A great number of TV and film stars also owe their current popularity to the success of TV dramas. This page is devoted to providing some subjective reviews of the better-known dramas.
For more comprehensive English-language websites on TV dramas, visit Soompi. I loved Ruler of Your Own World, but it was darker, more serious, more dramatic. Coffee Prince is pure fun, and its popularity shows that many Koreans agree with me.
The premise is that Go Eun Chan Yoon Eun-hye, Palace , by default the head of her family after her father died when she was 16, is often mistaken for a boy. She wears her hair fairly short, dresses ambiguously, knows Tae Kwon Do, does delivery work, and eats like a horse. He hires Eun Chan, whom he takes for male, to pretend to be his gay lover.
Behaving outrageously in various hotel lobbies, the two scare off all the women his grandmother sends him. Grandmother then raises the stakes. If Han Gyeol won't marry or go to work for the family company, he'll have to support himself; she takes away his care and gives him notice of eviction for his expensive rooftop apartment before he agrees to manage Coffee Prince, a rundown coffee shop in a student district, and increase its profits.
Eun Chan wheedles him into hiring "him," and before long they find themselves powerfully drawn to each other. His interest in a cute boy understandably disturbs Han Gyeol, who reacts as if he were a closeted gay man: Why is Han Gyeol so reluctant to marry? Several online articles I've seen describe him as a "playboy," but he's never shown dating women. As the series begins, Yoo Joo has just returned from a long stay in New York, where she was involved professionally and romantically with a man called DK.
Now she's back and wants to start over with Han Seong, who reasonably enough doesn't quite trust her. But she's not in love with Han Gyeol either. As usual in a series, Coffee Prince includes a constellation of secondary characters, ranging from Eun Chan's feckless mother Park Won-sook, Tomato and the wacky butcher, Mr. Han Gyeol's old friend Chin Ha Rim Kim Dong-wook , who fancies himself a ladies' man but also seems interested in Eun Chan; the hunky but slow Hwang Min Yeop Lee Eon, who tragically died in a motorcycle accident in , who's in love with Eun Chan's sister and pursues her doggedly despite her best efforts to drive him away; the mysterious Master of Waffles No Jeon Ki Kim Jae-wook , who keeps muttering in Japanese; and Manager Hong, the slovenly manager of the shop, whom Grandmother keeps on as co-manager to keep Han Gyeol on his toes.
Writers Lee Jeong-ah and Jang Hyeon-joo keep things steaming along entertainingly, and for the most part they keep the comedy in character, without much of the pointless slapstick or asides that disrupt some comedy-dramas.
I'm also forever grateful that they never resort to a car or other accident to engender a crisis and permit tearful reconciliations and confessions, as in so many dramas. Some early plot points, like Eun Chan's supersensitive nose for smells, are introduced early on and then forgotten; on first meeting Eun Chan, Ha Rim calls "him" My Chan and exclaims over "his" cuteness, but after a few episodes he's chasing after young women and trying to give Eun Chan advice on handling the babes.
The story doesn't really come together until Han Gyeol and Eun Chan begin to fall in love. Most writers would, I think, have let Han Gyeol know that Eun Chan was a girl after no more than one episode of homosexual panic, but Lee and Jang stretch it over several episodes, and make Han Gyeol's anxiety wholly convincing. He sees a clueless old doctor, who gives him medicine to cure him of his tendencies.
So stop seducing me. She refuses his evasion at first, then gives in. In voice over, each then tells us that even if it only means being a brother, he won't have to leave the other's side. But still Han Gyeol runs hot and cold, firing Eun Chan and then running to get "him" back. Han Gyeol tells Eun Chan a major family secret. Sitting behind him, where he can't see her, she stretches out her hands and mimes embracing him, comforting him, because she doesn't dare to touch him.
Yoon puts immense longing into that gesture. As more and more of the other characters are let in on the secret of Eun Chan's real sex, the tension builds. It's helped a lot by the wonderful chemistry between the leads, who are wholly convincing as new lovers delighted with each other. Gong Yoo resembles a younger Ju Jin-mo Musa, Happy Ending , and he actually seems to grow up during the series, from a pretty but shallow young man to a strong but gentle adult.
There's one lovely scene where Han Gyeol visits his grandmother, who's seriously ill and looks it. They bicker pleasurably, and I realized that Eun Chan is a younger version of Granny. Then Han Gyeol climbs into her bed and pillows her head on his arm, saying that no man had done that since Grandfather. Yoon Eun-hye has a hard job. Typically in cross-dressing roles, the deception is not allowed to be too convincing: Nor will be a performer be hired who looks the part too well.
Yoon Eun-hye says she studied men's movements and body language, but maybe the director toned her down. She never quite persuaded me that women would chase her out of a women's sauna when she tried to make a good delivery, but she does have an androgynous charm and earnestness that makes her lovable.
And after her femme makeover in episode 5, Go Eun Chan looks like a drag queen. She actually looks more like a boy when she's wearing a dress and full makeup than she does in trousers and t-shirt. It doesn't really matter, though, because Coffee Prince Number One is a romantic fantasy, not a realistic story. It works very well on that level. Best of all, from my point of view, is that the story has no villain, and even the most foolish characters aren't clowns but believable people with reasons for their folly.
