Revisiting the Classics: “Coffee House” (2010) Korean drama Review: The Best and rare example of Korean situation comedy.


Revisiting the Classics

Coffee House (2010) #Kdrama Review: The Best and rare example of Korean situation comedy.

#KangJiHwan #ParkSiYeon  #HamEunJung #JungWoongIn #CoffeeHouse #Kdrama

Hello. This is a Korean in America. Today, I’ll be going over a not so old Korean drama that I feel is a rather rare example of an excellent Korean long form situation comedy. This is “Coffee House” (2010).


Introduction
There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt.
---Erma Bombeck
Comedy…

Certainly, Koreans has a lot of experience with comedy. When you watch Korean dramas, you may have notice its tendency of always sticking in comedic elements into a show whether or not it fits the tone of the rest of the show.

The reasons for this tendency are rather difficult to pinpoint. I certainly cannot pinpoint it although I tried. Some say it is associated with the collective misery of a culture. It may be a “You either laugh or kill yourself” mentality. Whether this is true or not, there is a significant difference between cultures regarding their views and use of comedy. In cultures such as the U.S., there is a strong tendency to try to separate out outright comedy from what we perceive as pure “drama”. Countries such as France seem to lean more towards the Korean view which some Americans think as being weird.

Separate from the question of why Korean drama is like this, depending on how well these comedic elements are integrated with the rest of the show, these comedic elements could either function as great comedic reliefs or could be hugely irritating and be just seen as fillers. And the outcome of this is not easy to gauge. Not only is comedy rather subjective and culturally sensitive, in a lot of cases, it is purely about timing and the actors’ delivery.

In other words, it is very difficult to maintain. For these reasons, you do not see many long form “situation comedies” that last about an hour per episode anywhere. There is a reason why the mainstream sitcom format is about 20 minutes long per episode. So, it was rather a pleasant surprise when I saw  “Coffee House” (2010) for the first time.  It was a pure one hour long form Korean situation comedy-drama.  


The Plot
Coffee House” (2010) has an interesting structure as the plot is structured around 3 people with almost equal weight rather than the more common two lead structure. While this in itself is not unique, the fact that plot is not structured around a love triangle is.  The relationships in the show are not the common love triangle one would expect if you have any experience with Korean dramas.

I understand it, but I don't like it. I wish we could all be together like before: best friends, not heartbroken strangers.”
― Amy Plum, If I Should Die



You have the young “girl”, Kang Seung Yeon , who is cute but clumsy. Imagine a bunny rabbit. She does not have a job or prospects when she bumps into the “writer”, Lee Jin Soo, who is an oddball and quirky best seller author. He is constantly running away from promotional events and disappearing for long periods.  Think the comedic version of Gregory House from “House, M.D.”.


The third lead character is “publisher”, Seo Eun Young, who is always trying to keep the “writer” in line but fails more time than not. While the outrageous acts on the part of the “writer” drives her up the walls, the two have a bond that runs deep underneath the surface. As a result, the relationship is very codependent and twisted.  Think the relationship between House and Lisa Cuddy from “House, M.D.” but more comedic and Cuddy is also as much of an oddball as House in her own way.



Through a series of contrived events, the show has our “girl” end up working for our “writer” as a personal assistant trying to fulfill all of his weird whims and tantrums.  And the show is off to deliver many laughs as these three people work and clash together along the process of getting the book out.

Is it not a so situation comedy plot?


The Relationships
In “Coffee House” (2010), there is technically a love triangle but not among the three I mention previously. Rather, there is a side male character that comes in as the show’s main comedic antagonist who is trying to force himself into a love triangle between the “writer” and the “publisher”. As a result, rather than being a true participant in the love triangle, he is just a comedic obstacle.  He is one of those characters who is just irritating and thus, you want him to get his comeuppance.

