What a gem, My Mother, the Mermaid. A beautiful love story, breathtaking cinematography, and a lovely, lovely soundtrack. But what stands out above all in this 2004 movie is the acting.
Jeon Do-yeon is fantastic here in a dual role playing a mother (Yeon-soon) and her daughter (Na-yeong). The two look nothing like each other and Jeon Do-yeon’s transformation from Yeon-soon to Na-yeong is nothing short of astonishing. (From Yeon-soon to Na-yeong? Mother to daughter? Yes, because there’s magic in this movie, both in the watching and in the unraveling of events, as we move from present back to the past.) Go Doo Shim is the older Yeon-soon and her acting is riveting as usual. Rounding up the leads is my soft spot Park Hae-il, in my favorite Park Hae-il role. I dare you to find a more attractive postman in a kmovie – sweeter, gentler, with a more infectious smile.
Alas, just as our postman, Kim Jin-kuk, seems almost too perfect to be true, so my favorite half of the movie increasingly begins to resemble the stuff of dreams, something that Na-yeong (and I) made up. I can’t reconcile it with the other half – so stark, so disparate, so discomfiting.
I can’t reconcile the young Yeon-soon with the cursing, spitting middle-aged Yeon-soon who drives her daughter Na-yeong crazy. There’s such a jarring discrepancy in their personalities! Admittedly young Yeon-soon was very much the country pumpkin who walked with a most unladylike gait, who chased and shouted at her brother, and who seemed like a weed that had grown wild in the sun.
But she was also sweet and bashful, she was polite to the folks around her, and she swam and dived with so much grace. How did she become the crass and uncouth ajumma that I would give a wide berth to if I saw her in real life?
The thing that saddens me the most is Na-yeong telling her boyfriend that she does not remember a single positive or happy thing about her parents. As far back as she can remember, her parents have been bickering and generally making her childhood a misery. Is that bitterness on her face the result of years of living in this unhappy family? I am stunned by the words that spill from her mouth, words of such hardness. To voice her wish to be an orphan. What a slap in the face for her parents!
How is her parents’ unhappy relationship today possible when there was obviously so much love between them when they were courting? I just love the way the young Yeon-soon waited for her postman – her expectancy, her admiration like an open book. And the way he smiled at her, the kindly and patient way in which he taught her to read and write, and his extreme despair when she almost drowned… Theirs was such a beautiful love story!
I know the older Yeon-soon keeps complaining (and most bitterly, too) about her husband being too nice and never providing for her. But still… it is really hard for me to accept that the sweet and shy couple I loved had become so alienated. My heart goes out to the old Mr. Kim as he sits alone on the cliff overlooking the sea. The thoughts going through his mind… What are they? And do they tear him apart?
Is he remembering the many times he had sat on that same cliff, quietly watching Yeon-soon as she dived for pearls in the sea? Is he recalling their bicycle rides through the countryside, her head leaning against his back as he pedalled with the wind in their faces?
I want Yeon-soon and Jin-kuk’s love to last forever. Is that too much to ask?