Story: Go Eun-chan (Yoon Eun-hye) does eke out a living with several part-time jobs and is often mistaken as
a boy. This is also surely because of her straight-forward, assertive and all in all very boyish nature. Nonetheless,
this never proved to be a problem for her.
One day, however, Eun-chan's Tae-Kwon-Do dojo gets shut down. She doesn't know how to provide for her sister and mother, anymore. Therefore it's just right on time when she runs into Choi Han-kyul (Gong Yoo), as he is looking for a man, with whom he can pretend to have a homosexual relationship, so that he can escape the many blind dates his grandmother forces him to attend. Han-kyul, who thinks that Eun-chan is a man, naturally, pays her to go on a few dates with him. But Han-kyul's grandmother doesn't give up so easily in bringing her grandson up the right way, and thus forces him to revampe an old run-down coffee shop. If he fails he wouldn't get the family's financial support to go back to America.
After a bit of pleading Eun-chan is allowed to work at the Café, even though the shop's policy is that only men are allowed to work there. But no one knows about Eun-chan actually being a woman, except of Han-sung (Lee Sun-gyun), a music producer, she became friends with. Moreover, Han-sung is also a relative of Han-kyul and has been in love with artist Yoo-ju (Chae Jung-ahn) until she suddenly broke up with him a few years ago. Now, Yoo-ju is back and wants to start over with her ex-boyfriend, but Han-sung only has eyes for Eun-chan at the moment, while it's no secret that Han-kyul has always been in love with Yoo-ju. Anyway, things turn out differently, eventually, as the feelings between Han-kyul and Eun-chan become stronger day by day. Therefore, Han-kyul begins to worry about his sexual orientation...
Review: What reason is there for a guy to watch Korean romantic dramas? For a female audience this kind of
TV show may be appealing because of its love stories, which, however, always have the tendency to slide into
melodramatic and cheesy realms. And that's what most men find repelling about such shows. I myself fall into the
same category. Therefore, such TV shows are always and only fascinating, if they are confined only to the most
necessary drama, and aside from that, and most importantly, offer offbeat characters and fresh ideas. If this is given
it's easy and worthwhile for us to spend an hour of our afternoon with some trivial, yet funny entertainment.
Luckily, "Coffee Prince" offers exactly what there is to find fascinating about such a series. Interesting individuals,
good chemistry between the two main leads and a few inventive ideas, which bestow that certain something upon the
classic love story. It's this mix that made "Coffee Prince" such a big surprise hit, a success that the people
involved in the making truely deserved.
The plot revolves around Eun-chan, who by some coincidence ends up with playboy Han-kyul. Han-kyul, however, mistakes her as a man, as do many people. In order to earn some money Eun-chan plays along and keeps up this small lie (well, actually it's not that small...), until this swindle is about to cause quite a stir, without Eun-chan having the power to resolve things in time. Naturally, this has to lead to a more dramatic part of the show, and we do know so since the beginning. Anyway, first and foremost it's Yoon Eun-hye ("Goong" aka "Princess Hours") who has to shoulder quite a burden as she is supposed to convince as a guy. So let's get to the point right away: She makes quite an effort and in most scenes she even accomplishes amazing stuff. For sure, this is one of the most convincing portrayals of a man by a girl I have seen so far. But - and I couldn't refrain from using this word - she doesn't fully manage to convince us. How could she, anyway? The face of a Korean man is much more sharp-edged than the one of a Korean woman. Besides, at some points we can clearly see her female physical traits through her shirt, and the most unequivocal way to distinguish a man from a woman is the adam's apple, which isn't nearly as prominent as it would be the case with a man.
This is why "Coffee Prince" inevitably has to lack some credit. However, most of the time Yoon Eun-hye makes up for it with her good acting. She is straight-forward, buddy-like and independent. A bon vivant, who always manages to get through life somehow and even has a cheerful nature by doing so. With her slender body, her short hair and the slack clothes of hers she actually looks like a boy child. Someone you want to protect and bully at the same time. For Han-kyul this is just the one he was looking for. A little brother, whom he can trifle with. Unfortunately, Eun-chan is like most XX-Chromosome holders, as she shows her emotions in the shape of tears she sheds on several ocassions. Nonetheless, this strangely doesn't make anyone wonder if she is actually a woman.
Gong Yoo ("Spy Girl", "My Tutor Friend") plays the main lead and always remains your typical heart-throb. He knows how to make use of his charm and thus oftentimes seems somewhat arrogant. Yet, at the same time he is also still a child and simply wants to have some fun, which is what makes him so sympathetic in the end.
Of course, everything on screen boils down to the love story between Han-kyul and Eun-chan, even though they are interested in other characters of the series first. Han-sung is related to Han-kyul and also a friend of Eun-chan. He is the only one from the circle around Han-kyul who knows about Eun-chan's true identity. Moreover, he is trying hard to win Eun-chan's heart after his one has been shattered by Yoo-ju. Latter one has come back to Han-sung and wants to resume their relationship. Since Han-kyul has always been in love with Yoo-ju and never made any secret about it, this all leads to a love quadrangle, which thankfully isn't made use of excessively. Soon, we are aware that Han-sung and Eun-chan are destined to be together. Which brings us to another refreshing quality of "Coffee Prince". Which is that there is no antagonist at all! There is no one that deserves our hatred because he/she destroys the fortune of our two lovers, as it is the case with most other K-dramas. At first, you might think that Yoo-ju may have gotten that part, but the show displays the courage to be different and renounces this kind of drama. Truely praiseworthy.
However, there is one problem. Naturally, Han-kyul is still thinking that Eun-chan is a man. That's why he has to ask himself, if he maybe isn't gay after all. When the truth comes out eventually - and we all knew from the very beginning that this day would come - Han-kyul may have all the right there is to be angry with Eun-chan, but his delight that he is actually loving a woman and not a man, should have scotched his anger right away. At this point, the series tries to be more dramatic than necessary.
The show gets some more color and an additional layer through a more mature love story between Han-sung and Yoo-ju, which I really liked. But it is often pushed into the background by the main story. The same goes for the rest of the side characters and the stories they have to tell, e.g. the somewhat caddish, but softhearted Min Yeop and his love tale with Eun-chan's sister, or Sun-ki's relationship with a married woman. Even Eun-chan's mother has a small love sidestory with a shop owner running. To talk about all the fascinating characters is beyond the scope of this review, but it has to be pointed out once more, that the characters are what's actually so fascinating and entertaining about this series, even though the side characters only get a short deal most of the time, because their are maybe too many of them.
"Coffee Prince" is bubbling over with humor, even though it is of a more modest kind. Fortunately, the melodramatic moments are very rare, so that "Coffee Prince" is simply an entertaining and charm-radiating show. Granted, this is no great cinema and also nothing that will satisfy you if you are looking for something profound, but it is a good choice if you just want to have some fun in front of your TV screen. "Coffee Prince" has some slow-downs in the middle, yet luckily never misses to focus on its characters, which is why you will always find into the series again.
In many respects "Coffee Prince" is quite a refreshing experience. There are no antagonists, no unnecessary tear-jerking moments and the humor is appealing, too. Therefore, it's save to say that this series sets itself apart from usual K-drams and tries to bring a fresh breeze into the genre. With success. And that's what this show deserves a thumbs up for!