I was caught in a love triangle with one dead side.”
― John Green, Looking for Alaska

In a way, you could think that the show is about the relationship between the “writer” and the “publisher” with the “girl” acting as an observer who helps us, the audience, peer into it. While the “girl” does perform this function, just pigeonholing her into this function is not accurate of what she is in the show. She does have equal weight in the show as the “writer” and the “publisher”.

The relationship between the “girl” and the “writer” is a rather unique one for Korean dramas. It is more of a teacher and protégé relationship reminisced of that of “Don Draper” and “Peggy Olson” relationship from “Mad Men”. While there might be a slight sense of a crush on the part of the “girl”, the relationship is never romantic. It is too paternal to go in that direction. The “writer” ends up grooming the “girl” to be more like himself but without his emotional baggage. This kind of relationship is rare in Korean drama even between male characters. It is almost not heard of between characters of the opposite genders.

Separate from this relationship, the relationship between the “writer” and the “publisher” is pretty interesting also.  The show has them clashing like the cat and mouse from “Tom and Jerry” though out the show but, in other scenes, the show has them showing glimpses of a deeper relationship. However, it also shows them quickly evading it as fast as they could. You can just imagine that these two people got trapped in the “friend zone” through some tragic events which is constantly triggering friction between them.


As a Situation Comedy
Before anything, “Coffee House” (2010) is a “Situation Comedy” albeit a long form 1 hour per episode situation comedy. The long form 1 hour per episode comedies are not easy to do which is one of the reasons why there are not many of them around even in the U.S. It is very difficult to maintain the level of humor required throughout an hour especially when the humor originate from jokes. I cannot remember the last one. Those shows tend to blur into “dramadies” which are dramas with humor.

Coffee House” (2010) is actually great with pacing out the humors. There is at least a good situational gag every 15 minutes which tend to last about 5 minutes. Between those gags, there are nice dramatic moments that provide context to the next gag. While there are some nice jokes in the show, most of the comedy comes from the situations created by the “writer’s” weird behavior and either the “girl” or the “publisher” reacting. The clumsiness of the “girl” and the “publisher’s” tendency to fight weird with weird also helps with the comedy. Not only does this make the gags feel organic to the story, it makes the humor feel neither mean nor stupid. However, some of the gags are hilariously silly.


The Actors
All of the actors in “Coffee House” (2010) have great comedic delivery. The “writer” is played by Kang Ji-Hwan from shows such as “Lie to Me” (2011) and “Big Man” (2014). And, if you have seen him act in those shows, you know how great his comedic delivery is. It is sometimes too great that it also seeps into his non-comedic roles. The role of the “writer” maybe his best role to date as it does seem to match his acting persona like a glove. It requires him to do outrageous in one scene while doing emotionally gripping in another. He pulls it off like it is natural for him.


The “girl” is played by Ham Eun-Jung who starred in “Queen Insoo” (2011). While I did not see much of “Queen Insoo” (2011), the serious role in that show did not seem to fit her as well as the “girl” in “Coffee House” (2010). She can play clumsy but cute and enduring quite well. I wish she got more comedic roles.


The “publisher” is played by Park Si-Yeon who now seems to be out of the acting game because of a scandal about drug abuse. Her role in “Coffee House” (2010) made me develop a crush on her after watching the show. In a way, this role is a deviation from her normal roles which are usually emotionally damaged femme fatales. You could see her in shows such as “Innocent Man” (2012) and “Bittersweet Life” (2008). In “Coffee House” (2010), she proved that she could do comedy and do it well.

One thing about her is that the opinion about her drastically differs from person to person. Some people do not really like her. While she is not a great actress, she does a good enough job in most of her shows. It might be because of her looks as she does not look like your typical Korean drama actress. She has a more V-shaped face with are largish forehead. In many ways, her looks make me think that there is some non-Korean blood mixed into her heritage. For me, this is a plus. For others, it is a minus. Also, she has this “damaged” aura to her that does trigger different emotional responses about her depending on one’s personality.


