Peppermint Candy | Varied Celluloid

Peppermint Candy

Posted by On March - 9 - 2011

Peppermint Candy (1999)
Director: Lee Chang-dong
Writers: Lee Chang-dong
Starring: Sol Kyung-gu, Kim Yeo-jin and Moon So-ri

The Plot: Our film begins with a man wandering along the banks of a small creek. We discover that he has stumbled upon his home town after many years of being away, and a small group of old friends are currently partying alongside the water. The man is Kim Yongho (Sol Kyung-gu) and he appears to be under some form of serious stress. He screams and hollers while his old friends try to make conversation with him, before he ultimately wanders off onto the nearby train tracks and positions himself in front of an oncoming train. As the train looks to mow him down, Yongho announces “I’m going back!” which is precisely what we as an audience then do. We travel through Yongho’s life via several pivotal years within his time-line. We see him as an unhappily married man, reeling from the loss of a love that he was never able to attain. We see him disillusioned by the corrupt criminal-justice system that he has become a part of. We see how he became disillusioned and finally we see a love affair that brought out the best memories from his entire life.

The Review
I have heard the title Peppermint Candy batted around for years amidst discussions of South Korean cinema, but it is one of the many titles that has constantly eluded me. Now, with the Korean cinema blog-a-thon being hosted by our good friends over at, I can finally explore many of these hidden gems. Peppermint Candy was at the top of my list to be sure. After watching his bizarre love story Oasis earlier last year, I knew it was high time that I delved deeper into director Lee Chang-dong’s full filmography. As things turn out, Peppermint Candy might even be a more tremendous piece of work than even Oasis, a film that I thoroughly loved. Without question, Peppermint Candy proves to be the more complex piece of work if one were the compare the two films, but that would be about as unfair of a comparison as one could attempt to make. The two films couldn’t be more different in their intentions and in their technical achievements. While both films are certainly amazing for their brilliant introspective looks at very peculiar and interesting characters, Peppermint Candy serves as a political observation and genuinely touching portrayal of a nation under duress and the consequences that still shake it to this very day.

The one reference and comparison that will no doubt be made during any review for Peppermint Candy is the tie that it has with Christopher Nolan’s Memento. I might as well get that out of the way early on, so that I can address the film head onward. The two films are superficially linked together due to their strange narrative qualities of course. Both films use a narrative device where their storylines are ultimately told in reverse. Both film begin at their end and then make their way back towards their beginning. Ultimately however, the use of this device is entirely different almost to the point of no longer resembling one another. Unlike Memento or Irreversible (2002, Gaspar Noe), Peppermint Candy does not rely as heavily on its narrative toy and its use does not come into effect nearly as much as it does in the previously mentioned films. Featuring seven different eras in one man’s life, the film starts in the “present” of 1999 and moves all the way back to 1979. Although I love Christopher Nolan, he is easily my favorite mainstream director, but I have always had a dragging feeling beneath my surface appreciation for his film. Memento is a movie that truly uses its narrative function to such an awkward degree that the gimmick becomes so blatantly obvious that few things about the movie tend to stand out as much as that one general feature. Peppermint Candy however doesn’t rely so heavily on its backward narrative. The seven different sequences in the film that comprise the different times within our lead characters life are much larger than those of either Memento or Irreversible. We grow to know our characters during these long segments and when certain concepts are ultimately be “foreshadowed”, I believe they become even more poignant due to the longer time that we spend with these characters instead of worrying about a “direct” narrative.

Ultimately, my understanding of Peppermint Candy is going to be rather surface-level as someone who has not been tied into the culture over a great number of years. I really only know the basics of their political struggles, and so much of this film deals with those struggles within the past and their individual effect on the populace. With Peppermint Candy, we as an audience are given a glancing look into the South Korean socio-political consciousness over a select number of years. Their fight towards democracy is shown as the film moves along and expands upon the previous scars that have helped develop the character of Yongho, and we ultimately see that while things may be better now, but it is ultimately impossible to forget about the horrible things that the public had to endure in order to reach these years of prosperity and freedom. An aspect of the film which is ultimately helped a great deal by the backwards storytelling is in our understanding of the Yongho character. As a surrogate for the audience to understand the plight of the average Korean citizen, Yongho is a character that is brilliantly crafted, detailed and infuriatingly difficult. As our film begins Yongho is a selfish human being at the end of his rope. His unfulfilled marriage shows not only his general malaise with life, but also his incredibly hypocritical behavior. In one sequence we see him beat his wife as well as her lover when he finds her cheating, but after the incredibly awkward and disturbing sequence, we then see Yongho himself committing adultery in his car. He is a character that is apathetic, impractical and without a moral compass after years of working for a government that nearly robbed him of his soul.

Riding every sociological wave that Korea’s turbulent past has presented, Peppermint Candy is a time capsule film that stands out for any number of reasons. Beautifully crafted and well made, the emotional core is certainly its most powerful attribute. Loaded with visual metaphors and visual wonderment, the technical attributes are just as engaging as the intense nature of the storytelling. Sol Kyung-Gu, who is a personal favorite actor of mine, excels in the role of Yongho. Although Moon So-ri became a darling of the critics due to her turn in Oasis, here Sol Kyung-Gu gets to show his talents are equally as amazing as the two team up yet again. Ultimately, there are few aspects of Peppermint Candy I find that do not impress me, so what else is there left to say?

The Conclusion
Although it seems as if it has been a while since I last handed out a rating this high, especially to a film that I had just discovered, but I am giving Peppermint Candy and five out of five. It is my highest rating and it is reserved for only a select number of films that I feel people should rush out and see no mater what. This IS that sort of film. A important and heartbreaking film, I doubt you will find many films as earnest as this one.




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