You guys, this drama is amazing. Not amazing as in the best written ever, or even the best acted ever, or shout-it-from-the-rooftops amazing, but it is solidly enjoyable and addicting and warm and funny in the ways you want from all dramas and so rarely get it. The premise and structure of Madame Antoine reminds me a lot of a Hong Sisters drama in its unabashed, delightful silliness and ability to occasionally deliver a hilarious one-liner or recurring joke. Admittedly it’s not as funny as a Hong Sisters drama, but guh, my loves watch it.
Han Ye-Seul is a very uneven actress – middling in Tazza and Spy Myung Wol, good in Will It Snow for Christmas and Birth of a Beauty – but she’s also one of the rare actresses who has gradually but steadily improved her acting skills over the course of her career. That shines through in Madame Antoine – she’s downright good. She’s always been insanely beautiful with a natural screen presence, which is what buoyed her in early dramas, but now she’s got the pathos and comedy down, so she can shine immense hurt from her eyes while also pulling off drunk-girl-on-phone better than most Korean actresses.
Sung Joon, similarly, has been wooden in most dramas – the man is extremely attractive, but it’s been like watching a good-looking hunk of wood sulk around on set. But this drama made one thing clear – Sung Joon was never meant to play the brooding, morally gray characters he’s been so often cast as because of his brooding good looks – instead, his forte is comedy. His facial tics and characteristics are on pointe here, he’s dropped all that reserve and commits to incredibly exaggerrated facial expressions periodically, making me think that if he gets one more comedy under his belt, he may be good enough for a Hong Sisters drama ala Cha Seung Won in Greatest Love.
Go Hye Rim (Han Ye-Seul) is a successful fortune-teller who runs a cafe alongside her fortune-telling business so as to draw customers to her. Perceptive and clever, she’s adept at reading signs and clues about people’s lives and problems from their attire, body language, and behaviour, but presents herself to customers as being spiritually connected to the ghost of Marie Antoinette (in of the hilarious early moments, she admits to her sister that half the things she knows about the dead queen come from a manga about her rather than from factual history). She’s very romantic, and can I just say how refreshing it is to see a character in a film who’s genuinely an artistic type? Hye Rim dresses in warm, vivid, rich and offbeat colors, channeling a bohemian vibe, has decorated her apartment the same way, comes from an acting background, and likes art, plays, and artisan coffee.
The dead opposite of all this, except for being perceptive about people, is Choi Soo-Hyun (Sung Joon), a psychotherapist who moves his business into the top floor of Hye Rim’s building, right above the cafe. Emotionally reserved, highly logical, and results-driven, he is currently focused on a series of experiments meant to prove that love isn’t real, but can be manufactured. He is famous and highly-educated, but focused on carrying out these experiments, which he’s convinced will be the highlight of his career. When he sets up his treatment center on the top floor, he brings with him his two friends and pseudo-assistants, Choi Seung Chan (played by the always dreamy and delightful Jin Woon, the man is practically a frothy latte of perfection and sunshine), and young, socially challenged, brilliant Won Ji-Ho (Lee Joo-hyung, whom I’m not sure I’ve seen in anything before, and don’t particularly love).
Hye Rim and Soo-Hyun immediately clash, and then quickly warm up to each other, and then just as quickly clash again, and while they have some level of friendship for most of the drama so far, there’s a high level of distrust on Hye Rim’s part, and of emotional distance on Soo Hyun’s. Soo Hyun immediately gets Hye Rim involved in his experiment, without her knowledge, and most of the hijinks spring from that, though there’s also a steady line of other patients who rotate in and out, usually taking up about three episodes each.
Hye Rim is a lovely character because she has a very difficult background – she’s divorced and has worked hard for years to support herself and her child and to make enough money to put her daughter through school in the U.S. Early on the drama, she faces an incredibly difficult and realistic struggle related to her daughter, and giving her up, and Han Ye Seul captures so vividly the torment and heartbreak she goes through as a mother that it is literally impossible to not tear up. Heartwrenching and well-done.
It’s not a perfect drama – it’s a bit uneven, and the first episode is fun but so-so, but Han Ye Seul and Sung Joon are both bringing tons of comedic and dramatic depth to their roles, it’s fun and romantic and fast-paced, and I’m loving it so far. Watch it!