I’ve read the comments on whether Coffee Prince is or isn’t “realistic.” Here’s my take: Coffee Prince isn’t realistic, and it doesn’t tout itself as realism. From reading about writer Lee Sun Mi, I highly doubt that’s a claim she aspires to anyway. Coffee Prince isn’t even purely original. What it IS, then, is a wonderfully rendered telling of a story that has elements of the familiar — and it reworks those familiar points in a refreshing, clever, and entertaining way.
Rather than the story being (or not being) realistic, I find that the series displays flashes of realism in the little moments it captures, which I think is a quality many overwrought, emotional, and/or melodramatic series forget. Coffee Prince has those large-scale dramatic moments too (i.e., every cliffhanger episode ending), but balances those out with lovely little touches here and there, and that’s where it shines through for me. Like Yu Ju waiting for Han Sung to come home, whiling away her day in Episode 7, or how Han Gyul tries to figure out ways to get Eun Chan to return to the cafe after she quits. Or the way Han Gyul intertwines his fingers through Eun Chan’s while on the beach in Episode 9, or how he cups his hand around hers later while Eun Chan sleeps. There’s the great moment when Han Gyul shaves, and smears the shaving cream over the mirror in self-loathing, having a hard time accepting that he might be gay. Or how he pours water over his head in front of the open refrigerator in Episode 11 after finding out Eun Chan lied to him.
Coffee Prince isn’t reinventing television. Who would want to see something that claimed to do that? (If I wanted pretentious experimenting, I’d watch Soderbergh, thanks.) But rather than merely regurgitating stale cliches in well-worn genre, Coffee Prince manages to add fresh insights to the landscape. And that’s why I’m watching.
SONG OF THE DAY
재주소년 (Jeju Boy) – “새로운 세계” (“New World”)
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EPISODE 16 SUMMARY
Yanni – “Reflections of Passion” ::
Yu Ju and Han Sung get married, while Han Gyul’s grandmother is taken to the hospital quietly. When Han Gyul and his mother visit her later that night, he asks his mother if he should take the idea of marriage more slowly, but his mother can tell that isn’t what he wants.
Eun Chan’s mother tells her to go ahead and marry Han Gyul soon — she’ll cash in their house deposit and live in a one-room apartment with Eun Sae, so Eun Chan doesn’t have to worry about them.
Things remain awkward between Han Gyul and Eun Chan the next day. Eun Chan had sent him multiple text messages saying she missed him and asking him to call when he had time, but he hadn’t called back. He takes her aside to talk.
She acknowledges that she was thinking too much of herself — but even though she’s sorry, she can’t marry him right away. Han Gyul acknowledges that he took her financial situation too lightly as well, and wants to help her. Eun Chan says it’s not just about money:
Eun Chan: “I don’t want to become a burden.”
Han Gyul: “Why is that a burden? When I was going through rough times, I shared my worries with you, and you consoled me, don’t you remember? Was I a burden to you while you were with me, comforting me?”
Eun Chan: “That’s different from this.”
Han Gyul: “What’s different about it? Because it’s like you’re giving your heart, and I’m giving you money?”
Eun Chan answers that she wants to stand on her own: “When my father was alive, I lived dependent on him. Now I’d live being dependent on my boyfriend. I don’t want to live the rest of my life being unable to do anything properly on my own.” Han Gyul asks impatiently if she’d marry him if he didn’t give her any money, then — she can send Eun Sae to college and support herself with her own money.
Eun Chan asks why he can’t wait — why does he always decide everything on his own, making one-sided decisions? Han Gyul chafes at the phrase “one-sided” — is he the only one wanting to get married?
Their argument is interrupted, so Han Gyul revisits their discussion later. Calmer now, he asks her, “It’s because you don’t like me enough to marry, isn’t it? It’s okay, so tell me honestly.”
Han Gyul: “I want to live with you. For the rest of my life, I want to eat together, talk together, sleep together, be together. Do I need any other reason?”
