Il Mare (2000) 시월애

South Korea
Theme: Romance
Runtime: 105 minutes
Director: Lee Hyun-Seung
Starring: Gianna Jun Ji-hyun, Lee Jung-jae

Ratings: IMDB: 7.7/10
Film Festivals: NIL
Awards: NIL
Nominated: NIL

Il Mare is the Italian translation of “The Sea” and otherwise title of this 2000 Korean romance (melo)drama that incidentally occurs by a body of water that constitutes more of a lake than a sea. I’m no geographic expert, of course, but the otherwise misnomer is rescued as it is the namesake of the house that takes centerstage in this story. The film’s unique feature is definitely the fact that it was subsequently picked up by Warner Brothers and remade into (a relatively thrashy) 2006 Hollywood feature The Lake House that starred Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves. Or, maybe it was just poor casting on Hollywood’s part.

One can only trust the Koreans to come up with such a romance storyline that is simple yet able to vividly capture the hearts and imaginations of many worldwide. Sung-hyun (Lee jung-hae) and Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun) are occupants of Il Mare, albeit two years apart from each other. Their mysterious connection, being a magical mailbox that traverses time and delivers correspondence between the two characters, the former in 1998 and the latter in 2000. The characters transcend the typical story arc of disbelief to marvel, as the power of words manifests itself in a relationship with the two protagonists falling head over heels for each other, albeit without having even met each other once and in spite of the time lapse. Suddenly, Eun-joo is the “one” and the girl of Sung-hyun’s dreams – though the time lapse means he could only admire her from afar for the time period before she even hears about him.

But the story development is smart and succinct, and manages to traverse any logical loopholes that may happen with ease right down to the final frame. Yes, even science fiction aficionados are not alienated as science fiction clichés that two selves cannot occur within the same parallel universe are addressed. They wonder what happened to Cola, who “cannot be at two places at the same time”, through scientific images. But at the end we realize their science fiction notion [29:01] holds true in a fairly straightforward, albeit ironic ending that leaves the audience is left to think and mull over how it will all work out in the end.

Director Lee uses parallel timing structures in his editing, with sequences moving chronologically in both the 1998 and 2000 eras, both of which alternating between one another as the characters develop and gradually progress through their respective story arc. This parallel editing method is most evident in two instances – first of the two characters as they rush to the mailbox each day to retrieve their mail, and second of the two characters after they begin “dating”, when each of them engages in activities that the other propose they do in their letter. The 2000 Eun-joo suggests the 1998 Sung-hyun visit the amusement park and he does, while the latter suggest she visit a countryside pub where he left a bottle fo wine for her. For the pub scene, the initial scene at 1:02:15 cuts away to the next at 1:02:26; and the use of the same hue tones indicate the creation of an identical plane of space, as both characters feel the warmth of their actions/connection.

The sole link between them is the mailbox, and he opts for different tints in his representation of the mailbox that signifies different stages of the relationship. This is the clearest when the starting and ending scenes are compared with each other. We still see Eun-joo sitting at her porch penning a Christmas card, and the mise-en-scene of the frame that follows in the subsequent scene is absolutely identical, with the sole exception of the colors of the scene. For a case in point, the following two shots at 02:14 (the start of the movie, before the magic of the mailbox unfolded) and 1:32:48 (the end of the movie, after the mailbox had done its job), are worth comparing.

Yet another common directorial feature in Il Mare is the frequent of shaky close-up shots, especially when the characters undergo emotional turmoils, guilt or breakdowns due to the nature of their relationship. This technique works exceptionally in this movie, especially when transposed with shots of the picturesque house by the lake that creates a stark contrast.

Dialogue is atypical of a Korean romance film, with philosophical (and relatively mushy) lines such as:

  • “There are three things people can’t hide – coughing, poverty and love. The more you try to hide them the more they rise to the surface.”
  • “Love is a self-inflicted pain. I hope you’ll find peace within you.“

Il Mare may be overshadowed by subsequent, more high-profile Korean romance features such as My Sassy Girl (2001) that further cemented the country’s reputation for its romance dramas. The next high-profile marriage of time travel with a love story will perhaps only be seen in Audrey Niffenegger’s 2003 novel The Time Traveller’s Wife, which also spurned a Hollywood adaptation in the form of the 2009 movie of the same name.