K-Drama Flashback: Revisiting ‘Coffee Prince’
The South Korean rom-com classic which premiered on JTBC 15 years ago is still considered a superhit amongst K-drama lovers
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Lee Sunmi Coffee Prince, an MBC production first aired in 2007. The television series had Yoon Eunhye, Gong Yoo, Lee Sunkyun, and Chae Jungan in lead roles. Critically acclaimed for its subject, the show garnered high ratings and is considered to be one of the most watch-worthy K-dramas of all time.
‘Go Eunchan’ (Yoon Eunhye) is an androgynous girl, often mistaken for a man. ‘Han Kyul’, a chaebol heir (Gong Yoo) decides to revamp his family café, Coffee Prince, by recruiting only handsome men to serve customers. Oblivious of Go’s gender, Han hires her as an employee and convinces her to act as his gay partner to put an end to his grandfather’s penchant for setting him on blind dates. What follows next is a roller-coaster ride of emotions as the two fall in love with each other. While Go feels guilty of hiding her true self, Han is doubtful about his sexuality. The truth shatters him to pieces when he comes to know the former is a woman. However, love wins and they soon reconcile.
Initially, when I watched Coffee Prince, I found it too melodramatic for a rom-com, but watching it again more recently made me realize there’s so much more to the show. Back then, it was probably the only drama that defined different kinds of love. It captured the ups and downs of juvenile relationships through Han Kyul and Go Eunchan, and Han’s cousin ‘Hansung’ and his on-and-off girlfriend ‘Yoojoo’ as they struggled to sort out their confusing love lives.
Coffee Prince was a cut above the rest in that it was the determination of the cast which truly brought each character to life. Yoon made her character believable both as a boy and a girl in love for the first time. Gong’s well-balanced portrayal of the moody Han Kyul made him loveable throughout the show. His dilemma on his sexuality, reactions leading to soul-searching, and the chemistry between him and Yoon is seamless. The show raised questions on gender identity, social norms, and notions around same-sex relationships, femininity, masculinity which makes it more suitable a show for everyone, even today.
13 years later, MBC brought the cast back together for a special two-part documentary, My Dear Youth: Coffee Prince. The actors were caught candid reacting to various scenes from the drama, sharing anecdotes and trivia of behind-the-scenes moments.
In this journey through nostalgia, the cast while reflecting on memories were also seen getting quite emotional about the sudden and tragic death of Lee Eon, the actor who essayed the role of ‘Hwang Minyeop’ in Coffee Prince. In 2008, Lee died in an accident. Deeply moved by the loss, Gong Yoo was in tears while fellow actors Kim Jaewook, Kim Dongwook, Lee Sungyun, and Chae Jungan reminisced about their experiences working with the late actor.
As an ardent follower of K-dramas, for me, Coffee Prince will always stand out. It’s remarkable in the way it treats each character with equal understanding. Every scene reflects genuine emotions and strikes a chord with us as we cruise through the episodes. The show was definitely ahead of its time because for a series that aired in 2007, it was revolutionary to break accepted norms of gender restrictions. The character of Eunchan carved a niche in my heart. A heroine who is rustic, boyish, a martial artist, a breadwinner and is never sorry for her looks or circumstances. She does not give up on her dreams despite adversities and the best part? Han Kyul loves her for who she is and is never forced to change anything.