The characters vary somewhat in their likability, but all are good at heart, even the unreliable Yoo Joo. As the literary critic Marvin Mudrick once said, nothing in life or literature is more interesting and exciting than goodness.
Produced by Lee Yoon Jung. Official website in Korean: Episodes can be downloaded for a fee here. Mine has been getting in too many Korean TV dramas, old and new, for me to keep up with. Fearing the hostility Koreans feel for people with HIV, she keeps the nature of Spring's illness even from her, while drilling her strictly in how to deal with injuries so as not to put anyone else at risk.
Youngshin dreams about Choi Seok-hyeon Shin Sung-rok , a handsome and popular young man she knew in high school, who went to the mainland to study and has become quite successful, acquiring a classy fiancee on the way. Seok-hyeon's mother looks down on Young-shin, Spring, and just about everyone else on the island, but Seok-hyeon seems to feel an obscure guilty connection to Youngshin, and is kind to her even when his mother is behaving obnoxiously. It soon becomes obvious that Seok-hyeon and Youngshin have a shared past of some sort.
Jang Hyuk, in his first TV role since he completed his military service, plays Doctor Ki-suh, a highly competent but personally intolerable surgeon. Ki-suh is probably the most dislikeable character who's not supposed to be a villain that I've encountered in TV dramas yet: His career suffered slightly when his father - also a doctor - had to give up his practice in a malpractice scandal, but that doesn't seem enough to explain his unsympathetic behavior.
Ki-suh's fiancee, Cha Ji-min, is also a doctor, working in a rural clinic. When Ki-suh learns that she has pancreatic cancer, he drives to her clinic to abuse her verbally and physically until she agrees to let him operate on her, even though she knows it's hopeless.
He takes her illness as a personal affront to himself, rather than consider her suffering. Korean women should really be taught martial arts; a quick chop to Ki-suh's neck would have eased Ji-min's remaining days enormously. Ji-min has a guilty secret of her own: When even Ki-suh has to admit that Ji-min is dying, they travel together to Pureun Island so Ji-min can try to find Spring and apologize to her.
She fails, but just before she dies Ji-min makes Ki-suh promise to carry out this mission for her. After she dies, Ki-suh sits outside the temple where her funeral is taking place.
He won't go in because he's a Christian, which he demonstrates by being hateful to a young monk. The monk, who's about 10, responds by quoting Ecclesiastes at him, and blesses him in the name of the Buddha. It turns out that Seok-hyeon is working for Ki-Suh's tycoon mother. When Ki-suh loses his job at the hospital for beating up the abusive and adulterous husband of a dying patient, President Kang sends him with Seok-hyeon to Pureun to survey its potential for redevelopment as a resort.
Ki-suh boards with Young-shin and her family, unaware that the little girl is the one Ji-min charged him to seek out. Hiding his secret identity as a big-time doctor from Seoul, Ki-suh soon establishes himself as a mysterious Superdoctor who saves people that the bumbling local doctor can't.
Soon both Ki-suh and Seok-hyeon notice something odd about Spring, how she refuses help when she gets a bloody nose, and the secret of her infection becomes harder and harder to keep. What will happen if the islanders learn that Spring has HIV? Ki-suh, drawn to Young-shin, can't bring himself to give her Ji-min's message. Seok-hyeon, also drawn to Young-shin, has to contend with his mother's dislike for her and Spring, and wonders about another pressing question: As usual with Korean TV dramas, Thank You has too many characters and subplots to summarize in a short review, but the outline above will give you an idea of what's going on.
I'm of at least two minds about it, and wouldn't rank Thank You with my favorite dramas. The cast are all good, except possibly for Jang Hyuk, who I haven't seen before. Here he has a very limited range of facial expressions: He generally wears beard stubble on his chin, to signify that he's sophisticated and troubled.
Too much of the series is taken up with Ki-suh's tantrums, and he hasn't changed much by the end; I'm not sure any actor could have done much with the role. Gong Hyo-jin is warm, solid, and likeable as Youngshin; Shin Sung-rok is handsome but a bit dull as Seok-hyeon. Seo Shin-ae is appealing as Spring, though she's forced to be the typical smart-aleck kid.
Unfortunately that concern often gets lost amid the soap opera, especially since the adults feel that they must lie to Spring about her condition and prospects, even after she learns about her condition and needs them to tell her the truth.
Written by Lee Kyung Hee. Produced by Lee Jae Dong. Palace , MBC miniseries Imagine being a happy-go-lucky high school student and finding out one day that your commoner grandfather and the King of the country had made a pact that you would marry the Crown Prince. This is Chae-kyung's predicament as she is quickly thrust into a royal marriage to a complete stranger.
Oh, and did I mention that Korea is a country that doesn't even have a monarchy in the real world? For some, it's a true alternate reality Cinderella story, but for Chae-kyung, her Prince, named Shin, turns out to be mean and selfish with little intent of breaking up with his previous girlfriend and every intention of divorcing her in a couple years.
He is the true Prince Charming, a kind and understanding soul who quickly falls in love with her his cousin-in-law. Complicating the situation is the fact that prince Yool used to be the Crown Prince and she was originally betrothed to him.
And as it turns out, the parents of the Princes have a complicated past and love triangles all their own. Sound like a soap opera?