Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Coffee Prince: The End

I think we can all agree that I’ve watched Coffee Prince an insane number of times. After my maiden voyage, though, I always marathoned the entire series over a long weekend. This is a extremely different experience from watching the show slowly. I was always exhausted by the time I got to the finale, which means that I couldn’t fully appreciate the explosion of happiness that is the last episode of Coffee Prince.

This time around, I took my time. Over two weeks, I watched the show from beginning to end. This post is the result: an opportunity to have some fun with the finale, an hour of television that I’ve always rushed through in the past. In a perfect world, Viki would allow user-specific timed comments so we could essentially watch the episode together. But in this world, I give you lots of screen caps and short discussions of the things depicted in them.

Hotel prince. This sexytime establishing shot gives us a glimpse of the neighborhood around Han Gyul’s apartment. Look what’s right down the road…Hotel Prince. I guess we know where he got the idea to call the cafe Coffee Prince?

The morning after. Way to establish all the important facts in one shot, Coffee Prince. As if to remove any doubt about what Han Gyul and Eun Chan got up to last night, we see her clothes discarded on the floor next to Han Gyul’s bed. And peeping conspicuously from the waistband of those jeans? Her underwear. But it’s all okay—look at that ring on her finger! She’s as good as married, and married women get to have sex without being judged.

All smiles. There are actually a number of awkward post-coital wake-ups in Kdrama history. What sets this one apart is Han Gyul’s first reaction to realizing Eun Chan is next to him. He’s not embarrassed or ashamed; he’s happy. Deliriously, delightedly happy. Look at that smile—it’s so genuine it hurts. (Of course, the embarrassment part of the morning does indeed happen. It just comes later.)

Cow feathers. I’ve been known to criticize Dramafever’s subtitles for a lack of fidelity to the original Korean. (Which is pretty absurd, because what do I know about the original Korean?) But here’s a prime example: The With S2 subtitles for this scene read “You feel like a cow hair,” while the Dramafever subtitles use a metaphor more family to Western viewers. Normally I’d say that English-speaking viewers could figure out the meaning of Korean turns of phrase from their context, and yet in this case I’m not so sure. It sounds like an insult. What cow uses conditioner? Their hair is probably all coarse and barnyardy.

Piggyback. Like most Kdramas, Coffee Prince is full of piggybacking. It offers an interesting twist on the tradition, though: in addition to a girl who carries a guy on her back, several of the piggyback rides happen for no reason other than pleasure. The piggyback trope usually involves somebody being drunk and somebody else having to carry them home, but in this scene Han Gyul and Eun Chan are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, sitting on the terrace in front of his apartment. He suggests this piggyback for one reason only: to be close to her. And, as a thousand Tumblr gifsets attest, the result is adorable.

Great Wall. As always, that Ha Rim jumps to the most sexual conclusion possible. It’s just that this time, he’s right. Also, “make the Great Wall of China”? Is that what kids are calling it these days? Dramafever translates this line as “Did you get some action?” That just doesn’t have the same local flavor, though.

Sweeper’s bath (8:20). I barely survived this scene the first time I saw it: Like some sort of doggie Gremlin, giant, fluffy Sweeper is reduced to a scrawny little Chihuahua with the addition of water. Korean dramas love personal hygiene, but washing your dog on screen is really the final frontier of wonderfulness. Even beyond the cuteness factor, this scene serves a practical purpose: it highlights the happy domesticity now shared by Han Sung and Yoo Jo. Becoming a caretaker for your significant other’s pet is a big moment in any relationship, and Yoo Jo is a full partner in this scrubdown. Sweeper isn’t Han Sung’s dog anymore—he’s their dog. Sweeper, on the other hand, isn’t so pleased with this scene. The second his humans take their eyes off him, he hits the road.

Back scratcher (13:08). Skinship in Kdramas is unicorn-rare, but Coffee Prince is different. Skinship comes as naturally to its characters as breathing. This particular example bookends a scene in the previous episode—Han Gyul alone at home, desperately trying to reach and itchy spot on his back. As his relationship with Eun Chan has grown, he’s moved beyond the problems and loneliness of being a single person. The two of them are now a team, spiritually and physically.

Korean idol (17:20). For the longest time, I thought that velvet-voiced Lee Sun Gyun was the only actor who contributed to this show’s soundtrack. (I actually listen to his version of “Ocean Travel” much more often than the song’s original recording.) But I recently realized that I was wrong about the songs—Gong Yoo did indeed contribute to the soundtrack, too. The song I always skip. He’s singing it here, which is cute if calculated and self-indulgent. I guess after the extension they had to find a way to fill a few more minutes in this episode, and it was all to the good if it managed to sell music downloads, too. (Amanda cringes with embarrassment on Gong Yoo’s behalf and hits fastforward.)