Eun Chan’s point isn’t that she doesn’t want to marry him. She just wants to wait. Han Gyul reminds her that he’d given up his dream job and faced his parents’ opposition for her — can’t she give up that little bit of pride for him? Getting more worked up, he asks if she’d still refuse to marry him if that meant they’d break up. Does she dislike the idea that much?
Eun Sae hears about the latest developments with sisterly indignation: How could he be so selfish? How can he threaten to break up with Eun Chan over that? He thinks money solves everything. Psh. She grumbles about how Han Gyul treats her family lightly, then sneaks in a phone call to the offender himself.
Han Gyul answers the call with some surprise, and makes plans to talk to Eun Sae the next day. He wonders about the cause with some anxiety.
As for the Princes: Min Yub blames Ha Rim for pushing him along and causing him to lose Eun Sae. Sun Ki makes the astute observation that Min Yub listened to the wrong guy. Everyone else has somebody, but Min Yub took love advice from Ha Rim, the playboy who has nobody. But Sun Ki also finds himself alone when he arrives at Yuko’s place to find her gone, just as she’d warned him she’d do if he wouldn’t leave.
Han Gyul’s grandmother senses things aren’t going smoothly for Han Gyul and Eun Chan. He admits that he’d rushed with the marriage talk — and as he explains Eun Chan’s position to his grandmother, it seems that he understands it better. He describes Eun Chan’s need to be independent and to support her household, and asks his grandmother to consider Eun Chan’s attitude as something good, admirable.
Eun Sae meets Han Gyul and asks him plainly: “Are you really going to break up with my sister?” She tells him of her mother’s intent to cash in their home deposit to marry Eun Chan off, but neither she nor her mother can afford a monthly rent — therefore, she asks Han Gyul if he could please consider pushing the marriage off a year. She’s not planning to go to college, so she’ll get a job right after she graduates from high school, at which point they’ll be able to afford a monthly rent. Worried he might really break up with Eun Chan, she assures him that her sister is a good person.
Han Gyul listens to Eun Sae’s speech with a mix of confusion and amusement, and tells her, “But I have no intention of splitting up with Eun Chan.” Eun Sae mentions how he told her sister he’d break up with her if they didn’t marry, sees Han Gyul’s smile, and realizes, “I knew it. You were just saying that to get to her, weren’t you? Aish, what an idiot. How could she not tell that from the truth?” Eun Sae calls Han Gyul “brother-in-law,” and a wide smile spreads on his face, liking the sound of that.
Min Yub begs for Eun Sae’s forgiveness, saying earnestly: “No matter how meanly you treat me, you’re still pretty to me. Even if you get mad and yell, you’re cute. I really like you a lot. But if you truly hate me, I won’t call you anymore and I’ll give up. So tell me, do you really hate me?”
Stony-faced, Eun Sae tells him yes. Min Yub accepts her answer contritely, saying he understands. He tells her to take care, and turns to go. Eun Sae calls him back, upset, asking when he got so “cool” that he’d accept one answer right away and leave so quickly. She seems genuinely hurt as she lays out his offense — he’d said he only liked her, then saw other girls. He acted so innocent, then went behind her back — that’s worse than anything a player could do.
Eun Sae: “If you have the confidence to only love me from now on, follow me. If you don’t, leave.”
Eun Sae turns to walk away slowly, and Min Yub takes a few hesitant steps. He tentatively calls out: “Eun Sae. I’m following you right now… Just saying that to let you know. In case you don’t.” Eun Sae looks back a few times to confirm that he’s still there, and crooks a finger to beckon him close. Ecstatic, Min Yub grabs her and runs around the playground in excitement.
Despite finding Eun Sae annoying half the time, I can’t be too upset with her (is it little sister syndrome?), because her logic makes some sense. True, she treated Min Yub poorly, and he took a lot of abuse. But on the other hand, she never pretended she was anything different. He knew what she was like and still pursued her. He, on the other hand, was disingenuous (albeit stupidly, at Ha Rim’s prodding).
