THE SHORT VERDICT:
Fun, breezy, and so heartfelt, that it’s still considered a classic in Dramaland today.
There are lot of things to love about this show: a drama world that feels real and lived-in; leads with crackling, warm chemistry whether they’re bickering, stealing wistful glances at each other, or getting up-close-and-personal touchy-feely; an excellent ensemble cast that all feel like they belong in their characters’ skins; a well-executed OST. On the downside, some folks find the humor a little gross, so fair warning, I guess? I personally don’t enjoy gross humor, but I didn’t find the humor in this much of a deterrent, to be honest.
The ending can feel a little underwhelming in spots, but overall, this one is well worth a long-term spot in your drama-loving heart.
THE LONG VERDICT:
So here’s the thing. I have owed the world at large this Coffee Prince review, for literal years, now. I can’t remember exactly when I made that promise, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to peg that at a ballpark 5 years. Yikes. That fact alone makes me look like a master procrastinator, doesn’t it? Eep. In my feeble defense, I’ve been distracted by all the shiny, newer shows that I have reviewed..? 😛
So, why now? Well, in my 2018 Year In Review post, my dear friend Sunny (Sunny does fantastic translations of k-ent interviews, do check her out and give her some love!) reminded me of this promise, which I’ve conveniently tucked away in the back of my head each time a patient, good-natured soul teased me about it. With 2019 brand new and shiny on my doorstep, I figured this was a good time to start the year off right – fulfilling a long-made promise, even if it’s (terribly, terribly) late.
To all of you who’ve been patiently waiting for this, I’m sorry, and thank you. I don’t know if I can make this worth the wait (coz 5 years is a long time to wait!), but I’ll do my very best. <3
OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE
Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.
SOME THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS DRAMA WORLD
I think one of the things that makes this show special, is that it’s got a unique blend of fairytale and everyday. The unassuming everyday beats make this world feel real and accessible and relatable, while the fairytale just makes the fantasy feel that much more possible.
Show sets up its world very effectively and efficiently, and by episode 2, we basically get all the major pieces that will push Eun Chan and Han Gyul (Yoon Eun Hye and Gong Yoo) into the coffee shop and firmly into each other’s orbits. It’s all very breezy and fun, with tropes regularly dotting the journey. And yet, because of the way Show makes these characters feel like real people with real lives and real mundane everyday moments, the entire drama world feels real, quirky lashings and all.
One of the quirky things I noticed on my latest rewatch, is how cool Han Gyul’s apartment is. It’s an apartment, yet has a front yard. How cool. These kinds of quirky details, along with Show’s bright Spring palette, helped to add some extra fairy dust to our drama world, and I liked that a lot.
One of the things that sets this drama apart, is how real these characters feel. Perhaps that’s why so many of us have been unable to forget them, so many years later. Our characters are flawed, and sometimes they do things that we don’t agree with, but yet, writer-nim manages to endear them to us anyway, while helping us to understand why these characters might behave the way they do, in the first place. Very thoughtfully and nicely done.
Here’s a quickish spotlight on our four main players.
Gong Yoo as Choi Han Gyul
Here’s the weird thing. The first time I watched Coffee Prince, I didn’t immediately find Gong Yoo all that sexy. I know. What was wrong with me? Happily, I’ve long fixed that, and I now have Gong Yoo-appreciating eyes that work very well, thank you very much. 😉 (Said Gong Yoo-appreciating eyes have helped craft several Gong Yoo-appreciating posts, which you can find here, here, and here. Just in case you didn’t know, heh.)
Also, with or without the Gong Yoo-appreciating eyes, I enjoyed Han Gyul as a character, each time I watched this show.
At first glance, Han Gyul looks like a fairly typical playboy rich guy, with his flirtatious interactions with a random girl (cameo by Yoon Seung Ah, in her early acting days) within the first few minutes of episode 1, while on his way home (in first class, no less), to pacify his CEO grandmother (Kim Young Ok).
[MINOR SPOILERS] However, for all of Han Gyul’s flirty bluster, smooth-talking rebellion and pride, we soon see that he’s a softie at heart, who cares about his mom and his grandma, even though he doesn’t care so much for the company they want him to run. He’s also good-hearted enough, to trust Eun Chan enough, to give her the chance to earn the money she needs, in spite of his very poor first impression of her. So even though we see that he can be pretty brusque when he wants to be, he’s not a typical cold, rich jerk of a male lead.