The Tammy Faye. Trust well-meaning but dense Min Yeop to give Eun Chan a going away present of makeup. Throughout the show, he’s respected her as a person but never forgiven her for not being feminine and girlie. To Min Yeop, Eun Chan is a curious monstrosity, like a dog who can ride a bicycle. The sad thing about this moment is that he genuinely wants her to be happy and well, and to him that means falling into lockstep with traditional images of womanhood. The show never really overthrows this idea—when Eun Chan comes back from Italy, she is indeed wearing makeup. It’s tasteful and low-key compared to most drama girls, but it’s still used as a sign that she has her life under control and is ready to be a more traditional success. Why is it that makeup is so important to being a girl? Even in America, it’s just assumed that it’s part of a woman’s life, as if it’s necessity.

Lisa Frank (23:30). What’s up with this stationary, Ha Rim? If there’s a Korean-language equivalent to dotting your i’s with little hearts, I bet he does it.

Maternity leave (24:49). I’m often tempted to think of Yoo Jo’s miscarriage as the Drama Overlords’ punishment for her being ambitious and independent. But this throwaway line begs to differ: in the end she’s willingly changed her life for the sake of her baby, but things still don’t turn out well. The show never really says what’s happened. Instead, we see the slow, silent aftermath of losing a baby. Quick, someone fic it: After their marriage, Eun Chan immediately gets pregnant. Yoo Jo, still childless, buys her a present a to celebrate.

O Henry (26:04). To be filed under things I’ll never understand: Why Eun Chan’s living room features statues of Henry VIII and a pair of his wives. Having watched Coffee Prince both streaming and on DVD, I’m amazed how much detail is missing from the online versions. This is a scene when high-quality video really pays off—In this screen grab, you can see the mismatched drapes Han Gyul marveled at when he first visited Eun Chan’s house. We know from Han Sung’s commentary that Han Gyul grew up with a mother who was a meticulous homemaker, changing the curtains on a seasonal basis. Eun Chan, on the other hand, seems to have grown up with clothes-loving mom who never really cared about nesting. She had money for new high heels, but not matching drapes.

The long goodbye (28:00). So many Kdrama romances lose sight of the larger world in favor of their central love stories. Coffee Prince doesn’t—it gives all of its characters a chance to react to Eun Chan going abroad. The show never forgets that Han Gyul isn’t the only one who will miss her, and this is one of the things that make it feel so textured and real. If you can make it through this scene without joining Eun Sae in pathetic tears, you’re probably a budding serial killer. (Just FYI.)

Crybaby (32:45). One of the behind-the-scenes tidbits revealed in episode 18 is that when Gong Yoo started crying during the filming of this scene, he couldn’t stop. I can draw only one conclusion: He was sad that the show was ending and he would no longer have a chance to canoodle with his obvious soul mate, Yoon Eun Hye. (Or maybe the live-shooting schedule is brutal, and everyone is so exhausted at this point of production that it’s miraculous that they don’t cry all the time.)

One more (40:00). Korean dramas aren’t exactly known for having logical conclusions, and Coffee Prince is no exception. Did Eun Chan make up her request for one more year to play with Han Gyul? Or was she really offered an extra-special year of schooling that she declined in favor of returning home? If the former, that’s just mean. If you want to surprise him, why not just tell him you’re arriving a week later than scheduled? And if the later, why wouldn’t they show Eun Chan mulling over this decision? Clearly nobody is going to do a last-episode location shoot in Italy, but they could have inserted some scenes of her deliberating in some Italianate setting. This is an ensemble show, but Eun Chan’s journey is still its most important aspect.

Cozy (42:28). Clearly, I live in the wrong country. We don’t have cushy leather couches in our grocery stores. After being forced to choose between 2,000 varieties of breakfast cereals, I could use a good sit-down, too. But then again, Coffee Prince does love to put furniture where it doesn’t belong. There was another stray leather couch in an outdoors scene after their big concert a few episodes ago, and earlier Han Gyul seemed to have dragged his giant wooden dining table out onto the patio so he and Eun Chan could eat with Namsan Tower in the background.

Blanket me (43:58). The sex talk in this show just will not stop! Dramafever translates this as “Just sleep with him,” but I think the meaning of the Korean is pretty clear this time around.

Armada (50:24). Han Gyul’s loneliness makes a comeback at the last moment, complete with a sweet moment that sees him pretending to drape his arm across Eun Chan’s shoulder. It’s a reminder that he’s sacrificing something real and tangible so she can have the future she wants—his own happiness. But it’s hard to imagine that he’s completely morose, what with having this jock-strap themed t-shirt in his wardrobe:

Matchmaker, matchmaker make me a match (52:11). Sure, it’s cheesy. But I love Kdramas that refuse to give up until every single character has a significant other. Much like Playful Kiss, Coffee Prince introduces a last-minute love for a secondary character: a waffle girl for the waffle boy. I don’t mind it a bit. (In fact, there’s only one character this drama doesn’t hook up: Mr. Hong. I guess he has his past and Coffee Prince, which seem to be good enough for him.)

