Jul. 6th, 2011

thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
Some time ago - quite some time ago - I offered to review something in exchange for a charitable donation to [livejournal.com profile] help_japan. I expected, quite honestly, to be subjected to something legendarily terrible, perhaps Spock's Brain or Highlander 2: The Quickening, but instead, bizarrely, a group of people banded together to get me to watch something good. I know. I don't understand it, either. Grateful but confused, that's me!

That thing was a Korean TV drama, and the bidders were, and oh how I hope I have them all listed: [personal profile] anenko, [livejournal.com profile] dormouse_in_tea, [personal profile] jamethiel, [personal profile] paxpinnae, [personal profile] pineapplechild, [personal profile] vass, and [personal profile] zeborah. Thank you, people. I have enjoyed the hell out of Coffee Prince. And really appreciated your patience. You are all made of entirely of shine. What you're actually getting is a weird review-recap hybrid. Hope it's what you wanted!

A Preliminary Note

I don't speak Korean and I've never watched a K-drama before. I don't know the conventions, I don't know the idioms, and I had to resort to google a lot. I am going to make cultural missteps. I apologize in advance. Pointers appreciated!

Also, the fansub I found for this one was a little antic. I'm used to anime fansubs, which are inevitably better than the actual official licensed translation. I did not get that sense with these subtitles, which were informative most of the time with occasional moments where they induced shrieking hilarity. Seriously, even if you have no interest in adorable romance, the fansubs are worth watching for those moments alone.

Coffee Prince in Relatively Few Words (For Me)

So, that said - Coffee Prince is a charming, crazy, fluffy romance. The central conceit is that one half of the main couple, Eun Chan, is a girl pretending to be a boy. Or that's how the summaries read. (They actually mostly said something along the lines of "she's given up so much to take care of her family - even her femininity.") That wasn't how I saw it, though. And I was not alone.

Right after I watched the second episode of Coffee Prince, I had to take the earthling to see his doctor. Afterwards, as is our custom, he picked out a treat from the small store there, and we sat at a table outside where he could watch all the cars and trucks go by.

There was also a middle-aged Korean-American woman sitting out there. (This may seem like a gift from the gods of recap writing, but in fact we were sitting in front of a Korean café and a Korean pharmacy, so not so much.) We started talking while the earthling consumed his treat one molecule at a time (because there were so many trucks to watch). We talked about kids for a bit, and then she asked me what TV shows I was watching. Normally, my answer to that question is an apologetic, "I don't watch TV," but this time I had an actual show to mention!

I said, "I'm watching - uh, in English it's called Coffee Prince?"

She lit up. "I loved that show so much!"

We talked about various aspects of the show for a while, including how we got hold of it (and why I chose to watch it, which was a whole thing to explain, let me tell you; I should have just said that I heard it was good). Eventually, I mentioned how great I thought the acting was. I said the actress who played Eun Chan did a fantastic job showing discomfort with femininity, using masculine body language, all of that.

She agreed, and said, "Watching that, I didn't think - I didn't think she was a girl, exactly. I know she was a girl, but I thought - you have to be one, of course, a boy or a girl, but I thought if you could be not a boy or a girl but a third thing, then that is what I would call her."

In short, even people who don't know the word genderqueer and affirmatively state that you have to be either a boy or a girl look at Eun Chan and decide she's not a girl pretending to be a boy, but rather a person being who she is. (I say she, by the way, because it's what she says. Or at least what the subtitles say she says.)

Or that's the impression I got from the first few episodes. I will be watching the whole thing - yes, I liked it that much - unless it turns out Eun Chan undergoes some kind of transformation into a beautiful swan because of the power of love or something, and then I will put my head down on my desk and cry.

So, yeah, that's the plot. There are these couples. They get together. The main couple has some tiny issues, in that the guy thinks the girl is, you know, a guy. And, okay, there's a lot of stuff about coffee and a coffee shop and some other supporting characters, but this is at heart a romance, and all of that is set dressing for the important task of getting the right lips on each other and having as many Key Emotional Sequences as possible. Fan fiction readers should understand this. (Because this is a good show, the set dressing is interesting. It's just - you know. The focus is on the couples.)

And, as I said, there are two of those couples. Let's talk a little more about them, shall we?

The Comedy Couple, Han Kyul/Eun Chan

HAN KYUL. Oh, man. Look, in my notes for this series I called him Jerkface, and trust me, he earns it. He's a smart rich kid who is totally in love with himself, and he's decided that his life will be easier and more fun if no one expects anything of him. Despite that, he has his noble moments, and just when you've decided what you most long for in the world is to see him get punched in the face, he'll do something that will remind you there's good stuff under the patina of asshole. In other words, I somehow ended up liking him while continuing to call him Jerkface. So, I mean - he's a jerk. I liked him anyway. There you go, the central problem of Coffee Prince.

