IL MARE (2000)
Novel and boasting exquisite long-shot cinematography, a pair can communicate through a mailbox while living in separate timelines two years apart
Romance films habitually depend on the onscreen chemistry of our lovers to make us care and invest in their quixotic fortunes. In Il Mare, our two potential love interests not only fail to share the screen, they are not even located in the same year.
That is where the film’s vast originality stems from, combing the fantasy sub-genre to great effect with a time-spanning tale.
The film is also a triumph of architectural beauty blended with stunning cinematography, pushing the lens back and allowing us a distance view of ‘Il Mare’ (‘The Sea’ in Italian), a beach house on stilts, that itself forms a vital cornerstone of the film’s success.
It is the house’s mailbox which provides the portal for communication. Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun – My Sassy Girl, Windstuck) is moving out of this exposed yet remote beach house. As she leaves, a note is placed in the mailbox to ask the next inhabitant to forward any mail to her.
She heads into the city ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations to welcome in 2000 and in her wake we see Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-jae – The Housemaid, New World) move in and pick up the letter.
Sung-hyun is confused by the letter, not just because it is dated 1999 and he knows it to be 1997, but because he is the first ever inhabitant of the house designed by a family member.
The pair then realise they can communication from timelines two years apart through the mailbox and a pen-pal relationship with undertones of more begins.
While the film is about their love and potential relationship, it is also about loneliness and a modern view of solitude. Eun-joo experiences it in the bustle of the city, but tucked away in her own apartment. For Sung-hyun, the beach house at times feels like it is on the edge of the earth. A seaward view offers a look into the wave-bashed horizon, but his evenings are spent alone. Only Cola, the too-cute house dog, keeps both of them company across these time pockets.
The film does become overly knotty as it attempts to straighten-out the difficult process of having two protagonists operating in separate timelines. Those well-versed in Korean romance films will also recognise the softly-lit melodrama of the film, but that will likely jar with some international audiences, especially if they have found their way to Il Mare via its US remake The Lake House.
The pedants and realists will probably implore the pair to exchange lottery numbers and best-selling book plots, but this is a romance film. The irrationality of love is the prize here.
The simplicity of the romance genre – traditionally girl-meets-boy or more progressively two love interests meet – is taken in fresh and interesting directions here. Il Mare has secured itself a cult following, helped by having two affable stars in Jun Ji-hyun and Lee Jung-jae. Decades later it still provides an innovative, time-scrambled take on the romance trope.