Friday, November 26, 2010

Coffee Prince (live action TV show), via Hulu

I said there'd be a new post soon, and here it is - the very first Korean drama (more accurately, romantic dramedy) I've ever watched from beginning to end. I'm currently suffering from a stye in my eye, so I was hoping finishing this post would get my mind off it. Unfortunately, since it hurts every time I blink, it didn't work as well as I'd hoped. I think I'll go put on another warm compress. Enjoy the post!

(The name spellings aren't all like they are in the episode subtitles in Hulu. Since I had a hard time remembering how people's names were spelled, I used another source to check names. At the very least, I know Han Kyul was different in Hulu. Han Gyul, maybe?)

As usual, there are spoilers.

Synopsis:

Eun Chan is a tomboy who's used to people mistaking her for a boy, but when she's hired by Han Kyul to pretend to be his male lover, she finds herself in new and sometimes uncomfortable territory. On the one hand, since Eun Chan is her family's primary breadwinner, the money is definitely a good thing. On the other hand, since Han Kyul assumes she's a guy, by not correcting him Eun Chan is lying to him, and that lie becomes more of a problem as time passes.

Han Kyul's family wants him to get more involved in the family business, settle down, and marry a nice girl from a good family - none of which Han Kyul is ready or willing to do. That's when he hatches the plan to pay Eun Chan to pretend to be his gay lover, thereby putting off all the blind dates his mother and grandmother set him up with.

Han Kyul's grandmother is a crafty lady, though. She tells Han Kyul that he may do what he wants and go to America to make toys if he'd like, but only if he can increase a tiny, rundown cafe's sales by a certain amount. Han Kyul agrees, but the cafe situation seems hopeless. Still, he's willing to do anything to drum up sales. He decides to rename the cafe "Coffee Prince" and make its theme all about princes - everyone who works there must be a guy. That puts Eun Chan in a prolonged tough spot when he offers her a job there - she really needs the pay, and she likes working at the cafe, but if she's discovered to be a girl she can't work there anymore.

There are a few bumps here and there, but eventually the cafe begins to do really well. Eun Chan and Han Kyul's relationship deepens, and the two start to become more interested in each other than in the people they originally thought they liked. The problem is, Han Kyul still thinks Eun Chan is a guy, and Han Kyul isn't gay. Han Kyul is thoroughly confused and upset by his feelings for Eun Chan, and Eun Chan is torn, wishing she could tell him the truth but afraid that he'll send her away if she does. Eventually, Han Kyul decides that, no matter what other people might think, no matter Eun Chan's gender, he loves him (her). It's at this time that Han Kyul finally learns the truth. It takes him a while, but he does eventually get over his hurt at having been lied to for so long.

Although their relationship is now a socially acceptable thing, it's still not acceptable to everyone in Han Kyul's family. Both his mother and his grandmother think he could do better than this "thing", this androgynous girl. Han Kyul finds himself wanting more and more to marry Eun Chan, but he has more than just his family to contend with - Eun Chan also doesn't want to get married, at least not quite yet. First, she's still the breadwinner for her family, and she doesn't want to depend on Han Kyul in order to help them. Second, Eun Chan finally has a dream: she wants to become a barista. She wants to at least wait until after she's become a barista to marry Han Kyul, something that could take 5 years.

Han Kyul's grandmother steps in and sets up a compromise: Eun Chan can study to become a barista in Italy for two years, and then she and Han Kyul can get married. It's tough on everybody for Eun Chan to leave, but, two years later, Eun Chan is back. She's grown into a confident young woman who would no longer be mistaken for a guy, and there's already a place for her in the almost-finished "Coffee Princess."

Commentary:

One thing that immediately attracted me to this show was Eun Chan, who is very likable. Still, this was one of those shows where I hated most of the characters at one time or another - but I also loved almost all of them at one time or another. Eun Chan was one of those I consistently liked. Although I do think there was a point when she could have told Han Kyul the truth in a better way, I understood why she had to lie to him as long as she did. I also understood and applauded her reasons for not marrying Han Kyul as quickly as he wanted. She knew from personal experience that she couldn't necessarily depend on someone else to help her take care of herself and her family, so she needed to grow and build herself up to the point where, yes, Han Kyul's help would be nice, but not necessary. I was so glad when Han Kyul loosened up and let Eun Chan go to Italy. It was a huge risk, because either one of them could have grown apart from the other during the two years. In fact, I suspected that was what happened when Eun Chan seemed to want to put off coming back - I was glad when that turned out not to be the case.

Since I've already mentioned Han Kyul...I didn't really like him at first. Sure, he was hot (so very hot), but he also seemed to be trying to steal his cousin's on-again-off-again girlfriend - not cool. He had a tendency to be way too uptight, coming down on Eun Chan's mistakes much harder than necessary. However, I loved the scenes where he relaxed and enjoyed himself, either with his employees or with Eun Chan alone.

Two characters I tended to dislike more often than I liked them were Yoo Joo and Eun Chan's sister. Yoo Joo was the on-again-off-again girlfriend of Han Kyul's cousin that I mentioned. She was beautiful, but incredibly selfish. I don't think it's necessarily fair to say she encouraged Han Kyul, but she had to have known that he liked her and she didn't exactly discourage him either.  She made things more uncomfortable for her boyfriend than they should have been. Then, when her boyfriend cheated on her (by kissing Eun Chan), she blasted him for it, almost ending their relationship. On the one hand, I thought her boyfriend was a bit of a bastard for saying "You cheated on me (their previous off-again period was due to Yoo Joo sleeping with another man while they were together), and I forgave you" as though that meant she should forgive him, too - after all, forgiving her was his choice and didn't mean he got a "get out of jail free" card for any future infidelity on his part. On the other hand, I could kind of understand his perspective. Yoo Joo's reaction seemed a little like she was thinking, "it's ok for me to cheat on you, because I'm a bit of a flake, but you can't ever cheat on me, because you're supposed to be the faithful one, the rock I can always count on." If you're going to expect something from someone you're in a relationship with, you should be prepared for them to expect it of you, too.

