[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Melancholia" Episode 2
By William Schwartz | Published on
Teacher Ji has, through mild detective work, determined that Seung-yoo is the mystery student capable of grasping the premise of her non-intuitive mathematical questions. Over the course of this investigation, Teacher Ji learns that she isn't the first person to notice Seung-yoo's abilities. He was once a child math prodigy- but was declared a failure after flunking out of his prestigious program. Teacher Ji, to her credit, realizes that something must have happened with Seung-yoo beyond just a typical school problem.
"Melancholia" continues its meditations on what it means to be a good teacher. Teacher Ji respects Seung-yoo's boundaries and doesn't push too hard. Her caution is well-justified when Seung-yoo lashes out at her, paranoid that she's trying to surreptitiously get him back into math. The actual explanation behind Seung-yoo's frustration is much more ridiculous than he could possibly comprehend- apparently other employees of the school are spying on Teacher Ji for political reasons.
There are a lot of politics in "Melancholia" although this plot point is located almost entirely out of sight of Teacher Ji and Seung-yoo's story. Headmistress No, in her role as the leader of the school's administration, is constantly maneuvering between faculty and parents, assuring both that the school's brand is not in a state of depreciation. That description makes Headmistress No sound noble- but she treats every petty complaint with the utmost seriousness. Clearly Headmistress No herself has the same concerns.
It's from this backdrop that so much emphasis is put on the Math Olympiad, where Headmistress No wants to make a strong showing. Teacher Ji doesn't consider the Math Olympiad to be much of a priority. The exact reasoning is well-explained via her relationship with Seung-yoo. For Teacher Ji, mathematics is a quasi-religious experience, where she briefly loses her sense of self in pursuit of purely logical answers. Seung-yoo, for all his professed disinterest in math, clearly has the same interest.
We don't know much about Teacher Ji's exact background. The fact that her boyfriend Seong-jae (played by Choi Dae-hoon) is not a math person suggests that she was allowed to develop this interest naturally, and is emotionally healthy. Seung-yoo does not have this luxury, as is demonstrated by a disturbing home scene where he's physically abused by his own father for refusing to conceptualize mathematics as a form of social advancement. With neither Teacher Ji nor Seung-yoo running afoul of Chairwoman No, however, a more direct conflict about education being centered around credentialism rather than learning has yet to materialize.
Review by William Schwartz
"Melancholia" is directed by Kim Sang-hyeob, written by Kim Ji-woon-II, and features Lee Do-hyun, Lim Soo-jung, Choi Dae-hoon, Oh Kwang-rok, Jeon Guk-hyang, Han Ki-joong. Broadcasting information in Korea: 2021/11/10~Now airing, Wed, Thu 22:30 on tvN.
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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 email@example.com. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.