If "Love Across Time"
could be considered a genre, then Il Mare is
perhaps its most famous example. Lee Hyun-Seong's 2000
romance boasts an innovative plot involving two star-crossed,
would-be lovers who are separated not by any conventional
means (race, class, etc), but by something decidedly
extraordinary: they both exist in different time periods.
Early in the film, we are introduced
to Eun-Joo (Jeon Ji-Hyun), who until recently had been
living in a house dubbed "Il Mare." On the way out,
she places a card in the mailbox so the next occupant
will forward her mail to her new address. The card is
delivered to Sung-Hyun (Lee Jung-Jae), but he's more
than a little confused by her request. For one thing,
he's the first resident of "Il Mare," and secondly,
the card bears a date that's two years in the future!
After some feverish written communication between the
two, Eun-Joo and Sung-Hyun eventually come to believe
the remarkable truth: Sung-Hyun is living in the year
1997, while Eun-Joo lives in the year 1999. Ah, the
wonders of a magic mailbox.
Rather than abuse this magical
gift by betting on the 1998 Super Bowl, Eun-Joo and
Sung-Hyun get a little creative. Whether it's retrieving
a lost item in 1997 or purchasing something that won't
be released until 1999, the two of them make much use
of the magic mailbox, even going so far as to have "dates"
in the same location at different times - albeit with
a few surprises here and there. Eventually, it dawns
on them that they should meet in person, setting a date
in Eun-Joo's "present day."
Unfortunately, although Eun-Joo
waits for him, Sung-Hyun never shows. Couple this bad
omen with Eun-Joo's rekindled feelings for her ex-boyfriend,
and you've got a recipe for a time-displaced tragedy.
Even worse, Eun-Joo selfishly (and nonsensically) asks
Sung-Hyun to intervene and stop her boyfriend from leaving
her in the past. Sung-Hyun, as one might expect, is
crestfallen. Will he sacrifice his own feelings to help
the woman he loves? And if he wanted to, would he be
able to change the past in time? The answer to both
questions is patently obvious by story's end - even
if the finale itself isn't so clear-cut.
It's difficult to talk about
the film in any evaluative way without spoiling the
ending, but I'll do my best not to ruin the experience
for any interested parties who haven't seen the film.
Still, if you're in that group, you should probably
approach the next paragraphs with extreme caution.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHOY! Without
giving too much away, it's safe to say that the two
leads may exist in the same timeline or the magic mailbox
has the ability to traverse two distinct, but near identical
ones. As such, the film's ending shows either a rupture
into (or return to) two separate timelines or a kind
of "painting over" of one vision of the future with
another. Whatever the case, all this messing with the
time stream makes for compelling viewing. What's perhaps
most interesting is that the crucial, shall we say,
negative event in the film is not brought on
by a totally impersonal "cruel fate," but by Eun-Joo's
selfish motives. In that sense, the film carries with
it the weight of personal responsibility, a veritable
dagger to the heart of not only our heroine, but to
those of audience members who might not be expecting
that extra, much-more heartbreaking dimension.
The film wraps up with a more
teary-eyed Korean-style conclusion, which will disappoint
those looking for a more Hollywood happy ending - a
la the American remake, which, say what you will
about the film's quality as a whole, has a vibrancy
that Il Mare sorely lacks. That's not to say
it's all gloom and doom in the clichéd Korean drama
mold - it's more bittersweet than anything else. Certainly,
a thoroughly depressing ending might've been more daring
(and wouldn't have violated so many laws of the time-space
continuum), but the filmmakers' decision to split the
difference on Il Mare is an intriguing choice
in and of itself. END POSSIBLE SPOILERS.
The beautiful seaside setting
of Il Mare results in some magnificent cinematography
throughout the film, and both Jeon Ji-Hyun and Lee Jung-Jae
transmit a kind of chemistry even though they share
very few scenes together. Those two positives are nearly
cancelled out by the dour tone, slow pace, and the sketchy
characterization of its protagonists. Still, as perhaps
implied by the sizeable preceding paragraph, the sci-fi
aspects of the plot are intriguing enough to tip the
scales in Il Mare's favor. When comparing it
to other movies of its ilk, Il Mare is a step
behind 2000's similarly-themed US film Frequency,
but light years ahead of a Korean picture from the same
year, Ditto. Science fiction issues aside, Jeon
Ji-Hyun fans should be pleased no matter what. (Calvin McMillin,