Also, despite Han Gyul’s fierce protests at Gran’s instruction to turn the coffee shop around (or else), it really isn’t long before he’s busily delivering coffee beans, with a happy, satisfied sort of expression on his face, from the sense of achievement he’s feeling. Aw. I couldn’t help but like him pretty quickly into my watch. [END SPOILER]
Of course, we learn a lot more about Han Gyul’s character as we journey through this story with him. I’ll touch more on the details of his character when we get to the OTP section. In the meantime, I just want to say that Gong Yoo imbues his delivery with so much nuance and genuine heart, that I honestly believed that he simply was Han Gyul, slowly but surely losing his heart to Eun Chan. Gong Yoo absolutely played a significant part in lifting this drama to feel like it was more than a drama, but an actual fly-on-the-wall peek at a person named Han Gyul falling in love.
As a shallow plus, Gong Yoo’s bod is lovely in HD, *cough* and Show capitalizes on it by serving up shirtless Gong Yoo right away, in episode 1 – and then some, through the rest of the show. I can’t complain about that. 😉
Yoon Eun Hye as Go Eun Chan
My introduction to Yoon Eun Hye was in my gateway drama Goong, where she played a girly-cutesy girl, so her very boyish turn here basically blew my socks off. It just boggled my mind, that this boyish, completely unladylike character, complete with short hair, boy’s clothes and a boyish gait, was played by the same person. It boggled my mind even more, that Yoon Eun Hye pulls it off with aplomb. There is no hint of self-conscious vanity about the way she plays Eun Chan. She just is Eun Chan, boyish mannerisms and all. Very impressive indeed.
While Yoon Eun Hye is a little small-boned and pretty for a boy, Show works around this in a very smart manner, by introducing Eun Chan as a character who gets mistaken for a boy on the regular. [MINOR SPOILER] First, she gets mistaken for a boy by all the women in the bathhouse in episode 1, and even when she tells them she’s a girl, no one believes her. That makes the whole idea of Eun Chan passing off as a guy at the coffeeshop much more believable in this world. Later in the same episode, the fact that Eun Chan can hurt Min Yeop (Lee Eon) AND out-eat him also adds to our belief that she can and does pass for a boy. [END SPOILER]
On paper, Eun Chan does appear to be quite the Candy: she’s the main breadwinner in her family, and she works a multitude of part-time jobs in order to pay the bills. On top of that, she’s good-natured, doesn’t appear to hold grudges, and loves her mother and sister even when they regularly give her trouble. But, unlike your typical Candy character, Eun Chan is strong and tough, and in addition to more typical Candy jobs like waiting tables, takes on jobs that are traditionally more associated with males: delivering food and teaching Taekwondo. Not only that, she capably unclogs toilets, helps her Mom with sewing on doll’s eyes, and gets up extra early to deliver milk and yogurt. The fact that she does all of this with zest and cheer, just makes her all the more endearing.
Of course, a lot of credit goes to Yoon Eun Hye’s personal charm as well. She makes Eun Chan so pure, really. Clear-eyed and innocent, even with the strong lashings of street savvy, Eun Chan just feels like an untainted soul. Add on Yoon Eun Hye’s excellent ability to ugly-cry in degrees, and every time Eun Chan got tears sheening in her eyes, my heart just went out to her, wherever and whenever.
[SPOILER ALERT] One thing I really appreciate about Eun Chan as our heroine, is that she remains stubbornly independent, even after falling head over heels in love. In episode 13, Eun Chan’s refusal to stand in Han Gyul’s way of a career in designing toys, and her refusal to just let him take care of the financial stuff and pay her way to the US, even if it means being separated from him, says a lot about her independent spirit and her care for him.
I also very much like that even though Han Gyul is older, and comes from money, Eun Chan always comes across as treating him as her equal. She never is tempted to mooch off his money, even though her sister Eun Sae (Yoon Ji Yoo) feels that they should. At the same time, Eun Chan is always alert to how and when Han Gyul needs her, and she readily gives him what he needs. In the same episode, when Han Gyul tells Eun Chan about the birth secret bombshell that Gran had dropped earlier that day, she knows immediately how he must feel, and moves in to hold him and pat his shoulder comfortingly. To my eyes, this tells me a lot about how Eun Chan sees herself and Han Gyul as equals, there to support and give to each other, as the need arises. I liked that. [END SPOILER]
Lee Sun Gyun as Choi Han Seong
I confess that I only really came to appreciate Lee Sun Gyun’s appeal in dramas that came out after Coffee Prince. I enjoyed him very well in Pasta and Miss Korea, and absolutely loved him in My Mister. In Coffee Prince, though, I mostly felt quite indifferent about him and his character Han Seong. I will say that in my most recent rewatch for this review, that I liked Lee Sun Gyun more in the role than I first did, but I also disliked Han Seong as a character, more than I first did. Funny how that worked out, eh?