Pheromone city (55:22). One of the great things about this show is how grounded it is in the real, physical world. Its characters experience their surroundings using their senses, instead of their minds, and they’re always marveling at how good kimchi fried rice tastes, or how nice it is to feel the wind on their faces as they ride around in Han Gyul’s convertible. Sleep is always deliciously deep and the stirrings of love are just as physically palpable as a kiss. So of course when Eun Chan and Han Gyul are reunited after two years, she gives him a hug and comments on how nice he smells. It’s the kind of intimate, tender moment that hardly ever appears on television. And what does Han Gyul smell like? I bet he would be a cologne wearer, preferring something clean, masculine, and dizzyingly expensive. He’d also smell like his mother’s laundry detergent, and under it all would be the warm, homey smell of Coffee Prince.

Cancer? What cancer? (57:23). Han Gyul’s grandmother must have developed one of those special, drama-only varieties of cancer. Even without treatment, she’s just fine two years after her diagnosis. That’s the way to get sick.

The Shirt: Before and After (58:55). Part of me regrets that Eun Chan’s happy ending required that she become even slightly more girlie. But if it had to happen, the team behind Coffee Prince handled it perfectly: Eun Chan’s wearing tighter jeans and a little eyeliner and lip gloss. But she’s still herself—the shirt she’s wearing is a femmed-up version of the polo shirt she wore in episode 16. (In fact, I think she might just be the original shirt underneath a girlie blouse.)

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (but not right now). Eun Chan keeps eying Han Gyul’s spout, and he keeps boasting about his spout prowess. Oh my.

PDnim. This is Lee Yoon Jeong, Coffee Prince’s PD, as shown in some extra footage that’s tacked onto the last episode in the With S2 files. From what I can tell, there aren’t that many female directors in Kdramaland, which makes her achievement with this show all the more special. She’s directed a few more dramas since 2007, including last year’s Golden Time, a hospital series helmed by Han Sung. (Or Lee Sun Gyun, if you want to be picky about it.) I haven’t watched it, but I’m tempted. Now if only it was about something other than doctors...


  1. Amanda, this was wonderful! I think I've topped you in how many times I've watched Coffee Prince but it's not rivalry, it's sisterhood! I know Coffee Prince was loosely based on a novel and so maybe that's why it had so much more substance. But I read the novel and clearly the writers for the drama were very creative and expanded the story line. What struck me about Coffee Prince, after now seeing 117 dramas so far since 2010, is how beautiful the settings and the cinematography are. But, needless to say, the cast of actors was so absolutely perfect.

    I would like to comment about marathoning dramas. I just can't do it. I've watched Coffee Prince 6 times as of right now and I just have to take my time and savor it, each and every time.

  2. God, I love your writing! Its 4:50 am and I've been reading your blog for the last couple of hours. Your detailed analysis of SLA touched on so many points I've been pondering. Thanks for spelling it out for me! I'm fairly new at this drama thing, but watched "A Wife's Credentials" and thought it was the best thing since sliced bread......and I watched it w/o subs! I can only imagine how much better it will be whenever I get a chance to watch it w/subs! As for Coffee Prince, I still tear up whenever I think about the beach scene. It's still too much for me to comprehend that moment in one's life when one has to make that kind of decision. That scene and the music for that scene blows my mind. Anyway, you must take some time to see Golden Time. It's not perfect, but the pairing of Lee Sun-Kyun and Lee Sung-Min as castmates on any drama will make me drop what I'm doing and sit and watch. They are the Hepburn and Tracy of Korean drama...except they're dudes! These two, along with the other players in the ensembles know as Coffee Prince, Golden Time, Miss Korea and Pasta are a group that I follow religiously! Golden Time has such great moments. It used to be that on Viki you could isolate a scene and share it with people. I loved that feature and shared many an epic scene from Golden Time. There is one scene where I believe the actor should have received an award just for that scene. It blew me away! Anyway, Golden Time is well worth your time, even though the writer bad-mouthed the cast after the drama ended.

  3. I realize some time has past since this was written, but I love the OCD aspect of this post and wanted to add my 2 cents.

    In ep 13,for some odd reason CHG's job offer letter is filmed as he holds it against the wall and in HD if you freeze frame you can read the entire letter.

    The heading is probably all you could reasonably decipher without pausing the movie, and it reads Blockland in large type. Then his name, and then a large block of text. What is interesting is the text,as it has nothing to do with a job offer, and appears to be instead a marketing blurb for a company.

    "Today's economy demands excellence in the management of Loss Prevention. Security Profesionals (sic) must have a unique blend of leadership and experience along with the ability to contribute to the enterprises profitability. [...]"

    It seems like such an odd letter you have to wonder if they just googled it to paste some random english looking words to fill in the letter figuring no one would ever bother to examine it.

    So I googled it myself and found the whole letter pretty much word for word here at:


    Weird but true!

  4. I would like to see them together in a movie like the proposal or lake house, cuz they are more matured now

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