August 29, 2007
Tracing the unlikely romance between a tomboy (Yoon Eun-hye) and a modern-day Prince Charming (Gong Yoo), the stylishly comical TV drama Coffee Prince has all the right formulae for addiction . including coffee.

By Lee Hyo-won
Staff Reporter

Pretty boys, cross-dressing and clandestine romances consistently had viewers _ especially young women in their 20s and 30s _ craving for more servings of the MBC TV series Coffee Prince. The 17-episode drama came to a close Monday, and a special behind-the-scenes feature was aired Tuesday.

Tracing the unlikely romance between a tomboy (Yoon Eun-hye) and a modern-day prince charming (Gong Yoo), Coffee Prince has all the typical ingredients of a Korean drama. Yet, delightfully reminiscent of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" and provoking sensitivity like "sunjeong manhwa", or girl's comics, Coffee Prince has all the right formulae for addiction _ including coffee.

Never Never Land

The world of Coffee Prince is far from real, and its fantastic, cartoon-like quality is undoubtedly its biggest selling point. Colorful characters in comic circumstances keep things light: Adorable Little Prince and Peter Pan types reign here, and even the adult characters refuse to grow up. Tasteful incorporation of after effects, or computer graphic images like thought bubbles, and other cartoon-like images distanced the drama from the mundane.

Eun-chan is a hardworking 23-year-old struggling to make ends meet, supporting her childish mother and troublemaking younger sister. A series of mishaps with Han-gyeol, an easy-going, wealthy playboy, lands her a job at a cafe.

Although Coffee Prince only hires male employees, this is no problem for the tomboy, who despite having a pretty face, is armed with taekwondo kicks, monstrous appetite and stamina and a wardrobe full of boxy clothes that hide every hint of a curve. Her short hair and husky voice also mask her femininity.

Pretty Boys & Hushed Eroticism

Not surprisingly, Eun-chan and Han-gyeol become fatally attracted to each other. In this "coming of age" love story, Han-gyeol, a 29-year-old Casanova, transcends the boundaries of his sexuality to love a "boy", while Eun-chan blossoms into a grown woman beneath her boyish appearance.

Coffee Prince kept viewers on their toes as Eun-chan comes close to being found out that she's a girl, while Han-gyeol constantly suppresses his desire to kiss her. The heart fluttering kiss scenes between the two evoke the eroticism of "yaoi manga", or Japanese cartoons that feature homosexual liaisons between beautiful men, heightening the fantastic nature of the drama.

Three other adorable Coffee Princes or characters ranging from cute to sexy delight female viewers.

While elements of fantasy mesmerize viewers, the realistic dialogue and characters' frank attitude toward dating and other love troubles are completely relatable. The drama's two other main characters, Han-seong and Yu-ju, learn to settle down after dating on and off for 10 years, and their wisdom guide the inexperienced lovebirds, Eun-chan and Han-gyeol.

"I like you. I don't care whether you're a guy or an alien. I'm fed up trying to hide my feelings. Let's give this a try!" exclaims Han-gyeol as he finally professes his love. Such openness is well in sync with the uninhibited attitude of the younger generation toward love and sex.

Trendspotter & Trendsetter

Hit dramas here have often showcased new social trends from fashion items to dating styles. Korea has recently seen a new rise of specialty coffee shops distinguishing themselves from mega-chains like Starbucks found at almost every street corner.

Coffee Prince, the cafe that gives the series its name, embodies this trend. Viewers get a peak into the aromatic world of baristas (coffee gurus) and hand-roasted drip coffee. Unique interior spaces are all the rage, as shops parlaying an edgy style are sprouting up all over Seoul, and the chic decoration of the cafe is eye-catching.

TV series in recent years have lacked the stronghold of fashionistas like actress Kim Hee-seon, who institutionalized fashion items through her dramas in the late 1990s. But Coffee Prince has been dubbed a "walking fashion magazine spread" for leading man Gong Yoo. The model-turned-actor struts a clean-cut, "metrosexual" or "dandy European" style, sporting slim-fit collar shirts with the long sleeves folded and paired with neat slacks and stylish walking shoes.

The trend-spotting drama also has viewers rediscover different corners of Seoul, like a peaceful jogging track tucked away in the north part of town, a peaceful coffee spot in Hongdae and a romantic rooftop studio near Mount Namsan.

Coffee Prince has served its last cup of coffee here, but it has certainly left a dark coffee stain in the hearts of many. Fans of Korean drama in Japan, Taiwan and other South Asian countries can look forward to seeing the series soon, as it has already been exported to numerous countries, according to MBC.

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