Coffee Prince (2007) Korean Drama Review ~Revisiting the classics (Part 2)

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Mirrors and smoke

This is not an easy feat to accomplish as one has to juggle a lot of moving components. So, I was initially greatly impressed by the show. However, while going through the tedious latter episodes, it dawned on me that I was more impressed by the “Mirrors and smoke” and not the show itself.

Coffee Prince” (2007) is an example of the execution of the show far exceeding the construction of the show in quality. The script was far more ambitious than the screen writer could handle. What I mean is that all the disparate components the script has the show juggling are neither well developed on their own nor really come together in a cohesive manner on a story level at the end of the show.

I am not even talking about the last few episodes.
I am only talking about essentially the first 13 episodes which is where the story really ends.
The last few episodes are more like the retarded second season of the show when everyone jumped ship.

For a show without a dominant plot such as a “slice of life” show, nailing the landing is rather key to the show since, without it, it is just a collection of insignificant small stories. Let’s equate this situation to a stand-up comedian’s act. You have the comedian delivering his lines well but the joke has a major problem. There is no concrete punch line to the joke. There is only a setup. Thus, the only thing that a comedian could do with the situation is to use the figurative and sometimes literal “Mirrors and smoke” to make the audience not notice that there is no punch line. This is what “Coffee Prince” (2007) does. It is a way too ambitious joke that does not have a punch line. The fact is that “Coffee Prince” (2007) delivers what joke there is extremely well is notable. However, the novelty of it wears off rather quickly once you start to think about it.

What is it about?
What is “Coffee Prince” (2007) about?

You may say “gender bending” romance. However, it is more of a plot point.
What are the themes of the show?
What are the main points of the show?

While going through the latter episodes of the show that should have ended already, I asked myself these questions. It did not bode well for the show that I had difficulties in immediately pinpointing the point of the show.

Rather than getting distracted by the gender bending romance in the core plot, I looked at the rather unique story structure. “Coffee Prince” (2007) has several different plots with varying degrees of importance essentially running independent from each other at the same time. The core plot and the peripheral plot essentially do not need each other to exist. You could literally recast the characters that they share between each other with guest stars and the stories would not change at all.

This story structure is not totally unfamiliar to Korean dramas. However, they tend to be used in specific genres such as medical dramas in which an ensemble cast are utilized. Romance shows tend to not use this structure as it splits the focus of the show. So, there should be a reason for choosing this type of unique story structure for “Coffee Prince” (2007). 

I came to the conclusion that the show is about the process of the individual characters resolving issues in their lives originating internally and not externally. In other words, the show is not about saving the coffee shop. It is not even about falling in love. It is definitely not about regaining a love once lost. It is not about any single thing which is that grandiose. It is just about people dealing with their issues in a calm and subtle way as most people at least try to do in real life.

For the “prince”, his issues are with his family which originate from his distorted view of his role in his family. For the “tomboy”, her issues originate primarily from her inexperience in life, general poverty, and the loss of a father figure early on. In a way, she is actually the least psychologically damaged in the whole bunch.

For the “composer”, his issues are with his lack of confidence in love and resentment from the fact that his girlfriend left him. On the other hand, the “ex” has an uncertainty and uneasiness regarding committing to a relationship.  Nothing about the problems that the characters have is that unique or uncommon. However, showing these common problems in the show and using the running time to lay those problems out for anyone to see is not an easy thing to do in a Korean drama. The audience usually does not have the appetite or patience for this type of approach.  You see this approach used in Japanese drama more.

This focus on internally originated issues also explains the reason for the fact that none of the other characters directly resolve any of the other characters’ issues. In other words, no one saves anyone else. People handle their own s**t on their own albeit with the indirect support by loved ones. This is why I point out the initial ambitions of the screenplay writer. This is all great stuff that normally is not well handled by Korean drama. The problem is that the script fails to nail the landing. None of the issues first laid out are fully developed and explored before they just somehow resolve themselves.

The lack of development for what the show is about!
While one may argue this is because the show is subtle, I have to argue that the show lost focused on what it was meant and structured to be. The internal issues of the characters are so broadly described in the show that it is actually difficult to pinpoint what they actually are to the degree I just did.

If you want to be subtle, the issues do not need to be spelled out for you. However, it does at least need to be strongly inferred about as they are being resolved on screen. This does not really happen in the show as they just seem to fade away without much effort. For the “prince”, he just needed to better communicate with his family and everything is resolved for him. For the “tomboy”, she just needed to find a direction in life and everything is good.
(Major Spoilers!)
For the “composer” and his “ex”, getting knocked up seemed to have solved everything for them to live happily ever after.

In other words, not only is the show vague about the characters’ issues but the issues are resolved in a careless manner. This does not even include the minor plots which tend to be just abandoned halfway through. While a subplot not being fully developed in a Korean drama is as common as apple pie is in the United States, This is a problem for “Coffee Prince” (2007) since the show’s structure was so ambitious. As inferred by the show’s choice in structure, the show wanted to give the audience a better understanding about the human condition. Otherwise, there is no real reason for the intricate structure for just a gender bending romance as shown by all of the straightforward gender bending romance shows that followed “Coffee Prince” (2007). However, as you watch the characters go through their issues, you do not gain a better understanding about people. You just end up with many underdeveloped stories of characters out there in the ether.


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