Korean dramas typically last one season*. They are fairly wholesome, although can include some nefarious plots. Fake relationships of convenience and deals for money tend to be common plot devices, which leads to love triangles/quadrangles/awesomeness. I've watched some of the more popular ones online with subtitles: My Lovely Sam Soon, Full House**, 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, and most recently Princess Hours. Mysoju.com and Veoh.com have been good and consistent sources for streaming or downloading these dramas. But enough of my introduction, let's talk about my favorite I've seen so far: 1st Shop of Coffee Prince.
Ignoring the awkwardly worded English title, this is a short (17 episodes) and contained love story. The main premise is a little hokey and straight out of Tootsie:
The life of Go Eun Chan (Yoon Eun Hye) is not easy; she works many jobs to pay off debts and even gave up her feminine image. Choi Han Kyul (Gong Yoo) is the heir of a big food company, but his grandmother wants him to settle down, so she arranged many dates for him. After Eun Chan bumped into Han Kyul and was mistaken for a boy, Han Kyul decided to hire Eun Chan to be his gay lover in order to avoid the arranged dates. Desperately in need of money, Eun Chan had no choice but to accept. Han Kyul's grandmother also made Han Kyul in charge of a filthy coffee shop in danger of being bankrupt. Eun Chan begged to work at the coffee shop, and not long after, feelings start to spark, except, how would Han Kyul accept his "homosexuality"? (from DramaWiki)I'm a sucker for corny premises and love stories, and this drama builds them up perfectly. There are just so many things to love in this series:
1. Go Eun Chan is an awesome female character. She has cropped hair, dresses in baggy clothing, and takes on any task, not matter how physically demanding. She's not afraid of work since her family depends on her income. One of my favorite things about this drama is that it avoids making over Eun Chan. Granted in one episode, Eun Chan does get dressed up to go out with Choi Han Sung, a man in her neighborhood who she delivers milk to, but it lasts one night. People just like her and love her for who she is: a tough, but warm girl who genuinely cares about others. Looks aren't what attract people to her.
2. The secondary characters are worth rooting for. Choi Han Sung and Han Yoo Joo have been a couple for years, but recently they've been broken up while Han Yoo Joo lived with another man. At the beginning of the drama we see them reunite, and then watch them struggle to stay together. This couple intermingles with the main couple. Choi Han Sung briefly crushes on Eun Chan (recipricating Eun Chan's initial feelings), making Han Yoo Joo jealous. Also, our main man Han Kyul has had a thing for Han Yoo Joo for years, but has never done anything about it. The relationships are muddled a little bit, but soon it's clear who will end up who. And the friendships between the couples are fun and honest.
3. Family, as in all the dramas, plays a key role in the main story. My impression of Korean culture from the dramas I've watched place a lot of emphasis on loyalty to family and respect to friends as if they were family. These family members often push the characters together or apart. In 1st Shop of Coffee Prince, Eun Chan's family is heavily dependant on her income, which pressures to have a job, which leads her to continue acting like a guy so Han Kyul will hire her. Han Kyul's grandmother wants him to stop being such a playboy deadbeat, so first she sets him up on blind dates which leads to paying Eun Chan to play his gay lover. Then Grandmother makes him take over a failing coffee shop which leads to him hiring Eun Chan. Thank goodness for family loyalty bringing these characters together.
4. The workers at the Coffee Prince are fantastic. The shop employs only men to attract the local college girls. The workers include the dumb, but strong and loyal Hwang Min Yeop; the player Jin Ha Rim; the lovelorn, Japanese speaking No Sun Ki; and Hong Gae Sik, the kind of lazy, but skilled ex-manager of Coffee Prince. They each have their own stories which makes this drama seem less self-centered and more community- and family-centered than other ones. We get to know the main character's environment and how they interact with others, which makes for well-rounded and interesting characters.
5. Han Kyul's wardrobe. They dressed Gong Yoo so well for this role, it's ridiculous. Well fitted button-ups with rolled-up sleeves, perfectly cut slacks, random vests, and sockless tennis shoes. Absolutely delicious. Check out his wardrobe and adorable smile above.
6. My favorite favorite thing about this drama is that admission of the love story doesn't wait until the end. As much as I love people realizing they're in love after thinking they're not, basing a whole show or movie on that can get old. It only takes 7 episodes for things to start to coming to a head: Han Kyul decides he's going to go for Eun Chan even though he believes Eun Chan is a man. It's an absolutely lovely scene:
Of course, the fall out the next few episodes when Han Kyul finds out Eun Chan is a woman is intense and heartbreaking. But there are plenty of episodes for things to resolve and fall into place. And because the drama is only 17 episodes long, drama isn't drawn out too long and the story moves along at a fairly brisk pace.
7. This drama is just great; the thing just works as a whole. All the characters interact together so well, and the sexual tension is so tangible, and you actually feel bad for these characters when things don't work out. In short, 1st Shop of Coffie Prince is just delightful. De--wait for it--lightful***.
*Seriously, American television producers should adopt shorter television series--I'm looking at you The Office (US), Gilmore Girls, Ugly Betty, ER, EVERYTHING EVER. It doesn't mean I don't love you, it just means you sucked by the end (or are sucking now).
**No, not that one.
***Barney Stinson, How I Met Your Mother, Season 4, Episode 1.