"Il Mare" (Italian for 'the sea') is the unlikely title for a captivating South Korean romance recently released on Hong Kong import VCD. An audience favorite at the 2000 Pusan International Film Festival, "Il Mare" combines the correspondence of "You've Got Mail" with the time-travel complexities of "Frequency" to create a refreshing and heartfelt story about two lonely people who become connected via a 'magic mailbox'.
The story begins at the tail end of 1999, as voiceover actress Eun-joo (Jun Ji-hyun) moves out of a seaside home named 'Il Mare'. Before leaving, Eun-joo leaves a Christmas card in the mailbox, with a message asking the eventual new owner to forward any mail of hers to her new address in the city. Meanwhile, exactly two years prior in 1997, Il Mare's first owner, architect Sung-hyun (Lee Jung-jae, who recently co-starred opposite Shim Eun-ha in "The Interview"), receives Eun-joo's card. Thinking it to be a joke, he writes back to Eun-joo and asks her not to tamper with his mailbox anymore, while pointing out that the 'current year' is 1997.
However, after a bit of back-and-forth banter, all doubt about the magical properties of the mailbox are soon erased, and Eun-joo and Sung-hyun begin sending regular correspondence to each other. In addition to finding out that they are both kindred spirits, they come up with new uses for their unique connection: Sung-hyun is able to return a tape recorder that Eun-joo lost two years ago, while Eun-joo is able to send back a still-unpublished book by Sung-hyun's estranged father. Eventually, they agree to meet in person-- an uneasy task given their separate time periods. Though the agreed-upon day is only a week away from Eun-joo's perspective, it is still a full two years from where Sung-hyun stands. Will these two lovelorn pen pals meet?
The most obvious standout aspect of "Il Mare" are the time-constrained interactions between Eun-joo and Sung-hyun's, which result in a number of gee-whiz moments and thought-provoking scenes, such as the film's ending, which is heart-wrenching, uplifting, and mind-blowing at the same time. However, what makes "Il Mare" so memorable is the well-told love story at its core. Without resorting to overt melodrama, director Lee Hyun-seung chronicles the blossoming romance between his two protagonists and how their regrets of the past threaten to tear them apart, brought to life by the natural performances of the two leads. In addition, Lee conveys a mood of both warmth and melancholy through some stunning cinematography that makes good use of the seaside setting. There is also some good tension generated as Eun-joo and Sung-hyun edge closer towards meeting each other in person, though at times, it seems a little needlessly drawn out. Thankfully, this oversight ends up being redressed with a third-act revelation that only heightens the emotional resonance of their connection.
Despite what could have been a 'gimmicky' premise, "Il Mare" is far from insincere in how it details the emotional bond that develops between two people separated by time. Like two other recent Korean romances of note, "Christmas in August (Palwol ui Christmas)" and "Art Museum by the Zoo (Misuhlgwa yup dongmulgwon)", "Il Mare" goes about its business with a quiet eloquence. True, the script may strain some credibility in terms of delaying the eventual union of its two lovers, but overall, "Il Mare" remains a smart and stirring entry in the romance genre, a bittersweet confection that is not easily forgotten.
This movie is available for purchase from PokerIndustries.com