That thing was a Korean TV drama, and the bidders were, and oh how I hope I have them all listed: anenko, dormouse_in_tea, jamethiel, paxpinnae, pineapplechild, vass, and zeborah. Thank you, people. I have enjoyed the hell out of Coffee Prince. And really appreciated your patience. You are all made of entirely of shine. What you're actually getting is a weird review-recap hybrid. Hope it's what you wanted!
A Preliminary Note
I don't speak Korean and I've never watched a K-drama before. I don't know the conventions, I don't know the idioms, and I had to resort to google a lot. I am going to make cultural missteps. I apologize in advance. Pointers appreciated!
Also, the fansub I found for this one was a little antic. I'm used to anime fansubs, which are inevitably better than the actual official licensed translation. I did not get that sense with these subtitles, which were informative most of the time with occasional moments where they induced shrieking hilarity. Seriously, even if you have no interest in adorable romance, the fansubs are worth watching for those moments alone.
Coffee Prince in Relatively Few Words (For Me)
So, that said - Coffee Prince is a charming, crazy, fluffy romance. The central conceit is that one half of the main couple, Eun Chan, is a girl pretending to be a boy. Or that's how the summaries read. (They actually mostly said something along the lines of "she's given up so much to take care of her family - even her femininity.") That wasn't how I saw it, though. And I was not alone.
Right after I watched the second episode of Coffee Prince, I had to take the earthling to see his doctor. Afterwards, as is our custom, he picked out a treat from the small store there, and we sat at a table outside where he could watch all the cars and trucks go by.
There was also a middle-aged Korean-American woman sitting out there. (This may seem like a gift from the gods of recap writing, but in fact we were sitting in front of a Korean café and a Korean pharmacy, so not so much.) We started talking while the earthling consumed his treat one molecule at a time (because there were so many trucks to watch). We talked about kids for a bit, and then she asked me what TV shows I was watching. Normally, my answer to that question is an apologetic, "I don't watch TV," but this time I had an actual show to mention!
I said, "I'm watching - uh, in English it's called Coffee Prince?"
She lit up. "I loved that show so much!"
We talked about various aspects of the show for a while, including how we got hold of it (and why I chose to watch it, which was a whole thing to explain, let me tell you; I should have just said that I heard it was good). Eventually, I mentioned how great I thought the acting was. I said the actress who played Eun Chan did a fantastic job showing discomfort with femininity, using masculine body language, all of that.
She agreed, and said, "Watching that, I didn't think - I didn't think she was a girl, exactly. I know she was a girl, but I thought - you have to be one, of course, a boy or a girl, but I thought if you could be not a boy or a girl but a third thing, then that is what I would call her."
In short, even people who don't know the word genderqueer and affirmatively state that you have to be either a boy or a girl look at Eun Chan and decide she's not a girl pretending to be a boy, but rather a person being who she is. (I say she, by the way, because it's what she says. Or at least what the subtitles say she says.)
Or that's the impression I got from the first few episodes. I will be watching the whole thing - yes, I liked it that much - unless it turns out Eun Chan undergoes some kind of transformation into a beautiful swan because of the power of love or something, and then I will put my head down on my desk and cry.
So, yeah, that's the plot. There are these couples. They get together. The main couple has some tiny issues, in that the guy thinks the girl is, you know, a guy. And, okay, there's a lot of stuff about coffee and a coffee shop and some other supporting characters, but this is at heart a romance, and all of that is set dressing for the important task of getting the right lips on each other and having as many Key Emotional Sequences as possible. Fan fiction readers should understand this. (Because this is a good show, the set dressing is interesting. It's just - you know. The focus is on the couples.)
And, as I said, there are two of those couples. Let's talk a little more about them, shall we?
