Coffee Prince: Anatomy of a Scene

In response to yesterday’s post about forced kisses and dubious consent in certain kdramas I’ve enjoyed watching and how they contribute to rape culture, I decided to revisit Coffee Prince. I referred to how the show reverses all the gender reversals it had portrayed during its earlier episodes. Malta reminded me that there was actually a forced kiss in that series, only it wasn’t portrayed as romantic in any senseIn fact, it is portrayed in the exact opposite manner, for what it really is: an invasion of personal space and a threatening and violent gesture that disregards a person’s consent and personal agency.

The scene comes at the end of episode 11, after Han Geul has confessed his feelings for Eun Chan, after he finds out that she’s a girl, making him feel deeply betrayed and hurt and angry that he had to go through the process of questioning his sexual orientation, only to find out that she’d been lying to him the entire time.

It takes place in this small, enclosed space, and after Sun Ki walks out in frustration, they are left alone to confront one another. Right from the start Han Geul is resentful and accusatory, telling Eun Chan that everyone’s on her side. Eun Chan is apologetic, saying that she’s sorry and that she should have told him the truth right from the start. Han Geul plays it cool, telling her to get her things and leave, but as he turns to leave, Eun Chan reaches to grab his arm—a classic kdrama move that is usually performed by the alpha leading male (see Me Too, Flower, Secret Garden, or anything else on kdramawristgrabs), and another gender reversal—and he’s the one to fling her hand away. She assents and doesn’t touch him again. In any of the dramas I just mentioned, when the heroine shoves the hero away, he doesn’t relent, he just grabs her again.

Now Han Geul faces Eun Chan and he starts questioning her, his voice rising with each question until he’s yelling at her, and as he yells he’s taking steps towards her. Eun Chan, meanwhile, starts to cry and is avoiding his gaze; his eyes are boring into her, but she looks at anything that isn’t him and has her head bowed. It’s important to note the height difference between these two (Gong Yoo is about 6’1/2” and Yoon Eun Hye is around 5’6”): as he approaches her he looks intimidating and he’s radiating hostility. He asks her if he ever meant anything to her at all, but really it’s a rhetorical question: Han Geul doesn’t actually want an answer right now, he isn’t looking for a conversation. He’s castigating her. For him these are his final words to her, this is his good riddance. So when he turns to leave he doesn’t expect her to speak up.

When she does attempt to defend herself, he cuts her off: he grabs her by the shoulders, drags her across the small room, slams her into the fridge, and forces a kiss onto her. The most important thing about this scene and how it is portrayed is that there is no music. That’s one of the main differences between this and so many other forced kisses. Usually at this point the couple’s theme or some ballad would come on, alerting the audience that something good is happening, but here all we have is Eun Chan’s whimper as she pushes him away from her—twice; she doesn’t struggle and then give in, she doesn’t just stand there, immobilized—and the loud thump her head makes when it hits the fridge when she’s finally able to get him to let her go.

Afterwards Han Geul wipes his mouth, as if he’d been doing something that disgusted him, and it’s clear that he was using the kiss as a weapon: he was expressly trying to hurt her and shame her and humiliate her by using violence. And something important happens in terms of direction: the camera stays on Eun Chan’s face for a few moments. We stay with her and register her reaction. She looks a wreck; you can tell that violence has been done to her and it’s heartbreaking and frightening.

But the best part of Coffee Prince, what sets it apart from most other dramas for me, is that it doesn’t just stop at showing a forced kiss for what it really is, it addresses the fact that Han Geul did this, and in episode 12, he apologizes to Eun Chan (“When I kissed you at the cafe and said it meant nothing, I did that to hurt you. It was because I was angry — but I absolutely didn’t mean it. I’m immature for not thinking of how hard it was on you. I’m sorry. I apologize. Forgive me.”) who forgives him.

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About ladida

lasagna enthusiast ♡✿

12 comments

  1. So glad that you wrote this post. I absolutely hate the way aggressive male behaviour/hegemonic masculinity is romanticized in Korean dramas, and in our culture as well. Kudos to Coffee Prince as well for exploring gender stereotypes and turning them on their head. I knew there was a reason this drama was so dear to my heart.

