Soo-hyeon (played by Sung Joon) is a psychologist with an appallingly bad attitude. His scientific experiments are highly unethical, and to what end? So he can prove that love isn't real. Enter Hye-rim (played by Han Ye-seul), a fortuneteller who rather transparently uses cold reads to scam anyone who walks into her parlor. Yet Hye-rim is consistently able to make her patrons feel good about themselves- a fact which Soo-hyeon finds offensive, since the whole point of psychology is to make people appreciate their own depressed miserable existence.
"Madame Antoine" lays out its premise very efficiently. By the end of the episode Soo-hyeon and Hye-rim have been pushed into an antagonistic business relationship. Soo-hyeon is already scheming to try and find some way to use science to destroy Hye-rim's soul, because he's offended by their first confrontation where the obviously untrained Soo-hyeon managed to land some decent psychological punches at his backstory. Sung Joon is such an imminently compelling antagonist I keep having to double-back and remind myself that somehow Soo-hyeon is going to have to become the leading man for a romantic comedy.
Goodness knows there are plenty of great background elements to work with. Han Ye-seul demonstrates some surprisingly good spoken French. It's not perfect, but Hye-rim does strike me as the kind of woman who would practice her basic French expressions a lot just for the sake of method acting. And then, of course, there's the obvious irony of how Hye-rim the scam artist is indisputably a better person ethically than Soo-hyeon, the Stanford graduate in good standing.
The psychoanalytical aspect to "Madame Antoine" is especially interesting because of this cynical edge. Writer Hong Jin-ah has obviously done lots of research on psychology, yet "Madame Antoine" doesn't throw its weighty sounding academic material around in an effort to sound smart. To the contrary, the way Soo-hyeon always acts like a smug elitist is one of his more irritating qualities. He throws out interesting ideas and then refuses to explain them out of sheer dedication to jerkishness.
While there have been a lot of Korean dramas dealing with psychology lately, the opening episode "Madame Antoine" stands out for having an usually well synthesized premise. Soo-hyeon and Hye-rim have wildly different life philosophies with no apparent visible middle ground, and every single possible client represents a potential war between their worldviews. It also helps that the jokes are funny- no easy feat given the script's tendency to deal with weighty matters of life and death. All in all, this is a pretty strong start.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Madame Antoine" Episode 1"
by HanCinema is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
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