All that about Yoo Joo and I almost forgot to write about Eun Chan's sister.  At the very beginning of the show, it was actually both Eun Chan's mother and sister who were annoying. Eun Chan was working hard every single waking hour to provide for her family, and her mother spent the money on shoes. Not exactly a model mother. As the show progressed, however, the writers seemed to forget that aspect of Eun Chan's mother's character, and she became more sympathetic. Never again did she spend Eun Chan's hard-earned money on stupid luxuries. Instead, it was mostly Eun Chan's sister who made me want to throttle her. She treated her boyfriend like an annoying puppy who would always do everything she said, putting him through hell without ever really intending to give him anything back. When he started to get annoyed by this treatment, she acted all wounded. The two of them did make up in the end, but I wasn't sure if I wanted them to. It wouldn't surprise me if she continued to treat him like a slave, and, sadly, it wouldn't surprise me if he continued to let her.

Just about any storyline that directly involved Eun Chan was a storyline I enjoyed. Unfortunately (from my perspective), not every storyline directly involved Eun Chan. The show had multiple storylines going on, most of them focused on particular couples, sometimes focused on particular characters (like Waffle Sun Ki and Han Kyul's grandmother). Once the hints of romance between Eun Chan and Han Kyul really started to develop, I began to get a bit annoyed by all the other storylines. I particularly didn't like the storyline involving Yoo Joo and her boyfriend, since I didn't like Yoo Joo. Still, I suppose Eun Chan and Han Kyul might have become a bit much if the show had focused on them exclusively, and I didn't necessarily dislike all those other storylines. For instance, Waffle Sun Ki's storyline was painful to watch, but I loved that there was a hint of him getting a nice new girl at the end.

Overall, I really enjoyed this show. I remember being a little confused, because the description in Hulu said that it was considered "quite provocative" when it originally aired in Korea - what I was seeing in the first few episodes seemed more safe than shocking. After all, although Han Kyul had Eun Chan pretend to be his gay lover, it was just pretend and, even if he didn't know it, Eun Chan was a girl. It wasn't until I got further into the show that I could see why the show would have been considered provocative. Yes, Eun Chan was still a girl, but Han Kyul didn't know that - as he started to fall in love with her, he had to decide if gender mattered more than the feelings he was starting to have and, surprisingly, he decided that gender didn't matter. I did kind of wonder what the show would have been like if Eun Chan really had been a guy - having her be a girl made Han Kyul's decision seem less...for real...since the audience knows she's not really a guy.


Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Antique Bakery (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - Coffee Prince has a pretend gay person and a heterosexual guy who's confused about his feelings for someone he believes is a guy. This manga has an actual gay person who has a complex relationship with his heterosexual boss. This series is primarily about four people who work in a cafe. Each person appears fairly easy to understand at first, and then the complexities of each character are gradually revealed.There is an anime version, but I haven't seen it yet and I don't believe it's licensed. The screenshots I've seen look very...pastel.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - Coffee Prince prides itself in its "princes," but I'd argue that the male characters in this series are far more princely overall. The Ouran High School Host Club is comprised of a group of bored rich guys whose mission is to cater to the needs and desires (get your mind out of the gutter - it's all just flirtation) of the bored rich girls of Ouran High School. Haruhi, the school's only scholarship student, accidentally breaks one of the club's vases and is forced to become a club member in order to pay off the debt. Unfortunately, Haruhi is a girl. Although the club members all find out her true gender, no one else at the school can know, or she'll never be able to pay off her debt. Those who'd like another series with an androgynous main character, hot guys, and a bit of romance might want to try this. Just one warning: the romance is pretty much just teasing. The anime never follows through with an actual romantic conclusion. The manga may be another story, but I wouldn't count on it.
  • Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya; Fruits Basket (anime TV series) - Another series with a hard-working young girl, romance, and several good-looking guys. Tohru's mother died a year ago and, ever since then, she's been trying to take care of herself without being a burden on others. Circumstances lead to her living with the Sohmas, including Yuki Sohma, the "prince" of her high school. What's even more incredible is the Sohma family secret - several of the Sohmas are cursed to turn into an animal of the Chinese zodiac whenever they become weak or are hugged by someone of the opposite sex.

2 comments:

  1. wow! i didnt know you culd watch dramas on hulu O_O ill have to check that out since my dramas wont play on my stupid tv and im dying to watch MARS

    oh yah, you won an award on my blog
    http://forevertonowhere.blogspot.com/2010/11/versatile-blogger-awards.html

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hulu has some, and I recently learned that there are lots more on http://www.dramafever.com/. I haven't watched anything directly on Drama Fever yet, because I'm used to being able to use my Hulu queue to stay on top of what I'm watching and how far I've gotten.

    Unfortunately, neither site has MARS yet, from what I can see, although it looks like Drama Fever might provide access to it sometime in the future. They've got a page for it, anyway.

    Thanks for the award. :) I'll have to think about what to write and who to pass it on to.

    ReplyDelete

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