Because of my upgraded Lee Sun Gyun-appreciating eyes, I found Han Seong more charming and appealing than I did back in 2007, when I first laid eyes on him. However, with more drama miles under my belt and a more critical eye, I also found some of Han Seong’s behavior more problematic than I’d first noticed.
[SPOILER] A great example is how Han Seong works to get closer to Eun Chan, and gives her his phone number, and finds her endearing. This all happens in episode 3, when he’s already started seeing Yoo Joo (Chae Jung Ahn) again. This was definitely a secret friendship that he was nursing on the side, and his attitude towards Eun Chan isn’t firmly platonic either, so I found this all quite inappropriate and rather dysfunctional. Add on the fact that he was probably doing this to spite Yoo Joo, and punish her for running away with DK (Kim Jung Min) before, and that just makes it all the more disturbing and wrong.
Of course, Show rights all of this by the time the finale rolls around, so I didn’t dislike Han Seong for too long. The way that Han Seong reaches out to help clarify things for Han Gyul in episode 12, even in the midst of his own confusion and heartbreak, did a lot to make up for his past mistakes, in my eyes. [END SPOILER]
Chae Jung Ahn as Han Yoo Joo
Imma be honest; the more I watched this show, the more I disliked Yoo Joo, as a character. I found her entitled, self-centered and manipulative. Through it all, Yoo Joo often seems blithely unrepentant for her bad behavior, and seems to think that she can just keep on coasting on her looks, artistic talent, and personal charm.
Yes, Show does redeem by the end of our story, but I can’t deny that I spent a large portion of our story feeling a distinct distaste for Yoo Joo.
Here’s a quickish run-down of why I disliked Yoo Joo, during my watch. I’ll touch on her redemption in a later section of this review, when I talk about her relationship with Han Seong.
E2. I kinda hate Yoo Joo, for having the gall to try coming back to Han Seong, after dumping him for DK. There’s something entitled about her attitude. She doesn’t show herself to be very sorry, and I don’t like her very much coz of that.
E3. Yoo Joo is a very insensitive person. First, in allowing Han Gyul to go over to her house when Han Seong was there, knowing that Han Gyul nurses a crush on her. And when Han Gyul shows unhappiness, she pretty much tells him to get over his daddy issues already. Ugh. Also, her casual interaction with DK, given how big of a part her relationship with DK played in hurting Han Seong, just screams insensitive to me.
E11. Yoo Joo is definitely one of those pretty, complicated, self-centered women. Having run off and lived with DK before, she won’t give Han Seong the time and space to sort out his feelings properly. Sure, she rationalizes it, and says that because she’s done that to him in the past, she doesn’t warrant him sorting out his feelings, but I don’t know if I buy it. And then, later, knowing that DK still likes her, to then use him to make Han Seong feel bad? That’s terribly insensitive, and she later casually asks him to be understanding of her. She’s an exceedingly annoying character that way. I suppose it’s to Chae Jung Ahn’s credit that Yoo Joo is even marginally likable at all. It also helps that I feel like Yoo Joo doesn’t actually like herself all that much, most of the time.
E12. I don’t appreciate Yoo Joo’s actions, choosing to go with DK in order to protect herself, then ditching DK at the airport without even saying anything, and then disappearing without a word to anyone. Just, so very irresponsible.
Han Gyul and Eun Chan
No holds barred, the relationship between Han Gyul and Eun Chan is THE thing that makes this show as memorable and cracktastic as it is. Yes, everything else plays a part; the writing, directing, supporting characters, everything plays a part in making up the magic that is Coffee Prince. But if you asked me to single out one driving force that keeps me coming back to this drama, even after so many years, it is this OTP.
I love that we get to witness the many stages of our OTP relationship. Yes, we see their bickering start, followed by their reluctant meshing of worlds, followed by burgeoning feelings. But, Show gives this OTP a stage that endures beyond the happy coming together as a couple. Beyond that, we also get to see how this couple learns to be a couple; learns to fit their relationship into the world that they share with their coffee princes and friends; learns how to make a niche for themselves – together as well as individually – that fits comfortably into both their worlds. That’s something quite rare, I think, in the rom-com trendies that tend to grace Dramaland. This extended glimpse into what happens with my OTP beyond the ‘I love you too’s made this couple feel all the more real, to me.
