Nicholas Sparks once said that there is a huge difference between a romantic story and a love story. A romantic story has the purpose of making an ideal picture of a story between lovers so it usually ends happily. On the other hand, a love story has the purpose of making a real picture of how pure love is so it may end tragically. Using that differentiation, an example of a romantic story can be the very classic fairy tale, “Cinderella” while “A Walk to Remember”, which was written by Sparks himself, can be an example of a love story.
In class, we allotted our two meetings to watching this ingeniously-directed Korean film by Lee Hyun Seung. The film is entitled Il Mare, an Italian term which can be roughly translated as “The Sea”. Il Mare is actually a stylish house built along the seashore where most of the scenes in the film took place. It is also where love between two people, stuck in two different time frames, will blossom.
Whether Il Mare is a romantic story or a love story can be a point of contention. The film ended happily; they finally met, right at Il Mare. However, the film has a hypothetical plot which means that it can barely happen in real life. Nevertheless, Il Mare is still a film worth watching as it juxtaposes romance and fantasy.
The film was released on 9 September 2000 at Seoul, South Korea (SK). It runs for about 96 minutes. Jun Ji Hyun (the same actress from the Korean film “My Sassy Girl”) and Lee Jung Jae are starred as the main characters of the film, Eun Joo and Sung Hyun, respectively. In 2006, the film was adapted by the Warner Brothers as The Lake House starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.
Eun Joo is moving out of a house so-called Il Mare and leaves a Christmas card in an old mailbox. The card is dated 2000. Sung Hyun, the original occupant of Il Mare, is surprised as he received the card and found that the card is sent two years in the future. He writes back to Eun Joo and corrected some mistakes he found in the card. After some series of correspondence, both of them find out that they are living two years apart in time, Sung Hyun in the year 1998 and Eun Joo in the year 2000.
They also find out that the mailbox serves as their communication tool. The mailbox is a sort of a time travel device as not only letters can be sent through it. For instance, Eun Joo asks for Sung Hyun’s help in retrieving a recording tape which she lost two years ago in the train station. The recording tape is brought back to and received by Eun Joo. Even the book Sung Hyun asks from Eun Joo is transported back two years in the past.
They continue to exchange letters to each other and develop a unique type of friendship. They even participated in an activity which each of them suggested for one another. As their hearts grow fonder, they decide to meet in person.
They agreed to meet along the sea where Eun Joo dreams of building a house. Eun Joo shows up but Sung Hyun is nowhere to be found. In a spot nearby, Eun Joo does see a house being built for an unknown architect’s lover. Bewildered, Eun Joo writes back to Sung Hyun asking if how he can forget such a momentous date.
Eun Joo has an ex-fiancé but they separated as the man moved abroad for work. Eun Joo realizes that she still loves this man. Desperate and perplexed, Eun Joo asks for Sung Hyun’s help again. She requests Sung Hyun to stop his ex-fiancé from moving abroad. This comes as a bit of shock to Sung Hyun but he is resolved to do it for her. After much thinking, Eun Joo remembers that a pedestrian was hit by a car during the time when she bids farewell to her ex-fiancé. Eun Joo rushes to Sung Hyun’s architectural school and finds out that the pedestrian was Sung Hyun. Eun Joo goes immediately to Il Mare so she can stop Sung Hyun from going there. She cried after realizing what she did to Sung Hyun.
As the film goes to a close, Eun Joo is seen again moving out at Il Mare. On her way down the road, a stranger meets her halfway and asks if she wants to hear a story. With questioning eyes, Eun Joo stares to the stranger and the stranger, which appears to be Sung Hyun, stares back. Eun Joo and Sung Hyun finally meet.
I have never wondered what I would do if I found out a device for time travel. But if such thing happens, I would rather revisit the time when my parents met and fell in love with each other. What a sight that would be. On a more serious note, I would opt to travel back during the time when I made mistakes and failed to correct those. That would provide me an opportunity to rectify my wrongs and keep away from regrets.
Il Mare is a film about time-transcending love. Two lovers are communicating to each other through a mailbox though they are years apart in time. The mailbox is their time travel device which they used to know each other more. If I were given the chance to have that magical mailbox, I would rather ask for a winning lottery number in the future or change some aspects of my past which I do not like.