Han Sung and Yu Ju have their first marital argument when Han Sung goes to Yu Ju’s studio to find it strewn with tired co-workers (new project) and empty wine bottles. Even though he knew she’s used to staying up all night working and drinking, and that she puts work above him, he’s still disappointed. Yu Ju’s sorry, and explains that she doesn’t rank work above him — both are important. She asks for his understanding, but he asks, upset, if he’s just supposed to stand by and watch from the sidelines.
Eun Chan is summoned to Han Gyul’s grandmother’s office, and Han Gyul listens in astonishment (and panic) to find that his grandmother is offering to send Eun Chan to Italy to study to become a barista, as she did for Mr. Hong. Bursting with agitation, Han Gyul jumps into the conversation, insisting to his grandmother that Eun Chan will never take her support, that she’ll insist on staying to provide for her family.
Eun Chan voices her concerns about accepting the offer, but it seems she’d like to consider it. If she goes abroad, she’ll be earning a salary, which she can send home to her family. Han Gyul recognizes the danger of this development, and asks if his grandmother’s doing this to tear them apart (Granny: “So does that mean your relationship is something I can tear apart so easily? All the better for me, then”).
Han Gyul hounds Eun Chan repeatedly, asking if she’s really considering going. At his persistence, Eun Chan frustratedly says no, she’s in no position to go abroad. Han Gyul mutters in worry, “It’s hard enough as it is not seeing her every day. How am I supposed to last two years?”
Eun Chan’s mother asks her to be honest: “You want to study abroad, don’t you?” Eun Chan admits she found the offer very tempting, but thinking of how she’d have to leave her family changed her mind. Her mother asks, “Am I holding you back? Don’t decide that if it’s because of me.” She assures Eun Chan she’ll be fine — if Han Gyul agrees, she should go. Eun Chan tells her mother she’s not going, and that she’ll have to marry her mother off first — to Mr. Gu. (Eun Chan’s mother denies it, blushing in embarrassment.)
Eun Chan’s mother: “It’s time for you to live your own life. Don’t worry about me or Eun Sae anymore. Even if it’s just this once, live as you want, freely… That’s what I really want to see.”
(Song: “Star” by 어른아이 [Adult Child], posted under Episode 14.)
The Choi cousins again commiserate together. Han Sung understands Eun Chan’s situation: “Eun Chan’s still young. There’s a lot she must want to do. There are a lot of things she probably gave up in choosing you.” Han Gyul says he gave up things too, but Han Sung points out he’s placing the reason for giving up the New York job entirely on Eun Chan. If he’s honest, he’d admit he’d found his work here fulfilling too.
Han Sung brings up his problems with Yu Ju. He’d married her knowing all about her habits and her work, but now he finds himself just barely holding back from insisting she quit working: “Is this why women don’t want to get married?”
Han Sung: “The moment a man makes a woman his, the man wants that woman to live according to his wishes. But just because he’s won her over, can he force her to do as he wants?”
Han Gyul sees Han Sung’s point, laughing in agreement:
Han Gyul: “I wish she would.”
Han Sung: “You too? I do, too.”
Han Gyul: “Why can’t things just go the way I want?”
Note: I enjoy this conversation, but it strikes me as something a woman would want to hear, rather than something a man would actually say. I don’t mean to give men too little credit, but somehow this kind of understanding of a woman’s role in contemporary society seems to be exactly the kind of thing women desperately WISH men would understand… but unfortunately, too many times, they don’t. Great, have I alienated all the men now?
Eun Chan tells Han Gyul she’s decided not to go abroad. She was about to call his grandmother to tell him so. He asks why she decided not to go, and she answers that she’s got at least a hundred reasons.
Han Gyul: “It seems to me that your hundred reasons not to go can’t hold up to the one reason for going. Am I right? I don’t want you to go, either. Thinking of this cafe without you makes me not want to come here every day. It makes me not want to work. I don’t even want to think about not being able to see you. When I was planning to leave for New York, there were times I thought I couldn’t because I’d be haunted by your memory. Do you think I want to send you away? But I want to show you a bigger world.”