And then, THE thing that makes this all-important OTP connection work so well, is the chemistry that Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye share. It just feels so natural, so warm and so organic, that I often felt that I was a voyeur, peeping at real-life lovers. They give Han Gyul and Eun Chan such an easy, natural skinship. It’s not just the kisses and hugs, it’s in how they touch each other; it all feels so convincingly natural. There is no unease about it, you can tell that they are very comfortable with each other. [MINOR SPOILER] This is especially clear in Han Gyul’s fantasy in episode 15, where he and Eun Chan wrestle and play in bed. It’s fun, sparky and sexy, and their ease with each other just leaps off the screen. [END SPOILER]
Kudos to Gong Yoo and Yoon Eun Hye. After so many years of kdrama-watching, this still counts among my top picks, when it comes to OTP chemistry. <3
It was a pleasure to watch this OTP all over again, for this review, and I can’t help but want to share the entire range of thoughts and observations I had, as I watched.
Map of a burgeoning connection
E1. Tee hee. Eun Chan’s knees all weak from seeing Han Gyul glistening in nothing but a towel. I never noticed that before. So cute.
E2. Despite the less than ideal beginnings, Han Gyul is clearly quite charmed by Eun Chan’s enthusiasm and general zest for life.
E2. Eun Chan and Han Gyul acting as fake lovers is super cute, even though I’ve seen it so many times before. They have a natural chemistry that is very nice, and Han Gyul obviously is growing to like Eun Chan a lot. I love that Han Gyul respects Eun Chan’s hardworking approach to life and loans her the money that she needs.
E3. I’d forgotten that Eun Chan is the one who convinces Han Gyul to try running the coffee shop. She’s the only one who actually got through to him. Which is evidence that she understands him – her words about showing a different side to Gran and to Yoo Joo were a big part of Han Gyul’s turning point.
E3. Eun Chan really seems to be Han Gyul’s only friend – well, the only friend that actually hangs out at his house and talks with him about more personal stuff. The special-ness of their friendship is clear, in how they treat each other and regard each other, which makes the whole explosion over the wrong coffee order that much more raw and hurtful.
E4. There are glimmers of Han Gyul developing a special soft spot for Eun Chan. When Ha Rim says Eun Chan is his, Han Gyul immediately says Eun Chan’s his. It’s also in the way he looks at her. And now he respects her resilience too, since she stuck out the basketball 1-hour challenge while everyone else surrendered in defeat.
E5. Han Gyul’s soft spot for Eun Chan is showing more and more, and it’s addictive, make-me-grin-like-an-idiot stuff. Likey.
E6. The hug. Played to such nuanced perfection by them both. The uncertainty and confusion in Han Gyul, and the confusion & anxiety in Eun Chan, followed by the release of sinking into the hug. Oof. So good. Han Gyul’s struggle between his heart and his head, trying to make sense of his emotions, is very amusing, and so much fun to watch. Gong Yoo’s smitten faces are surfacing too, and it’s adorable. <3
E7. The friction between Eun Chan and Han Gyul is believable. They are close enough that they know each other’s hot buttons, and they hit where it hurts the most. And then, Han Gyul’s happy faces at Eun Chan after they make up are downright addictive. I feel like he’s about to explode on the inside, and that’s how his happy faces make me feel too. His eyes are so bright that he literally looks like he’s got stars in his eyes looking at her.
E8. Han Gyul sharing the story of his birth and adoption with Eun Chan – it’s such a personal moment. I totally get the feeling that he’s never spoken of this to anyone like this before. The decision to become sworn brothers – it shows how much they care for each other, that they would be happy to just be near each other, even if it means a bond of brotherhood instead of the romantic inclinations that they both feel. There’s something sacrificial in that decision, and the moment feels sweetly poignant.
E9. Han Gyul taking so much pleasure in cooking breakfast for his new lil brother, it’s really sweet. Both of them tentatively trying out their new brotherhood over brekkie. It’s so cute. Eun Chan practicing and ribbing at the same time, with the repeated singsong “hyung” and Han Gyul giving Eun Chan food to show that he’s being a good hyung.
Here’s a slightly more lingering look at some of my favorite OTP moments.
The deep, undeniable connection
E9. One thing that strikes me about the connection between Han Gyul and Eun Chan, is that they are each so deeply affected by the presence of the other. If Han Gyul is happy, so is Eun Chan, and if Eun Chan is happy, so is Han Gyul. Han Gyul, gravitating towards Eun Chan, despite his conviction that he’s not gay. Eun Chan, crying in desperation when Han Gyul withdraws from their friendship.
The aftermath, when Han Gyul tries to cut Eun Chan out of his life, is his last-ditch effort to regain normalcy and equilibrium in his life. But it’s so hard. He isolates himself from her by holing himself up in his apartment, and vacillates between cleaning it and trashing it, but ultimately, it’s as hard on him as it is on her. It’s tearing them both up inside, being apart.
