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[Movie Review] `My Mother, the Mermaid' Swims in Bittersweet Magic

2004/07/01 | Permalink | Source

By Joon Soh
Staff Reporter
The most interesting thing about the new film "Ino Kongju (My Mother, the Mermaid)" may not be what's in the film, but rather what's left out. A story in which the past and present of a romance meet, the film depends greatly on one magical moment but, like the proverbial elephant in the living room, that moment is never quite fully explained.

Na-young (Jeon Do-hyun) is a postal worker with an acrimonious relationship with her parents _ her bitter and foul-mouthed mother, Yon-sun (Go Doo-shim), who ekes out a living by scrubbing the backs of customers at a bathhouse, and Jin-guk (Kim Bong-gun), her sickly and near silent father who seems completely beaten down by life.

Dreaming of escaping from her present life and her dreary parents, Na-young finally gets her chance when she's selected to go on a training program in New Zealand. However, as luck would have it, Jin-guk chooses this moment to go missing, and Na-young is forced to give up her dreams to go searching for him.

It's at this point that something rather strange happens in "Mermaid". Na-young goes from sitting on a plane bound for New Zealand to suddenly standing in her parents' hometown on Cheju Island asking for directions. But rather than in the present, Na-young arrives 30 years in the past and meets up with a near countrified version of herself, who turns out to be her mother as a 20-year-old (also played by Jeon).

In personality and mood, the slightly childish and perpetually smiling Yon-sun, who works as a diver (hence the title of the film) and takes care of her younger brother, is at complete odds with the cranky and disillusioned woman we met in the present. The same goes for her father, who as a young and charming postman (Park Hae-il), seems nothing like the shell of the man we know he later becomes.

However, director Park Heung-shik cleverly plays these unexplained discrepancies to his narrative advantage. Unlike, say, "Back to the Future", an altogether different film about love and time travel, "Mermaid" takes the sudden unexplained jump of 30 years at face value, concentrating on presenting the developing courtship instead. And as the gap grows between the intoxicating innocence of the two's growing love and the oppressive bitterness of their present lives, the result, instead of being distracting, is at times profoundly bittersweet.

Playing the role of both daughter and mother, Jeon gives an impressive performance that should be well remembered at film awards later in the year. The same goes for Park and for Ko, who as the intensely antagonistic older Yon-sun almost steals the whole show.

`Mermaid' to Screen With English Subtitles
The new local film about a romance that takes place on Cheju Island will be shown with English subtitles at Cine Core theater, downtown Seoul, from next week.

The film, starring actress Jeon Do-hyun in the dual role of a young diver on Cheju Island who falls in love with a postman and their daughter 30 years in the future, opened nationwide on Wednesday. The film will screen with English subtitles at 6:10 p.m. on weekdays and at 8:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from July 7.

Cine Core is located near Chonggak Station on subway line 1. For more information, contact Seoul Selection, the organizers of the screenings, at (02) 734-9565 or

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