The Comedy Couple, Han Kyul/Eun Chan
HAN KYUL. Oh, man. Look, in my notes for this series I called him Jerkface, and trust me, he earns it. He's a smart rich kid who is totally in love with himself, and he's decided that his life will be easier and more fun if no one expects anything of him. Despite that, he has his noble moments, and just when you've decided what you most long for in the world is to see him get punched in the face, he'll do something that will remind you there's good stuff under the patina of asshole. In other words, I somehow ended up liking him while continuing to call him Jerkface. So, I mean - he's a jerk. I liked him anyway. There you go, the central problem of Coffee Prince.
EUN CHAN. She's a totally awesome mess, basically. She's uncouth! Unmannered! Clumsy! Disorganized! Constantly starving! She reminds me, on many occasions, of my younger nephew; she bounces off the walls, pokes at other people just to see what they do, says stuff without thinking, and breaks things. But she's also principled, moral, caring, and really fucking responsible. She's basically the inverse of Han Kyul; he has everything and refuses to try at all, and she has nothing but tries so hard all the time. At one point in the series, you get a look at her schedule. She has four hours blocked out for sleeping. The rest of the time she works and works and works, trying to take care of her mother and sister. And we've already gone into the gender thing, so I will just say: the actress OWNS this. All actresses everywhere who have to pretend to be a guy for a role: WATCH THIS SHOW.
So. These two people should be like watching a helicopter crash: flames and shrapnel everywhere, bystanders run for their lives. And the thing is, they kind of are. And yet they're wonderful together anyway.
Obviously, their main issue, at least at first, is that Han Kyul thinks Eun Chan is a guy, and, see, he's straight, and also he likes ladies, and what the fuck is with lusting after a guy? Whereas Eun Chan is frantically trying to keep all her plates in the air, and totally not be in love with Han Kyul, because he is not for her. This is, shall we say, not an unfamiliar dynamic for a slash reader. It's a joy to see this all done so well, and sort of weird to see it done with a het couple.
I'm not calling them the comedy couple, by the way, because they're comic relief; they have more Key Emotional Sequences than the other main couple, and definitely more than anyone else. Just. They are fun. That cannot be said of our next set.
The Tragedy Couple, Han Seong/Yoo Ju
HAN SEONG. Oh god his voice. I just want to say that here and now. Another reason this show is worth watching: Han Seong's voice. I want to listen to him talk all day long forever. This is a guy you would never want to work with, because you'd find yourself nodding in helpless agreement as he outlined his plans to set fire to the building. That's how good his voice is. As for the rest of him - he's Han Kyul's older cousin, and he's a successful music producer with a very adorable dog. He's also responsible and kind to Eun Chan. All these things made me want to love him.
YOO JU. She's an artist (a corporate one, judging by her paintings); she's very sweet and calm and seems to think before she speaks, which is a trait you don't usually see on television. She was with Han Seong for a long time, and then she left him for another guy, DK, and went to New York. Right before the start of the story, she broke up with DK and came back to Seoul. As the series begins, she's trying to rekindle her relationship with Han Seong. Han Kyul is also in love with her.
I liked Yoo Ju and Han Seong when they weren't with each other, and I loved Han Seong's voice, but after a while, I cringed every time we switched over to their storyline. These people bring the over-the-top angst in vats. Remember that time that you were in that totally serious, "oh my god we'll be together forever as soon as we're old enough to get driver's licenses" relationship? And then after four fabulous, incredible, soul-searing weeks it ended and you cried and cried and deleted all your poetry and cut your hair and wished it would rain so you could sit in the rain with your sorrow, like, why did you have to break up during the summer oh god your life is such totally fucking SHIT. Remember that? THAT IS WHAT THESE TWO ARE DOING. Except they are adults. Angst, whining, stupidity, and they own their own homes. It's not supposed to work that way. That shit is barely tolerable when you're 15, for fuck's sake.
A Note on Bodily Secretions
Anyone who has been assigned the bodily secretions square in Kink Bingo and wants to make a vid: Coffee Prince is the source for you. The producers of this show didn't really feel like they'd done their jobs until they had documented every single possible secretion on film. People poop and pee on camera (I am going to believe, for purposes of sanity, that they are acting); they barf pretty much on camera, and there is flirtatious nose picking, which I have to assume is one of those concepts that just doesn't cross the cultural barrier, because it is clearly supposed to be cute and instead makes me want to die.
