January 28, 2015

Gabi: Russian Coffee: A Half-Empty Cup

One man sees coffee as love.
Another man sees coffee as the dream of an Empire.

I like a cuppa joe as much as the next guy but Chang Youn-hyun's historical thriller Gabi: Russian Coffee imbues the beverage with a potency that staggers the mind. Evidently, coffee can make you fall madly in love, it can save you from being murdered, it can get you insider access to a paranoid king, and it can inspire that same king to build a cafe in your dead father's honor as a way to restore status to the family name. I always thought it was enough that coffee could help you stay awake. Boy, was I wrong.

Tanya (Kim So-yeon), the court barista, knows better than me, too. She knows that the coffee-making method taught to her by her lover Illych (Ju Jin-mo) produces a brew capable of seducing — by way of its floral scent and bitter taste — the currently in-hiding Emperor (Park Hee-soon) of Korea. Furthermore, she knows which type of cup to use, how to fold a filter, and the right way to pour. She also enjoys the philosophical small talk that can make sipping the hot beverage so enjoyable for master and servant alike.

What she doesn't know, or at least hasn't yet to come to learn, is that you don't assassinate someone just to save your own skin. And you can't trust your torturers, especially when one of them — a fellow spy (Yoo Sun) — is also in love with your self-sacrificing boyfriend. Perhaps too much caffeine has clouded her judgment.

As such, Gabi: Russian Coffee is a silly movie. You can understand why actress Lee Da-hae dropped out of the production less than two weeks before the shoot began. She must have read the script and thought, "Hell, I'd rather be a barista."

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