  2. I’ve watched Coffee Prince an insane number of times at this point, but your post has really made me see this scene in a new light. (In fact, I sort of wish you’d recap the whole drama—there’s nothing like insightful commentary to make you appreciate something anew.)

    I think the “ambush kiss” trope fits into the rape culture issue in general, too. The girls having nothing to say about Lee Min Ho suddenly leaping on them for a make-out session, as in *both* Personal Taste and City Hunter, and this is presented as the height of romance. The Gong Yoo kiss from Finding Destiny is particularly awful…he lifts the lead actress up and puts her on his lap like she’s an object, not a human being. Ick.

    • ladida

      Ooo, I remember the Finding Mr. Destiny kiss! I remember feeling uncomfortable because the difference in size between Gong Yoo and Lim Soo Jung was so great that it looked like he was making out with a child. And the ambush kiss–it’s not just that the guy jumps out and smacks one on the heroine, it’s also her reaction: usually she stands completely still with eyes wide open. Shows usually portray it as a romantic moment, but the only person actually involved in it is the guy. The girl is totally removed from it; he could be kissing a telephone post! It’s both an aspect of rape culture and something else. I don’t know what to call it, but it’s like this unwillingness to show the heroine’s desire past a certain point. She can pine for him from afar, but she can’t kiss him! That’s another great thing about Coffee Prince, Eun Chan was the one to initiate the sexual aspect of their romance.

      As for Personal Taste, that’s a show I’ve avoided ever since Malta mentioned some shenanigans about Lee Min Ho’s character being a father figure-cum-lover. 0_0

      • I think the “something else” here is a double standard about sexual desire—boys can want sex, but girls are allowed to want nothing more than platonic love. Look at the end of (my beloved) Sungkyunkwan Scandal: the male lead is all over the female lead, but she only grudgingly, eye-rollingly consents to sex. That’s one of the reasons why I liked I Need Romance so much. Even the “virgin” character is allowed to get all worked up at the sight of a boy’s appealing forearms, which inspire her to set off on a quest to lose her v card. (On the other hand, the show also includes a mixed-message forced hug. To me at least this hug actually worked as a romantic scene, but still.)

        And, of course, Coffee Prince is practically perfect on this front, too. Eun Chan is an innocent, but she ultimately instigates every level of her physical relationship with Han Gyul.

  3. Verónica

    This is probably one of the most intense scenes in a kdrama ever, perhaps in tv ever, and the thing is that Coffee Prince deliver quite a handful of this kind of raw, emotional scenes. No wonder why it remains a favorite for many of us, and will be a favorite for future fans as well. If only more dramas were this powerful and real inside its own fantasy!

  4. This makes me want to watch Coffee Prince again. It was my first k-drama show I watched, and still one of my favorites.

  5. ladida

    I just recognized another Coffee Prince gender reversal! Eun Chan’s scooter. I never thought anything of it while watching it, but now I see that it’s one of the things, along with her clothes, hair, and job, that identifies her as a man. Other men who have scooters: Tae In from Biscuit Teacher Star Candy, Chul Soo from What’s Up, Fox?, Jae Hee from Me Too Flower, Yong Shik from Queen of Reversals, Min Jae from The Woman Who Still Wants to Marry, Joon Soo from La Dolce Vita, and I’m sure there are others I’ve missed. I wonder, does Eun Chan start riding around in Han Geul’s car more once he recognizes her as a girl? Hmm… that’s something I should keep in mind in case I re-watch it.

    Eun Chan and her trusty scooter.

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  7. Rina Kitagawa

    I’m watching this kdrama these days and i find it very amazing and funny i like so much the actor Gong Yoo he’s really a great actor i liked him especialy in the drama Big with the lovely actress Lee min jung <3

  8. Jasmine

    No matter what, Coffee Prince is my No. 1 Kdrama! Full of emotions, love, fun and most of all family oriented.

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  10. artikel menarik , Afra

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