So, fair warning: there are bodily secretions in this show. Far more than I want in my viewing experiences. I liked it anyway. See how I said this was the fundamental problem of Coffee Prince?
In other words: ALL THE COFFEE PRINCE DETAIL YOU COULD EVER NEED. If you need trigger warnings, please read the version of this with cut tags intact. I'm using nested cut tags for the one in this episode.
1: Everyone Says Hello and Then Something Horrible Happens
We meet Eun Chan delivering noodles to a bathhouse. The women, of course, assume she's a guy and shriek and flail and throw things at her. (I myself would be cross at her for slamming the food around like she had a personal grudge, but, you know, whatever.) She does that scene so beloved of Hollywood, where the presumed-guy in the full helmet takes it off and reveals that, actually, she is a gorgeous woman. Normally, this sequence involves the woman in question shaking out her lovely long hair, somehow totally unaffected by the helmet. Often in slow-motion. She is always wearing full, perfect makeup, again absolutely unaffected by the helmet or any activities done while wearing the helmet.
Eun Chan removes her helmet and has horrible, horrible helmet hair. She is, yes, exceedingly gorgeous - I don't think there's any way to make this actress anything else - but she's gorgeously androgynous, not markedly and obviously feminine. (The women still don't believe she's a girl, not even when she says so.) It's awesome; less than five minutes in, and my Hollywood-trained expectations have not been met, in an entirely delightful way.
Then we meet Han Kyul, who proves his essential dickishness in, like, twenty-five words or less. I could recount the whole horrible conversation, but you don't want to hear it and I would prefer not to remember it. Just trust me: he is a dick, and especially a dick with women.
After all that unpleasantness, we see him at home, taking a bubble bath, presumably to establish his masculine cred right out of the gate. Hell yes, he can own some damn bubbles. He also all but licks himself in a mirror. This is a dude who just really loves himself.
He's talking to his mother, who asks him if he's seen Han Seong yet. Now, I already told you Han Seong is his cousin and that they're both in love with Yoo Ju, but I ask you. If you had no idea what was going on in a show, and you saw a scene where a dude stared yearningly at a photo of himself, a guy, and a girl, and then said that Han Seong could damn well come see him if he wanted to, would you assume he was into the girl? He doesn't mention her! His mother doesn't mention her! The whole scene reads to me as, "MOM. We had a threesome and he freaked the fuck out, okay? Now we're both banging girls every night to prove we're straight." This led to some serious horror when I figured out that they were cousins.
Then Eun Chan delivers some food to him. Jerkface - sorry, Han Kyul - invites her into his apartment while he's wearing only a towel. There is an interlude of what I will charitably assume is an unfortunate cultural misunderstanding between me and the musical director. She's staring at Han Kyul's legs and, the angle and her reaction strongly imply, his dick. He's lovingly stroking his own legs. The shot is in slow-motion, so we don't miss any of the glorious details of his legs and towels. AND THE MUSIC SOUNDS LIKE GERMAN OOMPAH MUSIC. No, seriously. They're having a moment, here, and my brain is thinking of heavily intoxicated men standing arm in arm and drinking from giant beer steins.
I chant "Cultural misunderstanding" to myself until the moment passes.
She flees from his Dick of Power and stands outside his door going, "Oh my god why is everyone NAKED today?"
In the meantime, Han Kyul is inside smiling at his own lap and saying, if the subtitles can be trusted, "Is mine really so scary?"
It is the first moment when BB and I don't actually hate him. He just looks so pleased with his scary dick. In fact, Han Kyul seems frankly delighted to have shown his junk to the delivery person, and BB and I are forced to pause for the first in what will prove to be quite a series of BB and TFV's Advice Column: Coffee Prince Edition.
TFV: Look, Jerkface, if you want to show your junk to strangers, fine. But they have to be strangers who want to see your junk.
