A stellar actor can elevate the worst tripe, while special effects tend to plasticize story, yet the right art direction will add to not only the world but the characters as well. Purely Production is a monthly post where I explore the different elements that affect a finished media, for good or ill. We’ll forget about writing for a moment and delve into all the bedazzling doodads that dress a story.
Purely Production #8: In Coffee Prince we see the characters and the story, not the actors and the plot. This is a testament to their craft.
Coffee Prince has some awesome acting! These actors and actresses portray some of the most spot on modern men and women I have ever seen in a k-drama. The believability of this story can be laid at the feet of these men and women.
When we can’t separate the character from the actor you know they were doing something right! We watch a story because we want to be transported to a new place to meet new people and experience some of the life they life. Excellent acting can overcome okay cinematography and many other production problems because if we believe in the people we get sucked into the story.
THE FOUR LEADS
Gong Yoo really made Choi Han-kyul. His ability to control his face and throw his whole soul into what he was feeling blew me away. His arc from friend to brother to lover for the man he believes Go Eun-chan to be was nuanced and so sincere. There wasn’t one emotional misstep. In the beginning you got a sense of his character, of his loneliness and isolation through his movements and emoting, it’s quite a powerful performance.
Yoon Eun-hye threw her whole heart into Go Eun-chan without fear or reservation. She wasn’t afraid to look like a small male. She walked like a male and talked like a male just as a girl who has been tomboyish her whole life (and kept getting mistaken as a male) would have done. Her fear of losing Han-kyul was also palpable. If he wanted her as a brother then she’d take him as a brother; she took him at his word when he said he didn’t want her as a woman. We believed in Eun-chan, that her reactions were true to the character we’d come to love.
Lee Sun-kyun‘s sincerity and ease made Choi Han-sung. When he took such easy delight in Eun-chan you could see that he honestly was moved by her. When you contrast this sincerity to his deep love for Yoo-joo and his struggle when she returned you really get the essence of the man all without words.
Chae Jung-an understood her role in both men’s lives and used her every skill to portray Han Yoo-joo. I’ve seen her in other roles where she doesn’t play the sex pot and she’s equally as good – this is all acting.
THE COFFEE PRINCES
Lee Eon was delightful as the rather stupid Hwang Min-yep. This was the first job he’d ever had and he became quite protective of keeping it despite being just a waiter at Coffee Prince. It’s his relationship with Eun-sae though that he really excelled playing the whipped boyfriend to perfection.
Kim Dong-wook was so believable as the extreme Jin Ha-rim. While I was confused how an interior designer becomes a waiter at Coffee Prince, Dong-wook fell right in place and I went along for the ride. Despite all the continuously disparate character details he was asked to portray we totally believe in Ha-rim and that he loves both Eun-chan and Han-kyul!
Kim Jae-wook has a stunningly cool way about him and so does Noh Sun-ki, the waffle chef at Coffee Prince. We don’t know much about him but we want to know more. As he becomes less mysterious we find his river runs deep. While his character was more a sketch we knew he hid a lot more back there due to the performance.
Kim Chang-wan stuns me in everything he’s in and the same is true for Hong Gae-shik, as the Coffee Prince brewer. I loved the little detail of his character that he is an extremely filthy man. I totally believed in Chang-wan’s performance and felt his attitude really reflected this detail of his character.
Kim Young-ok is an older actress I love and she really brings to life Han-kyul and Han-sung’s grandmother. You believe she is a chaebol but also one with a soft spot for her grandson. She’s a tough sell for Han-kyul and Eun-chan but if you remain convicted you can win her over.
Kim Ja-ok as Han-kyul’s mother is such a great contrast to her mother-in-law and her husband. She’s just the right balance for them and portrays the nice and good wife and mother so well. I genuinely believed in her character’s goodness.
Choi Il-hwa is another fixture on the k-drama scene and he makes a lovely appearance as Han-kyul’s father. He has a secret and has been keeping it from his son. This arc is totally believable due to his subtle performance.
Han Ye-in is the perfect actress to portray Eun-chan’s younger sister, Go Eun-sae. She has the most marvelously devious expressions yet you can believe she has a good heart.
Park Won-sook portrays Eun-chan’s mother as a down to earth woman whose had to struggle a lot in life. She’s had some regrets but feels her daughter is a woman to be proud of and only wants her daughter’s happiness. She left me a little unsure where her affections lay and I really enjoyed that because it would have been easier to hint to the audience from the get go.
Lee Han-wi as Mr. Ku (Eun-chan’s mother’s love interest) is another fixture favorite for me. He plays an earnest man with such heart. Here he is a cheap man head over heels in love. Totally believed it.
Not a single one of these actors went overboard in their performance and every single one of them were consistent in their portrayal. This is not an easy feat! On top of their individual performances they all had a group they had to have chemistry with. If the coffee princes didn’t feel like a team then we wouldn’t have believed many of their scenes together. The leads likewise had to have chemistry amongst themselves balanced with the tension they felt as their relationships changed. And we all want a loving family but there are personal desires that many times will fight with our desire for our family to be happy.
Many of the lesser known veterans were chosen for their parts because of their particular skill set. Matching these minor characters up with the right actors is not always easy but can make or break believability. Powerful acting can make a show and it certainly captures our hearts in Coffee Prince. Such is the effect of good casting.
When good production choices are made we see the characters and the story not the acting and the plot.
I’ve exposed my rabid fan-dom of the Hallyu wave to criticism here so you’ll give the television addiction a fighting! chance. Check out the different genres for your perusing pleasure here. When watching Korean Dramas it’s best to start with a giant from among all the many choices to be found in k-drama-land and this is one of them: Coffee Prince.