Which is just how deep their connection runs. Whether as friends or brothers, just being able to be around each other soothes and comforts them, and gives them security and strength.
E9. Han Gyul’s birth secret revelation drives him to seek out Eun Chan. At the beach, when he admits his newfound knowledge of the day to her, it’s such a clear indication of how much he trusts her, and how close he holds her in his heart. It’s highly personal, secretive sort of stuff, and it’s poignantly sweet how he admits it so freely to her.
It’s a quick beat, but her eyes tearing up in response, also shows how deeply she feels for him. His pain is her pain.
Han Gyul testing the boundaries of their relationship, is partly because of all the emotions that have been building up in him, and also, partly timing. He’s feeling vulnerable in the wake of his conversation with his dad, and the place is so fitting and so deserted. His tentative testing is so full of bittersweet pathos, mixed with burgeoning emotion that eventually overwhelms him; from the handholding, to the intertwining of fingers. Eun Chan tests the boundaries too, by lying on his lap.
Han Gyul’s tentative joyful implosion from the proximity and intimacy fills the moment, so much. It’s really Han Gyul’s scene, coz he’s the one who’s struggling through the confusion and uncertainty of what he feels when he allows himself nearness to Eun Chan, versus what he thinks he should feel. The conflict that he feels, is written so clearly in his eyes.
And then there’s the cuddling. Han Gyul’s halting, hesitant movements, each bringing himself closer to Eun Chan, until he’s lying down spooning her, is sweetly painful to watch. You can feel the uncertainty in Han Gyul, as his eyes brim with tears with each step of increasing closeness. That he even allows himself to nestle his face in Eun Chan’s hair, as a single tear falls, shows us just how much he’s feeling for Eun Chan. It overwhelms him to the point that he realizes he can no longer keep up the brotherhood ruse. Augh. My heart.
The alien kiss
E10. Han Gyul, angsting as he drives, unable to stop thinking about Eun Chan, finally goes back to the shop and finds her there, working on the mural. Eun Chan starts to explain how she’s not ruining the mural, just trying to fix it; without a word, his eyes fixed on her the whole time, he hones in on her, and kisses her, once, twice. Her eyes sheen with tears; she never imagined this moment would ever happen.
He steps back; “I’m only going to say this once, so listen carefully. Whether you’re a man, or an alien, I’m not going to care anymore. I tried getting rid of my feelings, but I couldn’t… So let’s go, as far as we can go.”
Augh. The feels. That tentative wonder as he kisses her; her teary wonder; the look on his face, of teary relief, tinged with a bit of pain. My heart.
The tentative, nervous, gentle sort of way Han Gyul talks on the phone with Eun Chan, post-kiss, is so perfect. Things have shifted between them, with his declaration of his feelings, and this is him treading uncertainly. Such a thoughtful touch by the writers. And such a lovely interpretation by Gong Yoo. The tender look in his eyes is just so lovely. <3
E12. The love confessions over the phone at the end of the episode are cute. Eun Chan blurts it out when she’s run out of things to say in her defense: “I love you. I love you! I really love you!”
After blustering back with accusations of her being a player , Han Gyul tells her definitively, “Listen to me carefully. I love you more.” And then he falls down on the couch with the most adorable smitten face ever. Love.
Honestly, one of the best things about this show, is Han Gyul’s happy, smitten, super-pleased-with-himself faces when he’s all-out in love with Eun Chan. He flashes variations of the smitten face throughout episode 13, whenever the feels overflow, and it’s gloriously fun to watch. Han Gyul’s smitten faces are so fabulous, because we can actually feel how giddy and happy he is, at being in love with Eun Chan. It feels like he’s thisclose to exploding from happiness, which is super adorable. <3
“I’m not leaving”
E16. Even on my nth viewing, I can’t say I understand the scene when Eun Chan plonks herself in Han Gyul’s apartment and grasps at straws so that she doesn’t have to leave. This scene just feels broad to me, in its execution. I feel bemused and awkward watching it.
BUT. The skinship that follows feels truly real. Her hands in his hair, his hand on her neck, her legs around his waist, his face buried in hers, her hand pulling his shirt up to reveal taut muscle, his body on hers as they fall on the bed, her legs wrapped around him. Rawr.
“Do you think I want to send you away?”
E16. At first, Han Gyul’s refusal to let Eun Chan go abroad feels like a lack of understanding and empathy, but when he explains in another scene that he can’t bear to not see her for even a day, how can he last two whole years, I can’t help but melt at him.
