English Title: Il Mare
Original Title: Siworae
Country: South Korea
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Drama
Director: Hyun-seung Lee
Music: Hyeon-Cheol Kim
Cinematography: Kyung-pyo Hong
Spawning a Hollywood remake 6 years later, THE LAKE HOUSE (2006), a star vehicle for Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock, IL MARE is an emblem of the “pure romance” sub-genre from Eastern Asia, typically in Japan and South Korea around millennium, aiming to the incorrigible romantics, whereas love transmits in its most unpolluted form between two beautiful-looking youngsters, a form eclipses puppy love among adolescents, and imbues a more substantial connection of limerence between two people. In this case, what makes IL MARE a critical standout is its inventive concept to present “time” itself as an unlikely obstacle between two lonely souls Sung-hyun (Lee) and Eun-ju (Jun).
The fantasy premise is that, through a magical mailbox, Sung-hyun, a young architect in 1997, receives a letter from Eun-jun from 1999, who has just left the beach house, aka, Il Mare, which Sung-hyun stays now, and moved into a new apartment in town. The house is a gift from Sung-hyun’s estranged father, and he is its first occupant, so clearly, he receives Eun-jun’s letter from a nearer future, 2 years later exactly speaking.
This uncanny communication enlivens both Sung-hyun and Eun-ju’s lonesome existences, they exchange their stories, both have experienced a recent breakup, with some not-so-serious time-altering happenstances (e.g. collect a lost Walkman in 1998 and send it back to 2000) to bring about their mutual affections. Guaranteed a slow pace with an intrusive deploy of soft-focus aesthetic (if not a bit televisionary) to fabricate a dreamlike co-exsistence of how perfect they are made for each other, experience their pastimes in two paralleled universes, separately but vicariously accompanied by each other, Lee Hyun-seung’s fairytale regrettably slumps into a cloying one-trick pony after the midstream, when the novelty runs dry, and some default plot-holes emerge.
One might wonder, since Sung-hyun can regularly meet an unwitting Eun-ju in 1998, why he chooses not to get to know her in person, using the Walkman as a silence-breaker for instance. No, he would rather communicate with a future version of her and laments in his time-line, that the present version only reckons him like a stranger, but in fact, he is a total stranger to her, what does he expect? A more nagging resistance is that, it never occurs to Eun-ju that she should look for Sung-hyun in 2000, not until the moment arrives solely for the convenience of a major plot device, which is narrowly plausible but too conniving to consummate a satisfactory crescendo.
The two leads are not given too much to act since the narrations of their letters take a big chunk of the story, and most of time, they are acting against themselves under a veneer of affected pretty-people-entrapped-in-the-loneliness narcissism with schmaltzy songs in the background, although Jun Ji-hyuan exhibits a tinge of sophistication at a rather young age of 18, augurs her soon-to-be-acquired mega-star popularity not just in her motherland.