The last couple of years have seen Philippine networks, always bastions of originality, increasingly adapt Korean and Mexican soap operas for local audiences to mixed results.
GMA’s Coffee Prince is the latest in that long line.
Based on the 2007 MBC Korean drama, Coffee Prince follows Andrea “Andy” Gomez (Kris Bernal) as she tries to help her family pay off their huge debts by pretending to be the gay lover of food conglomerate heir Arthur Ochoa (Aljur Abrenica).
Andy may have a tomboyish personality, but as the eldest daughter, takes it upon herself to provide for her family after the death of their father, taking over his tricycle route and taking odd jobs like delivering water or food orders. At first, she gets no respect from the other tricycle drivers since she’s a girl. So she decides to chop off her hair and embrace her masculine side, showing the others she’s just as tough if not more so than they are. This is all while she remains very much in touch with her feminine side.
Andy may be a tomboy, but she’s still very much a girl as illustrated by her kilig-inducing crush of Errol, Arthur’s brother (Benjamin Alves). But it is Arthur who she runs into the most.
Fed up with his grandmother’s nagging for him to get married, specifically to the granddaughter of her amiga and potential business partner, Arthur comes up with a plan to have Andy (whom he believes to be a guy) pretend to be his boyfriend, hoping to get Mamita off his back. Pilot week ends with Andy and Arthur just finalizing their arrangement.
Coffee Prince is very much a romantic comedy. Having only seen the first few episodes of the Korean original, I can see this Filipino version directed by veteran Ricky Davao has already injected a lot of originality and more importantly, Pinoy flavor that helps set the two apart.
The Korean original jumps right into the action, while this version takes a more gradual approach that aims to explain the situation a little more. Admittedly, I’ve seen a few Korean mistaken-gender dramas already that begin with the audience needing to readily accept that our heroine is mannish with no clear context that helps the establishing first episode make sense.
Coffee Prince Philippines begins by establishing (through a very Pinoy barangay beauty pageant) that Andy, while very much a girl at heart, acts and sometimes looks like a boy. We then see how and why she decides to go all out by cutting her hair and embracing her rougher side.
The writing for the first five episodes wasn’t as smooth as it could’ve been, but Kris Bernal’s performance as Andy elevates what is otherwise steady material, though sloppily executed. Kris Bernal has the talent and the charm to make Andy a believable and rootable character instead of being merely a one-note cartoon caricature.
Her already proven chemistry with Aljur Abrenica also helps. The familiarity is there, but so is the kilig.
Since Abrenica isn’t yet at a level where he can effectively tackle heavy dramatic roles, Coffee Prince‘s lighter, comedic material allows him to loosen up and embrace the role of Errol as somewhat of a stubborn, spoiled brat who is more concerned with getting his brother’s ex-girlfriend to fall in love with him than inheriting the family business.
The first week was all comedy with touches of heart, care of Andy and her family. Kris Bernal and Ricky Davao as Andy’s father served up effective scenes that helped establish Andy’s position as the family’s breadwinner. While Tessie Tomas, a veteran of Philippine comedy, is perfect as Andy’s mother showcasing her talents for everything from slapstick to over-the-top exasperations to touching motherly moments.
Definitely a lot more overt in its comedic aspirations than the Korean original, Coffee Prince Philippines hit more than it missed in its first week. Though frantic at times, the week was overall fun, many times hilarious, but thoroughly charming and entertaining. It certainly sets itself apart from its heavier contemporaries.
So while not without its flaws, Kris Bernal’s charming performance helps elevate Coffee Prince to be an ultimately worthwhile half hour of cute, easy fun.