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South Korea 2003

Romance, Drama, Comedy

Park Kwang-chun

Shin Min-ah
Jo In-seong
Park Jeong-ah
Kang Rae-yeon
Kim Su-ro
Kim Ho-jin

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Story: Bookworm Ji-suk (Jo In-seong) by accident meets his old schoolfellow Hee-jin (Shin Min-ah) at a barbershop. The two have a nice time together and Hee-jin even accompanies Ji-suk on his matutinally paper deliveries. Eventually, Hee-jin straightforwardly asks if Ji-suk wants to go out with her. Ji-suk is not a person who can easily decide such things and so Hee-jin makes the proposition that they could try out being a couple for a month and after this they go seperate paths again.
The first days of this month pass and it all seems to work out well, but the first problems already lie ahead. Successful singer Sung-hae (Park Jeong-ah), who Ji-suk secretly was fallen in love with when they were in the same class, reunites with her former classmates and Hee-jin has to find out, not without jealousy, that Sung-hae is also interested in Ji-suk.
Hee-jin herself has an even bigger problem, because her past with a former boyfriend catches up with her in an unpredictalbe way. At the same time the month slowly starts to reach its end...

Review: "Madeleine" cleverly wanders on the thin red line between a romantic drama and romantic comedy. Surprisingly serious and honestly presented, we are taken into the world of two individuals who seem to be right out of real life. We watch their unusual realationship evolve and doing so Park Kwang-chun's ("She is on Duty") work is relatively simple, yet provides us with multilayered characters and relationship evolvement. Naturally, as already mentioned one doesn't do so without the necessary humor, however, most of the time the jokes are more subtle and therefore a welcome change to the simpleminded humor of so many other Korea-comedies.

The film works mainly because of its female protagonist Hee-jin, who is, as she even tells us herself at some point in the movie, simple and does was she wants and likes. Nonetheless, she isn't the typical sassy girl, which has already become a stereotype of the female lead in Korean cinema, but instead charms us with her enormous charisma, her truthfulness, directness and an enterprising character that will win over any man. Shin Min-ah ("Volcano High", "Sad Movie") once again proves that she is a very promising young actress whose skills already surpass that of some of her colleagues!
Sadly, the movie is in strong need of her efforts, because Jo In-seong ("The Classic") at best gives a solid performance. As an actor Jo yet couldn't convince me in any film and his role in "Madeleine" unfortunately isn't any exception to the rule. Luckily, he isn't presented with an all too big challenge and as the shy guy who slowly has to find out that his feelings for Hee-jin are real he does an ok job.
Amazingly, Shin Min-ah manages on her own account that the chemistry between her and her boyfriend is just right at any time.

Not only Hee-jin's character is simple as she tells us, but the cinematography is as well. Nonetheless, it's this simplicity that contains an intangible magic, that imbues the movie with convincingness. Moreover, there are also some very nice pictures. Yet, there are at least as much art tricks used, which doesn't work out that well. When at the beginning Hee-jin and Ji-suk meet for the first time and the two break out into laughter, this scene is accompanied from the director by lots of freeze frames, which gives it a somewhat cheap look...
It's also the same with some too hackneyed scenes that you'll find in any Korean romantic comedy. There are insertions of mediocre computer-generated animations, handy messages are displayed above the heads of the protagonists and of course rain does also play an important part again. Especially the scene when Ji-suk takes his girlfriend to the hospital seems a bit overly dramatic and at the same time it is the prelude to a somehow cheap solution of a serious problem.

Besides all the criticism there has to be pointed out once more that "Madeleine" is above all else a surprisingly good working romantic drama that explores the ups and downs of a relationship. The story is at any time transparent, yet involves enough people, relationships and intertwined fates to keep you interested. You will never be bored and side characters like the female singer are even important to the movie's plot and keep things going forward.
There is even some subtle worldly wisdom inserted in the movie, which is some sort of bonus for the viewer and works quite well. In addition, there are also some very good efforts on the humorous level, which luckily doesn't stand out with a bright and shiny candy-like character.

There are lots of small things that make this film so worthwhile, e.g. the cook with whom Ji-suk meets in the early hours to take a morning break and with whom he also has an interesting conversation about madeleines (the biscuit), which gives us an explanation for the movie's title.
Apart from that there are lots of side characters, who all have their little stories and while telling them also help the main protagonists to grow in wisdom. So at the end it all adds up to a conclusive whole which is a rarity in romantic movies.
Furthermore, if you are a fan of alternative rock you will also be pleased by the film's soundtrack.

At the bottom line, "Madeleine" proves to be more than what we could have hoped for. An outstanding actress, interesting supporting characters and the credibility of the relationship portrayed with all of its facets make this movie a well done romantic drama, which also doesn't lack some humour. The movie on a subtle level conveys warmth and hope and even might convince people who normally dislike the genre.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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