The way he eventually comes around is sweet too, when he gently tells her that she should go. “Thinking of this cafe without you makes me not want to come here every day. It makes me not want to work. I don’t even want to think about not being able to see you. When I was planning to leave for New York, there were times I thought I couldn’t because I’d be haunted by your memory. Do you think I want to send you away? But I want to show you a bigger world.” Aw.
Special shout-out: Show’s treatment of the emotional journey
One of the things that I truly appreciate about this show, is how we are taken along on our key characters’ emotional journeys. Because we are allowed on the journey, it’s so much easier to understand our characters and how they feel, and why they feel that way. Not only does this add to how engaged I felt with our characters and their journeys, this also made our characters feel so much more real, to me.
Show does this particularly well, in the aftermath of Han Gyul learning the truth about Eun Chan’s gender.
E11. When Han Gyul comes back home at night after a day of raging, he looks so tired, and.. broken. I feel like I can actually see in his eyes that something broke inside that day. The sense of betrayal, not only by Eun Chan, but by Han Seong and Yoo Joo as well, is really deep, and it’s what’s cut him up inside.
Han Gyul’s hurt and anger is explained really well. That Eun Chan had lied to him, not just for a day or two, but for months. And this, when at least some of the time, she’d known how he’d felt about her. His point, that she calculated all this, and did it in the way that would keep herself from getting hurt, while not caring about him, makes sense. And also, the point that while he’d been thinking about how to keep her with him, she’d been thinking about sending him away. All that is actually true, even though she hadn’t been malicious or selfish intentionally. His anger makes a lot of sense. But it still wasn’t cool, how he kissed her like that. That was assault.
E12. Credit to the show, for working through Han Gyul’s hurt and anger, and bringing him and Eun Chan to reconciliation, in a way that feels organic and believable. The turnaround isn’t sudden, but very gradual, as Han Gyul takes time to think, and as different people talk to him, nudging his perspective in slow degrees. The problem with many other dramas, is that we’re often shown the character simply brooding alone, and then suddenly having a change of heart. That’s so much less believable than what we get here, where we are taken on Han Gyul’s emotional journey.
Gong Yoo does so well this episode. We see so much in his expression, and in his eyes. From pensive thoughtfulness, to wistful longing, tentative awkwardness, to relief, gratefulness and full-on smitten-ness. Of course, not to overlook Yoon Eun Hye, who does a very solid job of Eun Chan this episode. From puffy-eyed deep grief, to shy uncertainty, to unadulterated wonder and joy.
Han Seong and Yoo Joo
To be honest, I wasn’t super taken with this secondary loveline when I first watched this show, and I’m still not really into it, even now. Generally speaking, I found that there was a lot of dysfunction in this relationship, and more than once, I found myself thinking that these two really did deserve each other; they were both so problematic.
Show does give these two a happy ending, and even though I wasn’t all that invested in their relationship to begin with, I must say Show did a pretty good job of wrapping up this arc with a warm, happy sheen that I wasn’t opposed to buying, despite my initial distaste for this couple. That’s skillz.
Here’s a collection of my most recent thoughts about this couple’s journey.
E2. Han Seong sleeping with Yoo Joo – I can’t decide whether he planned to punish her or not. I used to think so, but now I think he really did want to be with her. And the whole breaking up thing in the morning was him testing her, him wanting her to stay, even when he told her to go.
E3. The complicated fragility of Yoo Joo’s and Han Seong’s relationship is realistic. How can you expect to just sweep all that stuff under the carpet? Well ok. People do do that, but it still doesn’t mean it’s going to work.
E5. Han Seong not calling Yoo Joo, and Yoo Joo not calling him either – this couple is complicated, which is not a good thing.
E9. There are spots of honesty in the relationship between Han Seong and Yoo Joo. When he asks if she’s avoiding him, she says that she can’t say she isn’t. It’s a mixture though. When he asks to meet for lunch, she says she has an appointment. But the fact that the honesty is where the conversation ends, is worth something.
E9. Han Seong and Yoo Joo talking it out in their own way, while on vacation. It’s interesting how they seem to be able to talk so freely about how they each wavered on the other. It feels bittersweet, somehow. Like their relationship is tainted with so much baggage. But it’s mature of them, to try to work through it, instead of giving up.
E13. Yoo Joo’s self-awareness and explanation this episode does help to make up for her disappointing behavior in previous episodes. I’m not a big fan of the couple dynamic between Yoo Joo and Han Seong – it’s a bit too dramatic diva for my taste – but I do think they match each other and deserve each other.