EUN CHAN. She's a totally awesome mess, basically. She's uncouth! Unmannered! Clumsy! Disorganized! Constantly starving! She reminds me, on many occasions, of my younger nephew; she bounces off the walls, pokes at other people just to see what they do, says stuff without thinking, and breaks things. But she's also principled, moral, caring, and really fucking responsible. She's basically the inverse of Han Kyul; he has everything and refuses to try at all, and she has nothing but tries so hard all the time. At one point in the series, you get a look at her schedule. She has four hours blocked out for sleeping. The rest of the time she works and works and works, trying to take care of her mother and sister. And we've already gone into the gender thing, so I will just say: the actress OWNS this. All actresses everywhere who have to pretend to be a guy for a role: WATCH THIS SHOW.

So. These two people should be like watching a helicopter crash: flames and shrapnel everywhere, bystanders run for their lives. And the thing is, they kind of are. And yet they're wonderful together anyway.

Obviously, their main issue, at least at first, is that Han Kyul thinks Eun Chan is a guy, and, see, he's straight, and also he likes ladies, and what the fuck is with lusting after a guy? Whereas Eun Chan is frantically trying to keep all her plates in the air, and totally not be in love with Han Kyul, because he is not for her. This is, shall we say, not an unfamiliar dynamic for a slash reader. It's a joy to see this all done so well, and sort of weird to see it done with a het couple.

I'm not calling them the comedy couple, by the way, because they're comic relief; they have more Key Emotional Sequences than the other main couple, and definitely more than anyone else. Just. They are fun. That cannot be said of our next set.

The Tragedy Couple, Han Seong/Yoo Ju

HAN SEONG. Oh god his voice. I just want to say that here and now. Another reason this show is worth watching: Han Seong's voice. I want to listen to him talk all day long forever. This is a guy you would never want to work with, because you'd find yourself nodding in helpless agreement as he outlined his plans to set fire to the building. That's how good his voice is. As for the rest of him - he's Han Kyul's older cousin, and he's a successful music producer with a very adorable dog. He's also responsible and kind to Eun Chan. All these things made me want to love him.

YOO JU. She's an artist (a corporate one, judging by her paintings); she's very sweet and calm and seems to think before she speaks, which is a trait you don't usually see on television. She was with Han Seong for a long time, and then she left him for another guy, DK, and went to New York. Right before the start of the story, she broke up with DK and came back to Seoul. As the series begins, she's trying to rekindle her relationship with Han Seong. Han Kyul is also in love with her.

I liked Yoo Ju and Han Seong when they weren't with each other, and I loved Han Seong's voice, but after a while, I cringed every time we switched over to their storyline. These people bring the over-the-top angst in vats. Remember that time that you were in that totally serious, "oh my god we'll be together forever as soon as we're old enough to get driver's licenses" relationship? And then after four fabulous, incredible, soul-searing weeks it ended and you cried and cried and deleted all your poetry and cut your hair and wished it would rain so you could sit in the rain with your sorrow, like, why did you have to break up during the summer oh god your life is such totally fucking SHIT. Remember that? THAT IS WHAT THESE TWO ARE DOING. Except they are adults. Angst, whining, stupidity, and they own their own homes. It's not supposed to work that way. That shit is barely tolerable when you're 15, for fuck's sake.

A Note on Bodily Secretions

Anyone who has been assigned the bodily secretions square in Kink Bingo and wants to make a vid: Coffee Prince is the source for you. The producers of this show didn't really feel like they'd done their jobs until they had documented every single possible secretion on film. People poop and pee on camera (I am going to believe, for purposes of sanity, that they are acting); they barf pretty much on camera, and there is flirtatious nose picking, which I have to assume is one of those concepts that just doesn't cross the cultural barrier, because it is clearly supposed to be cute and instead makes me want to die.

So, fair warning: there are bodily secretions in this show. Far more than I want in my viewing experiences. I liked it anyway. See how I said this was the fundamental problem of Coffee Prince?

Episode 1

In other words: ALL THE COFFEE PRINCE DETAIL YOU COULD EVER NEED. If you need trigger warnings, please read the version of this with cut tags intact. I'm using nested cut tags for the one in this episode.

1: Everyone Says Hello and Then Something Horrible Happens )

2: There Are Inexplicable Gong Ringers, Velcro Ladies, and Excess Bodily Secretions )

3: Plot Complications Develop and Are Totally Overshadowed by the Discovery That Our Hero Is Made of Sparkles )

4: Eun Chan and Han Kyul Finally Get Together, and I Guess I Shouldn't Have Been Surprised about Where )

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thefourthvine: Two people fucking, rearview: sex is the universal fandom. (Default)
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