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 sense. In 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.