On the Film’s Plot
Kidding aside, the film is not your typical romantic film. That alone is laudable. I have seen a lot of romantic films before and almost all of them share the same plot: girl meets boy; girl will stare to boy for what it seemed an eternity; they will date and kiss afterwards; they will stumble upon challenges during their relationship but will be resolved subsequently by boy kissing girl (to some films, it is the other way around); girl forgives boy and eventually, they live happily ever after. Most Western romantic films are prone to this cliché storyline. Even some Asian films tend to apply this plot but not Il Mare. The filmmakers took the bold decision to combine romance with surrealism. Though time travel tools are absurd in this seemingly post-modernist world, two lovers living years apart in time is a type of story which can effectively break the monotony from typical romantic film plots.
Forget the time-space continuum and the laws of physics. As this is a movie which incorporates fantasy in its plot, one does not expect a plausible argument as to how the two of them finally meet. Under the framework of physical laws, it may be said that the ending is as ridiculous as one plus one equals four. But under the framework of the film’s self-constructed plot, the ending is as heart-stopping as the film itself. Overanalysis and too much intellectualization can sometimes sap out the happiness and enjoyment from things. When watching this film, it is best that you leave your pragmatic view on reality, go away from questions which the film begs and focus on what the film readily offers.
On the Film’s Cinematography
Il Mare is more than a breath of fresh air. As an art film, Il Mare has a stunning cinematography. Hong Gyeong Pyo did his job with much success. Beautiful sceneries all over SK are seen throughout the film. This makes Il Mare a showcase of SK as a tourist attraction and a spectacular paradise. The Il Mare (the house along the sea) itself is an architectural powerhouse. How the scenes inside and outside the house were shot are intelligently done as these have shown the house’s elegant design. Its location along the sea has made it spectacular more so. Aside from the location and scenes, the use of vivid and radiant colors (such as colors red, orange and yellow) is marvelous to behold. This reminds me of the Italian horror film “Suspiria” (1977) which was also praised for its stylistic use of vibrant red in scenes depicting suspense and tension among characters. Though they belong to different film genres, Il Mare and Suspiria shares a common characteristic: visual appeal. If you are not used to watching melodramas, Il Mare at least has beautiful sceneries and glamorous shots of the seaside to fall back on.
On the Film’s Editing
The editing is more than perfect. What are my bases from saying this? There are two: continuity and smoothness of transition. Il Mare intertwines two different time frames all throughout the film so the two aforesaid criteria are requisites for the film’s success. If the continuity were a failure and the transition not smooth, you might leave the viewer puzzled about the sequence of events in the film. Continuity allows the viewers to keep track of time and events as they happen simultaneously through distinct timelines while the smoothness of transition ensures coherence and serves as the glue which holds all the events together. Il Mare possesses these two attributes.
On the Actors’ Performance
As for the actors and cast, they are praiseworthy. The main actors, Jun Ji Hyun and Lee Jung Jae, are so charming in the screen. They are, no doubt, very talented. Endowed with certain chemistry unique to Korean love teams, Ji Hyun and Jung Jae complement each other’s performance. Although they were not seen much together at all throughout the course of the film, their performance as two people finding sweet repose with one another draws emotions which will make viewers love their characters.
On the Film’s Musical Scoring
The scoring is wisely put. Melodies are aptly chosen to convey the feelings of characters and the mood of scenes. Some of the melodies though are played repetitively but this I understand. The music is used not only to provide a musical background but to communicate emotively. A certain melody is used throughout the film in some scenes depicting melancholy and sorrow. This sends a message to viewers that whenever this melody is being played, the character is feeling ineffable grief and sadness. Music is effectively used to complement a character’s thoughts and feelings and relay a message to the viewers of the film.
Il Mare is the type of film which lays down fantastical premises that need not be questioned. It is not only a film about two people evading time differences and falling in love with each other. More so, it is a film about how life should be lived despite hurdles and stumbles. It is a film about how time, change and hope can make a person better and stronger. More importantly, it is a film about moving forward and getting rid of the sour past. Il Mare teaches us that life will be worth living if one would want to make his or her life count. Set aside the gloomy past and keep your eyes on the future. Interestingly, the plausibility of time travel does not bother me anymore. If one wants to enjoy a story of time-transcending love, defy science for at least two hours and take pleasure in the beauty of Il Mare.