Il Mare – 시월애
Director: Lee Hyeon-Seung
Cast: Jeon Ji-Hyeon (전지현) and Lee Jeong-Jae (이정재)
Lee Hyeon-Seung adds to Korea’s ever-growing stock of romantic dramas with Il Mare, starring superstar Jeon Ji-Hyeon in a love story between two people living in different times who communicate through a magical mail box. Seriously. Remade in 2006 as The Lake House with Keanu Reeves and Sandra “Where the hell is she now” Bullock, the original succeeds thanks to its subtle nature and grabbing ending. The actors play their parts well, but perhaps the film’s biggest strength is its fresh take on a stale genre in addition to the stellar art direction for the house by the sea itself.
Jeon Ji-Hyeon is Eun-Joo, a voice actress for cartoons who is moving out of Il Mare (the name of the house itself) to a new apartment. Upon leaving, she places a letter in the mailbox asking the next resident to forward her mail. Receiving her letter, construction worker and aspiring architect Seong-Hyeon finds it all a bit strange… considering the letter is dated two years in the future and he is the first resident in Il Mare. Confusion and skepticism naturally set in, but Eun-Joo and Seong-Hyeon soon come to realize that they are indeed separated by time and that the mailbox is somehow allowing them to send not only letters to one another, but also objects – basically anything that can fit in the small space. The time shifts have prompted many a discussion as to how they could actually meet given certain events in the film, but such a line of questioning is essentially irrelevant. As with any film that deals with time travel of any kind, you have to accept the film’s logic. In Il Mare, Eun-Joo and Seong-Hyeon plan to meet in two years time, a long wait for him but a short one for her, at a seaside locale. When Eun-Joo arrives, she finds a construction crew at work on a beautiful new house, but no Seong-Hyeon. From here, the film shifts gears into Korean melodrama mode as they try to figure out what would keep Seong-Hyeon from meeting her. It’s a bit stale and unoriginal (in terms of the dramatic presentation), but it actually leads to a surprising and very open ending which cancels out some of the aforementioned stale melodrama. Plus, the film presents a nice, playful tone for much of its running time without getting desperate for laughs and tears. The scene where the two leads discover just what is possible with the mailbox is a great example of this. Take a look:
Unfortunately, toward the end of the film, this playful tone gives way to melodrama… these heavy-handed emotions that crop up in everything Korean from raunchy sex comedies to action films. Not that emotions are bad, but it would be nice to see actors express themselves in ways that better serve the story rather than pander to a certain audience demographic. But, as this is a love story (just look at the above image), familiar trappings are to be had, and the motifs, characters, and conflicts will be very familiar to anyone who has seen even a few romantic comedies/dramas. Were it not for the magical mailbox, an admittedly silly concept that works, the film would be no different than the movie of the week on the Hallmark Channel. The film is thankfully saved in part because of the mailbox, which allows for some clever editing as the two leads go on dates. As they obviously cannot be in the same place at the same point on the space time continuum, they go to each other’s favorite places at the same time in their respective times, with instructions from the other on how to have a good time. Confusing, I know, but it makes sense when you see it. For example, Eun-Joo tells Seong-Hyeon to go to her favorite theme park, have a beer, and go on certain rides while she does the same in her own time. Crosscutting, which is normally used to cut between two different lines of action, is here used as a link between the two leads who are shown in the same place, on the same rides, but at different points in time.
Also helping to set Il Mare apart from other love stories is the art direction for the house. Its unique design set against the bleak landscape is a fitting visual metaphor for the way in which director Lee approaches this story of wonder within the bounds of what is, for the most part, a still very stale genre. It may not seem like it plays a noticeable part, but its presence looms over the entire film as though the physical space which it occupies attracts Eun-Joo and Seong-Hyeon, working more to facilitate their meeting more than the film’s genre trappings. This leads to a very satisfying conclusion which, without spoiling the ending, is not what you would expect for a love story from Korea.