooks in her studio apartment.
Go Eun Chan’s commitment to whatever job she was doing always made her seem slightly harried and fully alive.
The coffee shop boys washed dishes and moped floors and cut up apples and dealt with awkward customers.
Choi Han Kyul’s previous work as a toy designer and product tester were reflected in his home, in his play room, and in the gifts he made his friends.
Work took up their time. Work filled their days. Work became a reflection of the person and the person became a reflection of their work, just like it is in the real world. You coworkers become your extended family, for better or worse.
LOVE & KINDNESS.
There was so much love in this show in all its forms. From the tender scenes between Choi Han Kyul and his grandmother to the supportive love between Go Eun Chan and her sister, love was all around and it was everything. Love was not just romantic events and proclamations, it was subtle and largely expressed through actions, not words. You could see it in their interactions with one another. The care and concern they had, the giving of their time, the sharing of their pasts and dreams and secrets. The idle conversations and playful exchanges.
Love, in this show, makes you smile. From the awkward courtship of the butcher and Eun Chan’s mother, to the silently supportive roles Han Kyul’s parents had adopted. They shielded people from harm. They thought of others first. They stood up for each other and helped each other out. They saw each other’s negative aspects and took them in stride. They learned each other, in a way that only time and attention can accomplish. I was once told that all it takes to form a strong relationship is time and attention. You have to put in the time and you have to give your attention away… and focus on someone else. This show is a perfect example of that theory in action.
The two major relationships in this show are between Eun Chan and Han Kyul and Han Sung and Yoo Joo. Eun Chan and Han Kyul ride the full rollercoaster of emotions. They fell in love when they really didn’t mean to, or even want to. They got carried away. They lost themselves in it. They transformed because of it. They took our breaths away. It was one of the most touching, romantic love stories I have ever witnessed.
On the other end of love, we have Han Sung… who has just reunited with his ex-girlfriend but unexpectedly falls in love with someone else. And his girlfriend, Yoo Joo, gets hurt and angry even though she’d done the same thing to him a few years ago. It takes longer than Han Sung expected to get over his feelings for someone else. It takes Yoo Joo by surprise that her own heart can so easily break. They push and pull. They wait and ponder. They stick it out because they know there’s still rooms assigned to one another in the chambers of their hearts.
And that’s how it goes, most of the time. Sometimes you sync up, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you’re ready to move on but your heart just doesn’t seem to want to let go. You can be meaner than you meant to be because you know it will hurt. You can justify your actions even though you know you’re wrong. You make excuses. You do the wrong thing. You do the right thing. You try it out. You run away. You just figure out this thing called love that never seems to stay still or hold its form, so you chase it and you grab it when you can and you wonder and marvel at it when its finally in your hands.
FUN IS MADE.
People ARE entertained, it’s passive. I was entertained by watching this show.
But people have to MAKE fun, it’s active. Fun is something you experience. You HAVE fun.
And the characters in this show understand the power and necessity of having fun. They play all the time. They play at work, they play at home, they play with each other. They dance and joke and tease and create an environment of fun together. This active playing makes even the most routine or dull activities enjoyable. Sewing eyes onto dolls, doing dishes, mopping floors, delivering milk and howling at dogs. They have fun while picking apples and they have fun while cleaning house. They make each other laugh. They provide each other with entertainment and in doing so make their own lives more enjoyable.
The fun feeds off the fun.
I won’t go into detail about the plot. The plot is awesome in every detail. There is nothing I didn’t love (well, I always thought Eun Chan’s eating was excessive, but whatever… it’s a common plot device in dramas) about Coffee Prince. If I could live inside of one drama, it would be this one. Coffee Prince presents us with the best version of the world. A world I never get tired of visiting. And it shows us with the best version of love. Enigmatic, energetic, and emotional love. Pure as the sky and just as unpredictable. When you watch Coffee Prince you just feel… happy.
Final Equation: COFFEE PRINCE + YOUR BRAIN = JOY