E14. While I don’t like the faux-bickering scene, I do like the scene where Han Seong and Yoo Joo lie around in bed and talk about her pregnancy and the future. It feels accessible and real and cozy.
E15. Yoo Joo proposing to Han Seong, admitting her flaws and promising to try hard, just melts away any residual dislike I have for her character.
Han Gyul and Yoo Joo [SPOILERS]
When we begin our story, Han Gyul and Yoo Joo are shown to have a complicated friendship. She’s his cousin’s girlfriend, she’s the girl that he likes, and they want to be close friends, in spite of the first 2 things. I find it so inappropriate in episode 3, that she’s singing him to sleep while dating his cousin. Or maybe that’s just me. But at least she called to apologize.
To my eyes, Yoo Joo’s way of being touchy-feely with Han Gyul is thoughtless and insensitive. She holds his hand, gives him the earliest birthday present, touches his shoulders, his face etc, all while knowing that he likes her while she doesn’t like him back. She’s just basking in the attention, as she leads him on, not caring that he gets hurt in the process. That makes me angry.
I was pleased when Han Gyul shows Yoo Joo in episode 5, that he isn’t comfortable with her mixed signals, but I guess old habits die hard, because in episode 8, I felt distinctly uncomfortable with Han Gyul’s and Yoo Joo’s skinship boundaries, when he puts his head on her lap at the hospital. That’s inappropriate, at least in my books.
The whole thing is pretty unhealthy to my eyes, and it’s no wonder this is a raw nerve between Han Gyul, Han Seong and Yoo Joo. I’m glad Show sorted it all out eventually, of course. Phew.
The Coffee Princes
Aside from the OTP, the Coffee Prince crew was my next favorite thing in this show. I loved watching the initial guardedness and suspicion eventually give way to sincere care and true bromance, and I loved that Show gave us the chance to get to know each of the Coffee Princes.
I loved dim Min Yeop, whom I found very amusing and endearing all the way through, from his stubborn love for Eun Sae, to his all-consuming loyalty to Eun Chan, to his simple joy at working hard. He is possibly my favorite Coffee Prince, and I was gutted when I learned that Lee Eon had passed away in a tragic motorcycle crash the year after making this show. Sob. T.T I will always remember Min Yeop working out his jealousy by carrying a fridge. So ridiculous, so he-man, and so endearing.
I found Sun Ki (Kim Jae Wook) suitably cool and edgy as the waffle guy of few words, but it was his one-sided faithful love for a noona with a child that really tugged at my heartstrings. Additionally, underneath the reserved cool exterior, Sun Ki’s actually really nice. Like how he’s defended Eun Chan multiple times, and how he advises Eun Chan in episode 13, to hold onto Han Gyul, who liked her even when he thought she was a guy.
Of course, how could I forget Ha Rim (Kim Dong Wook), with his bright and sunny personality, his loyalty to Han Gyul, and his repeated cheerful exclamations of “My Channnn!!” Cutie.
Last but definitely not least, I loved Manager Hong. For all of his gross lack of hygienic practice, he remained the rock holding the shop together, looking over everyone like he’s their affectionate uncle.
At first, it was just breezy and fun to watch this crew together, coz you feel like you’re hanging out with these guys and just having fun with them. But eventually, it’s their sincere care for one another that really gets me in the heart. By episode 15, the princes are talking about their personal stuff while working and hanging out at the coffee shop together, which I love. It really feels like they’re close and sharing lives, beyond just working together. What a long way they’ve come, considering they didn’t like one another all that much when they first started working together. <3
Special shout-out: Han Gyul and his mom
I really loved the relationship between Han Gyul and his mom (Kim Ja Ok). He’s always so playful and flirty with his mom, and she literally lights up and blossoms in response, which is the most adorable thing. I love how genuinely happy they look, when they hug.
[SPOILER] Han Gyul’s mom is also a true sweetheart, being grateful to her son’s bio mom, instead of feeling threatened by her memory. I found that very moving indeed, and I was so glad for both her and Han Gyul, that they had each other. [END SPOILER]
I also wanted to say, this rewatch was especially bittersweet, now that Kim Ja Ok has passed on. 🙁 She will always be one of my favorite drama moms. <3
In a sea of goodies, singling out things that didn’t work feels rather nitpicky, but for the record, here are a few small things that I think Show could’ve handled better.
E8. How the kiss was resolved also doesn’t feel quite organic to me. Why would Eun Chan kiss Han Gyul, given how uncertain she feels about his feelings for her?