BB: And they shouldn't be anyone whose job requires them to be near you. Unless their job is looking at you naked.
We exchange righteous nods and return to the action.
We see Eun Chan at another of her jobs, teaching Taekwondo to little kids. It is extremely adorable, except then it turns into an extended poop joke, complete with the cleaning out of a grotty toilet. Does American TV have poop jokes? Does American TV show people cleaning out revolting toilets? I don't actually know. A FRUITFUL AREA FOR FURTHER RESEARCH. Assuming I run out of elective dental procedures to schedule.
Then Eun Chan eats a popsicle without washing her hands. I actually miss the next, like, five minutes, because I'm too busy flailing in horror.
When I manage to join back up with the show, Eun Chan is talking to her sister, who is complaining that she's being harassed by a gangster. Eun Chan says, "What, you don't like gangsters?" That is not how I would respond to this complaint. For the record.
In response to the call, Eun Chan goes to a coffee house. Eun Sae, Eun Chan's sister, is there with the (according to the subtitles) gangster dude. He assumes Eun Chan is Eun Sae's boyfriend. There is a lively exchange of ideas, in which Eun Sae tells him, "You have no money, no education, and even your face is very plain." Dude, I have to tell you, I don't think you're going to win this girl no matter how many times you get beaten up by her sister.
We decide we like Eun Sae. In my notes, she becomes Evil Sister.
But since Gangster Dude can't win on points, and he can't beat up Eun Chan, he challenges her to an eating contest - whoever finishes five bowls of noodles with black bean sauce wins. And, presumably, wins Eun Sae, although I think she's going to have something to say about that. And it will probably be fairly direct, not to say soul-killing.
What happens with the eating contest is horrifying. It is absolutely, completely horrifying. I have seen and touched actual real dead people who were not even nearly this horrifying. I am going to attempt to gloss lightly over the whole thing, mostly for my own protection.
So, the soundtrack goes to the German oompah place again - apparently Eun Chan loves noodles just as much as she loves Han Kyul's dick, or else the musical director couldn't face watching this sequence enough to score it. (I would not blame him at all.) Gangster Dude and Eun Chan are eating; he's struggling, she's not.
Then Eun Sae chimes in by describing revolting things to Gangster Dude. Eun Chan is not bothered. He is.
Eun Sae, apparently deciding her verbal help is not enough, does something horrible with yogurt. Let me put it this way: if you ever need to ensure that you won't eat yogurt or noodles again - or if you just never want to eat actual food ever ever ever - watch this scene a few times. As we watch it, I decide that one of the primary reasons I love Best Beloved is that she has never asked me to eat anything this disgusting, and that the primary proof that she loves me is that she continues watching this scene despite her sensitive gag reflex.
Then Eun Sae seductively offers the most revolting foodstuff ever recorded on film to Gangster Dude, and Best Beloved actually barfs.
We take a prolonged break. BB departs to take a shower, saying, "We will NEVER speak of this again. NEVER."
2: There Are Inexplicable Gong Ringers, Velcro Ladies, and Excess Bodily Secretions
We pick up again with Han Kyul, who is having problems with his father, his mother, and his grandmother. We gather that he needs to learn some valuable lessons about family. I am hoping that he doesn't learn them from Eun Sae, because her lessons would probably be, like, "It works best if you smile when you stab them in the heart. Don't forget to wiggle the knife around!"
We learn of Han Kyul's grandmother's three step plan for bringing him into line. According to the subtitles, it is:
Stage 1: Get him under control.
Stage 2: Bring out the proof.
Stage 3: Get him, women.
We spend some time considering that misplaced (we assume) comma and giggling.
And then there is an incursion of SUDDEN INEXPLICABLE COSTUMED GONG RINGERS, apparently to indicate that his grandmother and mother are getting Han Kyul under control. I am not at all sure what connection gong ringers have to control, but presumably it is a strong one. Then again, this is the same show that showcased shit and barf in the first fifteen minutes, so it could just be that they felt like it was time for some gongs. I admit it: I am strongly pro-gong. It turns out that what TV has been lacking, for me, is in part gongs. We have to pause so I can stop giggling.
