Opening Thoughts: Newly remade as The Lake House starring Neo and Mrs. Jesse James, this wonderful Korean romance gets a re-release of it's own on DVD. Let's hope it's better than the original Korean DVD (fingers crossed).
Movie: Il Mare (or Siworae) was released in Korea in 2000, which was right around when Korean cinema started blowing up internationally. While it didn't make a huge splash in the Korean box office, the film has won critics and fans world wide over the years. So much in fact that Hollywood took notice and decided to add the film to its growing stable of Asian remakes. Il Mare ('the sea' in Italian) was released by Warner Bros. in the US as The Lake House in June of 2006.
Il Mare at its core is a simple tale of romance between two lonely souls. The sci-fi twist to the story is that Eun-joo and Song-hyun are separated in time (which thankfully is never explained in the film). When moving out of her seaside house, Eun-joo leaves a Christmas card in the mailbox for the next occupants. Instead of the next tenants receiving the card, Seong-hyun, the previous owner of the house receives it two years in the past. Being that the house was newly built for him by his aunt, Seong-hyun finds the card puzzling. Seong-hyun's curiosity increases as the letters continue to mention things that have yet to happen. At first both Eun-joo and Seong-hyun are skeptical, but they continue to exchange letters and gifts until they come to realize what is happening. Eventually both Seong-hyun and Eun-joo fall in love and set a date to meet 2 years in the the future (for Seon-hyun at least). In the end just like with love, Seong-hyun and Eun-joo find out that time is often unpredictable.
Perhaps Il Mare's greatest strength is its wonderful visuals. Hong Kyung-Pyo's cinematography is outstanding and clearly shows why he's one of the top DP's in Korea today. Some of his other films that he's shot are
The Foul King,
Guns and Talks
Save The Green Planet
Tae Guk Gi
. Just as important as the cinematography in Il Mare is the set design. The beautiful seaside house is the primary filming location of the movie and it looks amazing in every shot. Of course this is all made possible by the cleverly written screenplay by Yeo Ji-na. In a film which could easily become clichéd and boring, Yeo Ji-na keeps Il Mare precise and to the point. Clocking in at barely over 90 minutes, Il Mare avoids the problem that many Korean films have during this time period, running to long.
What also makes Il Mare so enjoyable is the performances by Lee Jeong-jae (Seong-hyun) and Jeon Ji-hyeon (Eun-joo). Both actors' do a fabulous job portraying their characters and really bring the story to life. What's even more impressive is that they essentially deliver solo performances for the film. The very beautiful Jeon Ji-hyeon (best known for her role in
My Sassy Girl
) was only 19 when this was shot, but seems far more mature with her acting. Her co-star, Lee Jeong-jae, matches up well with Jeon Ji-hyeon even though they don't spend much on-screen time together. Besides working on films in Korea, Lee Jeong-jae has also worked in TV and the modeling industry. I'm sure both of these fields helped in shooting Il Mare, where he gets plenty of screen time. The director of Il Mare, Lee Hyun-seung, brings all the pieces of the film together brilliantly. Probably more important than anything in this movie was the editing (as in most time travel films). Lee Hyun-seung handles this aspect of production perfectly and it sets the pace and overall flow of the movie. It's unfortunate that this is the last film that Lee Hyun-seung directed. I searched, but couldn't find anything in regards to him leaving the film industry.
Video: The original Korean DVD release by Spectrum was far from spectacular. The DVD boasted a lackluster non-anamorphic transfer and looked average at best. The good news is that this time around we get a better looking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The bad news is that a lot of the scenes look somewhat grainy, have mild dirt/print damage and even some edge-enhancement. These instances very greatly as many scenes, especially well lit ones, look very good. Overall Hong Kyung-Pyo's cinematography shines through the flaws, but it would have been nice if Spectrum delivered a more pristine looking transfer.
Sound: Mostly dialogue based, Il Mare isn't going to exactly test your surround system. Included on the disc is a DD 5.1 Korean track as well as a half bit-rate 5.1 DTS track. The DTS track sounds slightly better than the DD track, but that's to be expected. When needed, the soundtrack expands and accurately meets the needs of the film and expands into the surround channels.
Subtitles: Just like the transfer on the original DVD, the subtitles were pretty lousy. On second thought, I'm going to retract that statement. The subtitles were downright atrocious. Most Korean DVD releases have good, if not excellent English subtitles, but the original DVD of Il Mare seemed to be a rare exception. I was heartbroken to find that the English subtitles included on this release were ported over from the original Spectrum DVD release. Talk about a let down… While I feel you can understand and still enjoy the story with the poorly translated subtitles, it's very frustrating. At times you will find yourself going back and trying to decipher what was just said. It's just really a shame because this film deserved so much better.
Extras: Included on the first disc is a director's commentary track that isn't subtitled. The 2nd disc on this re-release has several special features. Unfortunately, like most Korean DVD releases, they are NOT subtitled. But if you do happen to speak Korean, here is what's on the 2nd DVD. First up is a "Making Of" which lasts about 36 minutes. Next is "A Walk with Memories" featurette that runs 23 minutes. Then we have several interviews with the director. Also included on the DVD is "A Work In the Dark Room" featurette as well as a story board section, photo gallery and promotional materials (music video, trailers, tv spots). Also included with this set is the Original Sountrack on CD and five Postcards.
Final Words: Il Mare is a heartwarming film that will put both a smile on your face and tears in your eyes. This is still one of my favorite Korean films and that's saying a lot considering the company it's up against. Hopefully with the release of The Lake House, maybe we'll see a domestic release of Il Mare on DVD. Until then, despite the horrible subtitles on this DVD, it's still the best version available for non Korean speakers. I cannot recommend Il Mare more highly, but unfortunately the DVD falls a tad short. This film really deserved a better treatment, especially for a re-release.