E8. What happened to Han Gyul’s propensity to get knocked out cold after one shot? Here, he’s had one shot with his dad, and then (at least) another glass of wine with Eun Chan, and he’s still able to chase her around the house. That doesn’t match up?
E10. The mini-concert is still weird, many watches later. It requires too much suspension of disbelief, that they’d successfully make music, with so little prep, and sucking bad, just 2 days prior. Plus, the whole thing was just really awkward to watch.
THEMES / IDEAS
I’m sure if you were to dig a little deeper, that you’d find many themes and ideas that Show touches on over the course of its 17 episodes. Like, loyalty, brotherhood, and found family, for example. But, the one thing that really hits me hardest in the heart, is Show’s presentation of the theme of love without conditions or borders. Never mind about different social classes or backgrounds; Han Gyul was sincere in loving Eun Chan, even when he thought she was a boy.
Yes, in this story world, Eun Chan isn’t a boy, but in episode 10, Show has Sun Ki say that even if Eun Chan was a guy, it would still not be a problem. That, plus the alien scene, basically crystalizes Show’s stance on love: that love is love; no conditions, no borders. A powerful message indeed.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Y’know, I’m not so hot on the way Show handles the time skip in our finale, but I’ll admit that there’s a lot of stuff to like in this final hour, in spite of it.
So first, the good stuff.
The morning-after touchy-feeliness and the ease with which Han Gyul and Eun Chan touch each other, is very believable. There is no stiffness or awkwardness in their touches. The ease and loving nature of their touches believably feel like spillover from a night of love-making and tenderness. The bashful wonder and glee of their morning-after also feels very organic and believable. And it’s awfully infectious too, coz I can’t help grinning at their happiness. Little beats like Eun Chan playing with Han Gyul’s fingers as he drives, and playfully biting his hand, only to have him bite on hers right back, makes it totally feel like we’re spying on their intimacy.
In fact, that’s true of almost all their couply interactions. The phone conversation while she’s lying in her bed and he’s lying in his, all curled up and mumbling sleepily at each other, feels completely true-to-life. It’s not a major romantic scene, but it’s the accumulation of minor moments like these, that shape our mental picture of this couple, and it all adds up to a very loving, very natural and very real OTP indeed. Han Gyul’s smitten, I’m-ready-to-explode face as he serenades Eun Chan in the morning over the phone, is so squee-worthy as well. Just seeing his happy face makes me want to explode with happy squee.
The beat, where the coffee princes all line up to take turns saying their goodbyes to Eun Chan, is so sweetly sad. As everyone braces for goodbye, it echoes how I’m bracing for goodbye, to this drama world. In that sense, the impending sadness feels real.
The tearful goodbye between Eun Chan and Han Gyul really tugs at my heartstrings. Both of their sadness at parting, feels so real. The tears feel real. The heartache feels real too. I totally teared up when Han Gyul broke down crying as he drove, after saying goodbye to Eun Chan. Blubber.
On the downside, one thing that does confuse me about Eun Chan going away, is that it seems that she really doesn’t see Han Gyul for two years. After all that talk about daily phone calls and frequent visits, why is it portrayed as if they haven’t seen each other at all, all the time that Eun Chan is away? I mean, I get that it’s to amp up the anticipation of her return, and to intensify Han Gyul’s angst at Eun Chan’s fakeout “I want to stay for another year” thing, but it does strike me as very odd and takes me out of the moment, somewhat.
Also, I’m on Han Gyul’s side on this one. After putting him through the agony of making the decision to support Eun Chan’s desire to stay, it feels rather insensitive of Eun Chan to expect him to just be all, “Oh you’re here, I’m so happy!” about it. It makes sense that he feels at least a little peeved about it.
In the end, though, we do get happy bows all around; Eun Sae supporting Min Yeop’s career as a model, Ha Rim finally meeting his match in Byul, Sun Ki meeting a potential love interest, Han Seong and Yoo Joo happily married, and Eun Chan and Han Gyul happily together again, surrounded by friends and coffee. It’s not a big-bang ending, but it does feel like our characters will continue to bicker and be rowdy together, making memories together, and sharing their entwined lives, for a long, happy time to come. And I can get behind that. <3
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Happy, cracky, relatable goodness in a coffee cup.
FINAL GRADE: A
I couldn’t find a good HD trailer for this show, and I couldn’t find any good HD MVs either. But! I did find that MBCClassic’s got a nice number of clips from the show. So here are a couple of my favorites, from the ones available.
Making of a fake boyfriend
Making of a coffee shop
The opening of a coffee shop
Bonding over pizza and toys
Of hair-blows, drunken water fountain antics, and Chinese food
The pivotal beach scene
The alien kiss