Coffee Prince

Coffee Prince is a Korean Television series Starring Tomboyish Go Eun Chan falls in love with her boss Choi Han Kyul, but by bad luck, Han Kyul believes Eun Chan to be a boy and the two strive to come to terms with their own feelings and ideas about love.

Coffee Prince Roots:

Running Time: July 2, 2007- August 27, 2007.
The number of episodes: 17.
Genres: Comedy, Romance, Drama Director: Lee Yoon-Jung.
Writer(s): Lee Jung-ah and Jang Hyun-Joo.
Lead Role(s): Yoo Gong as Choi Han Kyul, Eun-Hye Yun as Go Eun Chan.
Company Information: Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC-TV Korea).
Themes: Gender, Class, Sexuality.

The First Shop of Coffee Prince: Pseudo-Homosexuality in Korean Drama

Coffee Prince Episode Review by John Klyn

In the Korean Drama The 1st House of Coffee Prince there is a pseudo-homosexual relationship that occurs when Choi Han Kyul, the heir to his family’s coffee company, falls in love with Go Eun Chan, a woman that he believes is a man. This “homosexual” concept is a central conflict for a large portion of the show up until towards the end when the truth is revealed. This is viewed as a selling point to the shows comedic and romantic effect since, as the audience, we know Go Eun Chan is a girl. The conflict makes the story funny and in the end, we believe everything will be fine because, after all, Han Kyul isn’t really gay. However, comedy aside, Han Kyul does truly suffer from his attraction to Eun Chan, it drives him back and forth to the brinks of anger and apathy over and over again. He even goes so far as to see a doctor for a “cure”. The turmoil that plagues him touches on some very real issues, so why is this made light of? I believe that it is perhaps the fact that Korean dramas (K-dramas) emphasize a form of formulaic writing. That ultimately Pseudo-homosexuality is used as a catalyst within Coffee Prince in order to effectively create intrigue and interest in an audience while remaining safe from a societal and cultural perspective.

Now The 1st Shop of Coffee Prince is a Korean drama that focuses on Go Eun Chan, a woman who falls in love with Choi Han Kyul, the previously mentioned heir. However, Han Kyul believes Eun Chan is a man due to her tomboyish looks and manner. During the show’s beginning, Han Kyul hires Eun Chan to become his “gay” lover in order to deter his grandmother’s demands that he find a woman and settle down. Eun Chan agrees out of her desperation to support her family, deciding to keep her gender a secret in order to make money. The pair successfully ward off Han Kyul’s dates with their antics and even become friends. Now his inheritance relies upon his ability to manage a run-down coffee shop and turn a profit. Thus Coffee Prince begins, with Han Kyul reopening a coffee shop staffed by only males in order to attract the students from the nearby women’s college. In need of a job Eun Chan keeps up the charade and works for Han Kyul.

Han Kyul finds himself falling in love with Eun Chan but the ramifications of his supposed homosexual attraction drive him to distractions, threatening to change his entire life. Meanwhile, Eun Chan is afraid to tell him the truth. The two struggle to balance desire and romance with internal conflict that threatens to drive them apart. Only making it that much more rewarding to see the two unite towards the end of the show, Han Kyul deciding that love is love, regardless of its recipient’s gender, and Eun Chan opening up and revealing her true self. Thus leading to the happy ending we all knew was coming.

Now, that isn’t to say that it wasn’t a good ending or that the show was predictable. I, and many others according to its popular reception, genuinely enjoyed watching it. The characters are engaging and the blend of comedy and drama is well done. However, it must be realized that it is a show, that the bottom line is to turn a profit. That isn’t to say this is the only intention, but it is a necessity. There is a need to keep viewers coming back, and the conflict that surrounds a straight man questioning his sexuality over he believes is another man (in a society that frowns upon homosexuality no less) creates a significant amount of interest. It’s a conflict that keeps us coming back, which of course is its intent.

Conclusively, we find that the author of the article views Coffee Prince as a variation on the already set formula for K-dramas. By which they meant that the love interest and conflict presented in the show could have been seen in any K-drama. The fact that it is presented as a “homosexual” love interest only helps to further emphasize how to love in K-dramas center around the idea that it is about a person rather than their gender, all while attempting to maintain the viewer’s interest:

Now viewing K-Drama as a single formula would suggest that in the end, it all results in a set solution, the happy ending in this case. The couple would confess their love and things would be resolved. That is, after all, what a typical viewer would expect. So at the end of Coffee Princewhat, we really see is simply an ending that works, and it does so because that is what K-Dramas do. They give us an ending that covers their bases. The story is wrapped up and that’s that. What needs to be emphasized is that this is an effect of the medium of K-drama, not necessarily a result of the narrative they produce. Had “Coffee Prince” been an anime, or even just a drama somewhere other than South Korea, viewer expectations would have been different and the entire narrative would have been changed, but instead the narrative must fit the contours of a K-drama. It must match the formula because that is what works. So while another type of drama may have Han Kyul suffer more, or maybe not even harbor the possibility of loving a “man”, K-drama allows for a love-centered conflict that keeps the audience rooting for the couple. Essentially there is practicality behind certain choices, and that is what homosexuality has become in this drama. It’s a choice made to increase conflict, provide humor, and allow the audience to become more involved in the story because we know the truth.

That being understood, then we must ask if this is something that we believe should be accepted. After all, the potential backlash of being a homosexual is a reality those of us in the real world must acknowledge.

“These stories are “safer” because they’re not really gay — but dramatic irony makes one of them think that they could be, which is where writers create conflict, and that’s when the fun starts. These dramas use homosexuality as part of the conflict of a person,      but is it fair that such serious, real-life turmoil be turned into something to be marketed to an audience?”

If I were to answer this question completely honestly I’d have to say yes, it is fair.

Yes, homosexuality, in reality, has no shortage of conflict, especially when viewed within a society or culture that still hasn’t quite accepted it, and while it may seem unfair to use it within a television show to create conflict it’s far from being alone. It’s not as if shows haven’t used other such issues to create drama as well. There are entire shows and movies dedicated to conflicts created through murder, rape, sickness, war, abuse and so much more. Are these issues also not riddled with turmoil and strife that those, in reality, have to deal with? What I’m trying to get at here is that acceptance of homosexuality within a culture comes with the idea that both the good and bad that a member of the LGBTQ community would deal with becomes normalized. It would be wrong to say that having a pseudo-homosexual relationship such as the one in Coffee Prince would prove total acceptance of homosexuality within South Korean culture, but I’d also be wrong in saying that it’s moving away from understanding. It returns once again to the point that this is a show which is meant to get ratings. This struggle is intriguing; it captures interest because it makes the audience question commonly accepted ideas while staying entertaining. Of course, it’s far from radical but I believe that this displays an attempt to understand the LGBTQ community; even though it may not seem like much of an advance to some.

So, pseudo-homosexuality is a large part of Coffee Prince. It’s used to create drama and pull the audience in while maintaining a level of social acceptance because, after all, we know the truth. Han Kyul isn’t really gay, but the love he feels and the conflict he suffers is very real. This is what appeals to us, the drama of a choice between what is accepted and what is felt. It is entertaining, to say the least, and while the debate goes on as to what such a conflict implies, I will say that it has left me wanting more, just as it intended.

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