The Gender Confusion in Coffee Prince

Coffee Prince - favorite scene

Coffee Prince is your typical romantic-comedy. The two leads are your stereotypical rich guy, poor girl. There’s a clichéd love triangle plus an overused trope: girl poses as boy and falls in love. Where the story gets good is when it goes modern!

Any family business big enough to need an heir is going to put said heir under a lot of pressure to learn the business and to get in line to provide another heir. Choi Han-kyul is just such an heir. As a rich man he’s also in a great position to help our heroine, a poor girl.

When Han-kyul meets Go Eun-chan he believes what he sees — she is a he. Needing a lot of cash and feeling humiliated already by the circumstances she allows his assumptions to stand — this works to her benefit when he hires her to be his secret gay lover. Han-kyul doesn’t even realize that the money he’s offering Eun-chan is a help, a BIG help. Like manna from heaven help.

They have a lot of fun driving off his blind-dates. Two swankily clad men going at it in corners – the con couldn’t be any more fool-proof! Eun-chan gets the down payment she needs while Han-kyul is free of the clinging women. When his family switches tactics and pressures Han-kyul into turning a wasted investment into a profitable cafe Eun-chan wants in on that money train too. After all, it beats every job she’s had in the past and the company is a riot too.

Han-kyul isn’t the only Choi family member Eun-chan bonds with though. She also becomes late night snack buddies with Choi Han-sung, her boss’s cousin, who needs a distraction from his pensive moping. Recovering from a long-term relationship not terminated by you isn’t easy. He, unlike Han-kyul, recognized Eun-chan as a girl from the start, a fact she’s rather flattered about. Her innocence is a nice change from his ex’s machinations.

This sounds like all kinds of wrong. How can a girl be thought a boy? What’s up with the relationship swapping? When you pose as gay don’t you get your just deserts to fall in love with another man?

You can. It’s awesome. The pain is immense.

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Eun-chan is totally believable as your modern tomboy.

Right from the beginning we believe Eun-chan is seen as a boy because we see countless other people who believe it too. She might appear to be a rather feminine faced boyish man but she has the moves, the walk and the clothes to back it all up. She even bickers with Han-kyul like a close childhood friend might with someone they are really comfortable.

Her motivation is backed up by her modern circumstances: she’s responsible for her family’s welfare.

It’s hard to dislike someone, anyone, who’s as hard a worker as Go Eun-chan. She even tries to get her mom and sister what they think will make them happy. Even when her mother puts them in a tight spot spending money they don’t have and her sister makes unreasonable demands for her future. Plus, she’s been doing this for eight years, many times her non-gender being a major plus in getting her odd jobs.

Like most modern love triangles, Eun-chan loves one man more — or rather loves one as a woman loves a man and the other as a woman loves a friend.

After witnessing Han-sung and his long-time love, Han Yoo-joo, together, Go Eun-chan realizes she has to let him go. Yes, she falls for two men for different reasons. One heartbreak is relatively easy to get over but then you see that losing the other one would break more than her heart.

Eun-chan and Han-sung could have made an awesome couple, they didn’t fall in love first. Sometime love is being in the right place at the right time. Han-kyul came, not only to the right place, but at the perfect time. We intersect with people, there are possibilities there, but sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

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Like many modern men dealing with the problems inherit in long-term relationships, Han-kyul and Han-sung are drawn to her purity.

Han-sung is privy to Eun-chan’s circumstances from the get go and at first can’t help but admire such a plucky girl. She’s upbeat and smiling, taking pleasure in seeing his dog during her morning milk deliveries. And she doesn’t begrudge anyone that she has to work so hard. That’s seriously good attitude — I’m drawn to it too!

And Han-kyul is no different – he just shows his attraction by being prickly. It makes him uncomfortable – Eun-chan to his eyes is a guy after all. A charming, upbeat, lovely guy who makes him excited about life, who relieves his sense of loneliness.

For romance to survive modern times sometimes it needs old-fashioned acceptance and forgiveness – the cousins learn this firsthand.

At first Han-sung simply wants a girl with such a heart to be happy, later he realizes that the sum of your experiences with a person is what makes a relationship worth pursuing. He can’t take the modern way out with Yoo-joo and just abandon the relationship for a new one; now he must struggle to forgive the girl he has history with.

Han-kyul has always thought he was in love with his cousin’s girl, a woman out of his reach, Yoo-joo. He may very well have been but at some point he has to accept that she loves his cousin. Her presence doesn’t help relieve his feelings of loneliness. And what a modern affliction, no matter how far we run you can’t escape its effects.

Modern families and friendships are as varied as people. Each has their own relationship to tackle and not everyone comes out happy just because of our modern perspectives on love.

This isn’t a stripped down, angst driven narrative. Han-kyul and Eun-chan have the staff at Coffee Prince. These men have different problems with love and their own stakes in Eun-chan’s secret about her sex. When we know there is a possibility of not ever seeing the other again it can be hard to risk that fate.

We also have the pressure of family that effects a relationship – from hers as their sole breadwinner and from his as an upper class family. As a modern woman Eun-chan wants to see the world a little and hon a craft. Han-kyul doesn’t want to hold her back. Relationships are hard and really what matters is the effort you make to preserve them.

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You can’t get any more modern than a straight man falling in love with what he believes is a gay man. When is modern love just love? The traditional I can’t live without you, I feel incomplete kind of love?

After you try staying away from one another. After you try to be just close co-workers and friends. After you try to leave it at brothers for life. After you realize that you aren’t mistaking your feelings and take a risk. A modern risk.

Gender Confusion creates a Modern Love Story. One with your stereotypical rich guy, poor girl. One with an unconventional love triangle. One with the Definition of Love.

As far as chaebol heirs go, Choi Han-kyul is a man of his breed. At odds with the responsibility his family puts on him, unsatisfied with the woman he’s chosen to pursue, his life is thrown on its head by Go Eun-chan. Where his story gets special is when he realizes he loves this guy, this person. This Go Eun-chan. As more than a close friend, as more than a brother. That it’s not his sexuality in question but his very real feelings for Go Eun-chan. It’s this journey of discovery and choice that makes Coffee Prince truly special. A modern journey. The fact that Go Eun-chan is really and truly a girl is only the cherry on top. This is when gender confusion makes a story!

Any typical story can be made special by turning the details on their head with a modern spin. Then setting up the story so we believe in the characters and using timeless truths to bind it all together just becomes good storytelling.

Cherry Pop: Romance/Rom-Com

Coffee Prince Header

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.

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6 responses to “The Gender Confusion in Coffee Prince

  1. why did go eun chan not tell han kyul that she is a girl after she realized that han kyul was in love with her??? (in ep 9) I keep wondering because their love story would have come true if she hadn’t been so stubborn about telling her gender. instead she kept silence when han kyul told her that she was “out” 😦

    • I believe she hesitate it for some reason;

      1- She thought he was going to America.
      2- She thought he would not be interested in “her” because a couple of times he mentioned he likes girly girls.
      3- She was just so afraid of losing him.

      • Yes I think all of those reasons apply. Ultimately though she was the breadwinner of the family. If she lost that job her family would be toast and she’d more than likely have to go back to having tons of awful jobs. She didn’t have any experience in relationships so she had no confidence in any feels she saw he had for her.

  2. I never heard of this movie before and it looks so nice! Love Korean films so I’m adding this to my watchlist right away – thanks so much for the recommendation.

    • It’s actually not a movie at all – it’s a k-drama, a 16 episode television drama you can stream online at a number of South Korean streaming sites. Thanks for commenting 🙂

  3. Pingback: K-drama Cherry Pop | Perspective of a Writer·

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