The Big Negative.
Coffee House” (2010) is funny, charming, well written, and well-paced. However, it is not without fault. The largest problem with this show is that it should have ended in episode 12. However, it went on for 6 more episodes with a 2 year time jump. In my opinion, time jumps are not really good for a show especially in its last stretch.

In episode 12, everything started to achieve climax as it is written as a 3rd act of the story. Relationships have developed and matured, events have occurred, and we, the audience, are waiting for a nice conclusion to the story arcs. The show delivers this 3rd act very nicely and there is only the epilogue remaining which could be shown in 10 minutes with the inclusion a montage. The show does not do this.

The show extends this epilogue into five more episodes. In a way, the latter 6 episodes feel like a sequel to the show that does not work as well as the original. There is not enough content and the pacing is off. The tone is also slightly different as the show is going for a slightly more serious tone. It does include some nice scenes including what the characters were up to scenes which are great to watch. However, it does not change the fact that I do not understand the structural reasons for doing this. Usually, this happens with mostly 50 episodes full Korean drama series.

It is a shame!


At the end
As you may know, the Korean dramas change in waves usually lasting about a year. “Coffee House” (2010) is situated in the forefront of comedy heavy Korean drama wave which started in 2010 and went into 2011. Some of the follow ups shows include “Protect My Boss” (2011) and “Lie to Me” (2011).  While these shows were funny and nice, Korean drama moved on. As a result, there are no longer these types of shows on air currently.

Even without knowing this, “Coffee House” (2010) is a great show. However, considering that Korean dramas have moved on to another wave of shows, watching “Coffee House” (2010) makes me miss that year or two when Korean dramas were able to actually create funny and well written “Situation Comedies” that are as good as its Japanese drama counterparts.

I give it an A.


Score: A  or 9/10


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3 comments:

  1. Every time I find someone speaking fondly of Coffee House, it makes me really happy. Coffee House is one of my favourite dramas of all time because it balances comedy and drama really well. The characters are all likable in their own way and the story takes interesting turns along the way. It definitely is an unique drama.


    Unfortunately though, Coffee House isn't very widely loved and I've seen how much hate it got because of the shipping wars. It's rare to see people even discussing this show.


    I do agree with you that after the time jump, the show lost some of its charm and I would have preferred if the time jump had been executed in a better way. But I enjoyed the drama nevertheless.


    And I also agree that this might be Kang Ji Hwan's best performance to date. I wrote quite extensively about his acting in my own review for Coffee House, and I pretty much said the same things as you did :D

    ReplyDelete
  2. I've been meaning to watch this drama for the longest time. Now I will very soon! I love Park Si- Yeon, I think she's beautiful and talented. And I'm sorry she got caught up in such a scandal. I hope she can get back to acting soon. I also wondered if she has a mixed heritage somewhere, maybe a grandparent. She kind of looks like actress Kristin Kreuk who is half Chinese, half white.


    You have interesting thoughts about comedy and culture.

    "In cultures such as the U.S., there is a strong tendency to try to separate out outright comedy from what we perceive as pure “drama.”

    If it's not overdone, I suppose I prefer the Korean way too. Laugh or kill yourself is an interesting way to put it. Life is not all grief/drama, then all laughter. It's mixed together at any given moment. I work in a funeral home. So I see that very clearly. People will cry and get emotional. But the next minute they are out in the lobby laughing, joking and reminiscing. You'd wonder if they really were at a funeral. You can find a balance for both.


    And maybe you know, wasn't there an issue about who the leading girl was supposed to be in this drama? And along the way the story got changed from the 'writer' girl to the publisher becoming the romantic interest? I've read about it. But not sure what the big deal was?

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  3. A Korean in AmericaMay 30, 2014 at 2:08 PM

    I heart the"girl" is from a kpop girl group which got her fans worked up

    ReplyDelete