Eun Chan says she doesn’t want to be apart from him, but he tells her he can go to visit: “I hate the idea of you giving something up because you love me. I want to be your support, so you can grow, and advance.” When she asks if he really wants her to go, he can’t answer yes, but he does say:
“I’ve realized I can’t be responsible for your life. But I can be by your side, watching over you. I’ll take that instead. We may be separated now, but later, much later… when you hold the hand of your first child… when they go off to school… when you marry your children off… Ah, proposing is so embarrassing.”
(Song: “이별전의 발렌타인” [“A Valentine Before Farewell”] by Pineapple)
Meanwhile, Yu Ju makes the first step in reconciling by calling Han Sung home early to make dinner (and her first batch of kimchi, which both note as lacking something in the taste department, although her efforts are duly appreciated). I don’t think their problems are completely over, but it’s a nice first show of compromise.
Han Gyul makes his official greeting to Eun Chan’s family, who accept him gladly. Though it’s merely a formality, he asks for her mother’s approval to marry Eun Chan.
Eun Chan shows Han Gyul her room, and the toys he’d made for her. He warns her away from smooth-talking Italian men (“They say ‘you’re beautiful’ to everyone, so don’t pay them any attention!”) and sighs that he misses her already. While they kiss, his hand makes his way under her shirt, but at the first contact of his hand on her skin, Eun Chan jumps and pushes him back, skittish.
Flustered and embarrassed, Han Gyul realizes she’s not comfortable with going further. Frustrated, he keeps her at a distance and tells her not to touch him from now on.
That sexual frustration continues the next day — Han Gyul is serious about not letting her touch him anymore. She finds his reaction cute, and he does his best to keep away, with limited success.
Ha Rim, going through girl problems of his own, tells Eun Chan not to torture Han Gyul — if she’s limited their contact to mere kisses, Han Gyul is probably feeling all churned up inside.
Misty Blue – “위로” (comfort) ::
Eun Chan looks wistfully around her as she thinks about how she’ll be leaving soon. She writes on a leaf, “Let’s meet again in two years,” and affixes her name tag on the branch.
That night, Han Gyul and Eun Chan text back and forth.
Han Gyul: “Are you sleeping?”
Eun Chan: “Nope.”
Han Gyul: “What are you doing?”
Eun Chan: “I miss you.”
Han Gyul: “Let’s meet in our dreams.”
Donawhale – “Running” ::
After reading the last message, Eun Chan makes a swift decision, and gets up. She makes a lame excuse to Eun Sae, then sneaks past her mother out of the house. She runs through the streets and arrives, out of breath, at Han Gyul’s apartment.
He’s shocked to see her there (Eun Chan: “I missed you, so I ran over”), but he can’t trust himself to be near her this late at night, and won’t let her inside. She pushes past him, and he keeps his distance, agitated at her every movement as she drinks wine, looks around his apartment, and wanders from room to room.
He insists repeatedly that she leave, and tries to occupy himself reading a book. (Eun Chan: “Do you hate me being here so much?” Han Gyul: “Not you, me. “) He tries to push her outside, but can’t bring himself to touch her, so he resorts to dragging her toward the door by her foot.
He manages to shove her outside, shutting the door and forbidding her from coming inside anymore (only in the daytime, and accompanied by Ha Rim).
Unfortunately, he’s forgotten her shoes. She pounds on the door, and taunts him, saying she’ll go off to Italy and be sure to have an affair with a handsome Italian man. Finally, Han Gyul cracks the door open and tells her he’ll drive her home. She shoves her foot through the opening.
Han Gyul: “Don’t come in! Take your foot out. If you come in, I’m not sending you home. I’m warning you.”
Looking him straight in the eyes, Eun Chan squeezes herself across the threshold, and firmly plants both feet indoors.
The Melody – “Paradise” ::
Han Gyul stares at her intensely, understanding the choice she’s made, then sweeps her up in a kiss.
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