Madeleine (2003) was one of my first Korean movies and I had approached it with some wariness because of Jo In-sung. My first and lingering impressions of him were from Piano, which I had watched bits of, and all I remembered were his bland acting and unusually red lips. (In Madeleine his lips aren’t red but orange. Orange lips and yellow hair… You can’t get a sunnier combination than that!) But I liked Shin Mina in her debut drama Beautiful Days and was eager to watch her again.
Hee-jin (Shin Mina) and Ji-suk (Jo In-sung) are former classmates who bump into each other about seven years after graduating from high school. She is now a hairstylist while he is a quiet and bookish university student. The two friends hit it off immediately and she suggests a one-month romance. If they fall in love with each other during that one month, great. If they don’t, they will part ways gaily. Before the one month is up, however, they can’t break off with each other. The plan sounds childish but is exactly the sort of thing that bubbly live-in-the-moment Hee-jin will think up. Not one to disagree, Ji-suk plays along.
The story is of course more complicated than the above synopsis suggests. For one thing, Hee-jin isn’t really as carefree as we think. Underneath that cheerful demeanor is a secret that cannot remain hidden for long. Likewise Ji-suk has an important decision to make as part of his past makes a reappearance. A coming-of-age movie with a lovely soundtrack, Madeleine makes you think about life and its crossroads.
Despite her youth and inexperience, Shin Mina was a revelation in Beautiful Days because her acting was so assured and natural. She did not disappoint again in Madeleine. In the first half of the movie, her Hee-jin is this lively girl who loves computer gaming, walking in the sun, and getting wet under the rain. But something happens in the second half of the movie that makes her frightened and sad. I thought Shin Mina portrayed Hee-jin’s contrasting emotions admirably. When she cried, she really cried. You had to have a heart of stone not to cry along with her.
Although he did not have a wide range of expressions, I thought Jo In-sung did a decent job. In fact, I was rather smitten with him, albeit for the briefest of spells, because of the movie. Even with his really weird yellow hair, his Ji-suk is very sweet and likable. (Since Jo In-sung had a tendency to underact early in his career, the laid-back and contemplative Ji-suk role was perfect for him.) He’s good boyfriend material and just really all-round gentle and sensitive.
Back in 2004 when I watched Madeleine, I paid scant attention to the actor who played Hee-jin’s ex-boyfriend. The character was a first-class jerk and my viewing sensibilities weren’t as “refined” then to like K-villains (I know better now, ha!).
Then, in December 2008, I discovered Ha Jung-woo and was stunned to learn that he made his debut in Madeleine. He did? As which character? So this newly-minted fan took the movie out of its out-of-sight-out-of-mind storage. I fast-forwarded through the movie and watched only the scenes that mattered (this was a very focused watch indeed, haha). Ah, even back then you could tell this was an actor who was going to go places. He acted his part so well you just wanted to clobber his character!