[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Melancholia" Episode 3
By William Schwartz | Published on
At Teacher Ji's encouragement, Seung-yoo makes a last minute appearance to try out for the Math Olympiad. Unknown to either of them, the test was rigged. Ye-rin was given an advanced copy of the exam. Unluckily for her, Seung-yoo is a genius who has no trouble acing the entire test. What's worse, because of his unique thought process, it's quite difficult to accuse Seung-yoo of cheating. The distinctive reasoning Seung-yoo uses doesn't derive from standard deductive means.
This particular attention to detail on Seung-yoo's part is the whole reason why Teacher Ji treats him as a math prodigy. Teacher Ji is also pretty much the only character capable of grasping the importance of Seung-yoo's thought process. Hence why the story of "Melancholia" takes on an increasingly dark subtext instead of just being a standard inspirational story. At one point Headmistress No even spells out her actual motivation, which has nothing to do with learning and everything to do with turning her school into a brand name comparable to Eton College.
The critique is a biting one in regards to South Korean educational culture, and the reference clever in part for its relative obscurity. South Koreans are better familiar with Ivy League schools such as Harvard or Yale that utilize a similar endowment structure, but enjoy a reputation for meritocracy. Eton College, by contrast, is more infamous for catering to the children of the powerful than actually producing quality graduates. Headmistress No feels no need to obfuscate her true motives when dealing with friends.
Teacher Ji is another matter. Headmistress No is quickly coming to see Teacher Ji as an annoyance who keeps interfering with her plans. The final act of this episode is remarkable in part for being so ridiculous. The incriminating picture of Teacher Ji and Seung-yoo is obviously photoshopped. Yet Teacher Ji has to arrive herself, in person, to dispute the charge. It's clearly implied that Headmistress No is smart enough to detect the lie. She simply doesn't care.
These ethics are as far as possible from Teacher Ji's own moral rigour. Note the setpiece where Teacher Ji justifies non-hierarchical placement for students in math classes based on individual interests and skill sets. This is exactly how learning should be structured. But the whole philosophy behind Teacher Ji's actions is entirely at odds with Headmistress No who sees math as a means of asserting dominance over other schools.
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.