If I recall correctly, Il Mare was my introduction to the world of Korean cinema, specifically the world of Korean melodrama. Given my predilection for kung fu and insane action movies, a romantic drama might seem like an odd introduction. But like Chungking Express, Il Mare was an eye-opening experience; it’s not your typical melodrama, or rather, it’s a melodrama done so well that it avoids many of the sugary, stomach-turning cliches that can plague the genre. Oh yeah, and it’s a time travel movie too. Well, sort of…
As the movie opens, a young woman named Eun-ju is moving out of Il Mare, a secluded house that juts out on stilts over the ocean. Just before she leaves, she puts a note in the mailbox for the future resident, asking them to forward an important letter to her new address if it arrives. “Il Mare”‘s new resident, a young man named Sung-hyun, finds Eun-ju’s letter as he’s getting the house ready. But he’s surprised to find the letter is dated 1999, since the year is actually 1997.
Thinking the letter is a joke at first, he writes back to Eun-ju, who drops by the mailbox to see if her letter has arrived. Although both think the other is kidding (after all, Eun-ju knows it’s really 1999), the truth slowly dawns on them. Somehow, the house’s mailbox is sending their letters to eachother across time. Curious about this, the two develop a correspondence. At first, it’s playful, as the two quiz eachother on what’s happening in their respective times and help eachother out (Eun-ju makes a helpful weather prediction for Sung-hyun, and he finds a tape player that she lost in the past).
Thankfully, the film never tries to explain the mailbox. The even-handed approach to the “time travel” aspect keeps it from turning into some cheap gimmick. In fact, by not explaining anything, the movie makes it that much easier to accept. And maybe it’s the hopeless romantic in me talking, but I’ll admit there’s a part of me that really wants to believe that, when two people are meant to find eachother, destiny finds a way to make it happen (even if it involves breaking the fundamental laws of nature). But more importantly, Sung-hyun and Eun-ju don’t care how the mailbox works. They’re just glad to have someone to talk to, as both are rather lonely individuals.