This part of Grandma's plan appears to be largely about telling Han Kyul what a jerkface he is, while he attempts to sweet talk his way out of it, with some success. We agree that he's a jerkface, and find ourselves rooting for him anyway. This is the entire problem with Han Kyul.
Then Grandma pulls out a photo, and we cut to an adorable small boy in Sherlock Holmes gear - no, not the coat, sadly, but the deerstalker - finding a sign that says Bring out the Proof, so clearly we have moved on to stage two.
The photo is of Han Kyul smooching a boy. He looks tolerantly amused, as one who should say, "Ha! As if I could be gay. Come on, the ladies LOVE me." That train of thought is going to come back to haunt him, I suspect.
We cut to the best weird interlude yet. It's of a team of girls wrapped in giant puffy suits made entirely of Velcro. They are running with great difficulty, as one does when covered entirely with Velcro, towards a big black wall. They hurl themselves at the wall, which is made of the other half of the Velcro, and stick there. The signs on their back spell out, you guessed it, "Get him, women!"
Back in reality, Grandma insists Han Kyul get married immediately. He counters with an offer to go on a matchmaking date, but only if the girl is very pretty. Very, very pretty. He is not thinking of himself, here; only of the next generation.
Then there is an awesome interlude in which all three of them apparently communicate telepathically. I am not kidding. So what we have here is an awesome rich family of telepaths whose arguments are punctuated by random people appearing with gongs and Velcro.
I am prepared to be a part of this family at any time.
I am less prepared to be a part of Eun Chan's family, mostly because in the next scene she comes home to her mother, who is apparently thriftless (and careless with other people's expensive things), and Eun Sae, who is apparently entirely willing to sit on the toilet with the door open. Looking directly into the living room. Which is also where they EAT. No. NO. There are doors for a reason, particularly as the argument that follows mentions that Eun Sae is pooping. (The line as translated in the subtitles: "Why do you have so much rubbish to say while you are pooping?" A question for the ages, I think we can all agree.)
I will be honest: we are now way over my limit for shit references in one single work of fiction.
BB and I take another break and hope to return to a less poopy show.
3: Plot Complications Develop and Are Totally Overshadowed by the Discovery That Our Hero Is Made of Sparkles
And we do! We meet Han Seong, who instantly becomes Big Fluffy Dog Dude in my notes, because of his incredibly awesome dog. Who is big. And fluffy. When we first see Han Seong, he is getting the mail; one of the items he gets is a bun with a paper flower on it. He brings it inside to join an entire heap of buns. I am mystified. Best Beloved is mystified. After some thought, I can only conclude that some time ago he joined the Bun of the Day Club and he keeps forgetting to cancel, even though he doesn't really like buns.
Han Seong exhibits the early symptoms of an extremely moody character: he stares at a model plane and thinks back on earlier, happier days. These days involve a) Yoo Ju and b) nose picking. OKAY I AM DONE WITH THIS FLASHBACK NOW.
Then we meet Yoo Ju in the present day, out with Han Kyul. BB and I can't figure out if they're dating or if Han Kyul is trying to get her back together with Han Seong, but having seen more of the show since then, I can tell you: both things are true. Han Kyul has depths.
At the end of the date, Yoo Ju is robbed and Eun Chan saves her with a seriously impressive helmet throw, except then it turns out the robber is Gangster Dude, who was only doing it because he loves Eun Sae so much and wants to pay her school fees. My thoughts:
- Apparently there are only about eight people in all of Seoul. Just like Los Angeles and New York! At least in movies and TV shows.
- Gangster Dude, she made you puke. If there is one thing I have learned about love, it is that you shouldn't spend your life with anyone who makes you vomit.
"You, snatch thief! How dare you steal!"
