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[Thespian Review] Yoon Eun Hye – “Coffee Prince”

23 Sep

Coffee Prince is one of of my favorite dramas ever. It had a unique story, a heroine that isn’t like any other in Korean drama and its supporting cast is not distracting or heinous. But beyond those characteristics, there’s depth and a refreshing sincerity that I just can’t find in a lot of the dramas.

The success of the show, I think, rests on the fact that the heroine must be able to pull off both the boyish spunk and the feminine vulnerability of the Go Eun-Chan. Luckily, Yoon Eun Hye did just that and more with this character.

Go Eun Chan is a tomboy whose everyday garb is pretty much big shirts, big pants, and running shoes. Her hair is even cut short like a boy (and with all the girlish-looking guys in Korea, I’m sure people would have thought she was a boy). You don’t really understand why she dresses or looks the way she does until you know her family situation. Her family is poor and since her dad passed away, she’s been a breadwinner of the family. It makes sense then that playing a patriarchal role in her family would lead her to be more in touch with her masculinity. Not only that, it’s easier for her to seem like a guy than a girl; that’s how she gets jobs and how she avoids getting harassed.

On one of her shifts as a delivery person, she meets Choi Han-Gyul (a charismatic turn by Gong Yoo), undressed. Suddenly, her manly exterior is affected. We see a girl come out. She meets him again during a robbery where Han-Gyul decides to hire her as a false lover.

Therein starts their budding romance and Go Eun Chan’s transformation. Much of what makes this drama works is how much chemistry Yoon and Gong have. It’s also fascinating to see their romance develop as they fall in love.

Yet what really makes this drama a great one for me rests on Yoon’s performance. Her incredibly expressive face reveals so much about Eun-chan’s desires, frustrations, hopes, and dreams. We see her think and contemplate about her future especially at times when she feels unsure of what she wants to do in life. Eun-chan is naive but Yoon never implies she’s slow or stupid; rather, just unaware of anything that isn’t on the surface. She’s definitely tough, but Yoon makes her vulnerable too.

But as she develops a fascination and an interest in coffee and becoming a barista, Eun-chan suddenly becomes a dreamer. Her status in life doesn’t afford her the luxury of going off to Europe to study, especially since she’s the breadwinner in the family.

But all that takes backseat to the central part of the story: the romance. As she falls in love with Han Gyul, she suddenly becomes more self-conscious. It’s a fascinating performance; at one time, Eun-chan is strong and confident and the next, she’s unsure of herself. It’s a testament to Yoon’s performance that this shifts are virtuosic. There aren’t moments of stiffness in her performance, unlike her performance in Lie to Me. This is her at her most rawest and most natural, and it’s utterly believable.

Even as the romance becomes more complex as she realizes that she is sending mixed signals to Choi Han Seong and is horrified at the consequences. If there is one thing Yoon does fantastically, it’s crying. When she cries, I totally buy it. It’s a highlight of her performance that as we reach the climax of the show, we get a significantly more vulnerable Eun-Chan. All the hits she’d taken from career setbacks of romance worries have both matured and softened her. Her crying is so good because she lets it build slowly as if trying to hold back from tears like what the manly Eun-Chan would. But as she erupts, it becomes devastating and you can’t help but cry along with her.

That’s why it’s not surprising to see Eun-Chan’s transformation by the end of the last episode, we see her more feminine and more confident. Somehow, she’s come to accept her more feminine side, walking in heels and sporting a longer coif and a pretty handbag. The maturity she gained from love and fulfilling her dream has somehow taught her to accept herself.

Coffee Prince may have stumbled at the end but disregarding that, I still think it’s one of the best dramas I’ve seen. Yoon Eun-Hye hasn’t delivered a performance as good as this before and since. Her Eun-Chan is endearing, romantic, tough, yet vulnerable all at the same time.

–Clarence

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