BB and I are forced to pause for a lengthy period while we consider the concept of a snatch thief. We wonder if there is a matching wang thief who serves the penised portion of the population. And then we remember Pussyman's Snatch Attack, a porn title we both read on the now defunct Brunching Shuttlecocks website, and we have to move on very quickly or risk seizures.
Key plot stuff happens, but unfortunately I become seriously distracted by Han Kyul's outfit, which consists, from the waist up, of a sleeveless sweater vest over a t-shirt of almost the same color. Yes. He is wearing a t-shirt and a sweater vest. Dude is rocking.
Eun Chan gives Gangster Dude a chance to escape, except a) he's stupid and b) she can't act, and so Han Kyul comes to the conclusion that they are working together. (She calls Gangster Dude a sweet carrot, by the way. I am calling everyone a sweet carrot from now on. In fact, if you are reading this, I want you to know: you are my sweet carrot.)
Then we have to pause again while I adjust to the knowledge that Han Kyul's sleeveless sweater vest is sparkly. As though covered in glitter. Seriously. While I am coping with this knowledge, Eun Chan is apparently trying to cope with the knowledge that she's seen this dude's cock. Actually, I'm impressed that she recognized him with his pants on. I don't recall her ever actually looking at his face.
She visibly - very visibly - checks out his package, maybe to assess its scariness quotient now that it's contained, and then attempts to leave, but Han Kyul has to be a jerkface first. He gives Eun Chan his card. In a very jerkface way, I'll just say.
Her scooter is damaged. She loses her job. LIFE HAS GOTTEN HARDER FOR EUN CHAN.
4: Eun Chan and Han Kyul Finally Get Together, and I Guess I Shouldn't Have Been Surprised about Where
Eun Chan is delivering milk (one of her many jobs) to Han Seong's house; she plays with his dog through the fence, making me like her even more. She tells the dog her problems and talks about how cute his owner is. And Han Seong is right on the other side of the fence, listening. I recoil, my embarrassment squick triggered so hard I almost faint.
We hope that it is now firmly established that Eun Chan's life sucks, and maybe we can move on to the rest of the show, but no. Her family's rent is raised. The lady whose ring her mother lost wants it back now or else. We have to pause for BB to explain some details about time travel romances of the '90s, which have apparently been pissing her off for more than a decade. It's a fascinating digression, but when we come back, Eun Chan's life still sucks.
She goes to an angsty butcher (really!) to attempt to borrow money. He is downcast because he has had a poem rejected; he describes to her the contents of the piece, and I will quote from the subtitles:
"Life, sadness, loneliness, setbacks, anger, knife blades, love, and fish sauce."
I can't understand why it was rejected. I would read the fuck out of a Sherlock story with that summary.
He refuses to loan her money. She has no one left to turn to! Except Han Kyul, whose card she has. Hmmm.
In the meantime, she has work in a wine bar, for which she has to wear a slit skirt and high heels. She is really, really not happy. She also cannot really walk. Eun Chan is not at her best in the trappings of femininity.
And then there is a seriously uncomfortable interlude with Han Kyul a club. I - I don't want to get into too much detail here. The best part is definitely a guy telling Han Kyul that he should just satisfy a girl for once. The worst part is definitely after Han Kyul gets unwillingly drunk and his friends laugh as a girl he didn't want to have anything to do with feels him up and takes him to a hotel and gets him naked and sleeps with him. Ewwwwwww.
Meanwhile, Eun Chan has decided that between pride or money, she'll take money, so she calls Han Kyul to ask for a reward for saving Yoo Ju. He agrees that she can come by.
The scene where she asks him for money is too much horror to be related. Except for the bit where she falls on top of him. That part is okay.
He refuses to give her money and insults her father, and so she follows him around all day as he goes places, including to his matchmaking dates, demanding that he apologize.
She even follows him into the men's room. At this point, we are not surprised, just grateful that he's only peeing. She demands an apology yet again, and he gets a brilliant idea.
"Hey," he says. "Do you want to be my lover?"
And that is the end of episode one. In a few days: episode two, where things really start to get cracky.
Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comments.