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    Peppermint Candy

    Hard candy

    Brutal but brilliant, "Peppermint Candy" follows the sinister career of a Korean cop in a suspensefully constructed, politically charged, emotionally intense story told backwards.


    A man in jacket and tie shows up at a festive riverside reunion of old friends where his behavior is as ill-suited as his clothes. After wading drunkenly into the river and ruining the karaoke and dancing for the entire group of former electric-plant co-workers, Yongho finally makes everyone happy by taking off, only to reappear atop a nearby train trestle. A high-speed train approaches, and the man turns to face it head-on, screaming, "I'm going back!"

    Original title: Bakha satang.
    Written and directed by: Lee Chang-Dong.
    Cast: Kim Yejin, Sol Kyung-gu, Jung Suh, Moon So-ri.
    In Korean with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    New Directors New Films 2001
  • Overview
  • The Day I Became a Woman
  • Dinner Rush
  • Face
  • L.I.E.
  • Nine Queens
  • Peppermint Candy
  • Like the brilliant "Memento," the film goes backwards from this stunning beginning, and the mystery is not the ending but the sequence of events that got us there. "Peppermint Candy" is every bit the equal of "Memento" — a little less mind-twisting but with a hard-hitting political impact that adds a dimension beyond the American film.

    It's appropriate that we follow Yongho into the past, because the past is what he is running from. Very quickly, we see what a deranged human being he has become — "monster" is not too strong a word, but in a real, human sense, not a cartoonish one: the kind of monster who really existed in this time and place. If he seems pathetic and small in the first scenes of the movie, he looms large and vicious as a police officer in his previous life. Korean audiences will have recognized him as a participant in the brutal repression of the student pro-democracy protests that were the dominant event of the 1980s there. The horrors carried out in the government's name are portrayed in unflinching detail.

    Peppermint Candy  
    His superior officers teach him the ropes. "It's hard to take the smell off," one laughs while Yongho struggles to wash his first torture victim's shit off his arm. Later, as a seasoned veteran, he carries out his duties without a twinge.

    How does a Yongho become a monster? This is the film's central dilemma. Is he incapable of human emotion, of conscience, of love? No — he once knew love, as we see. He was once a bright-eyed youth himself, and it is the loss of that innocence that so troubles him in the opening scene when he is reunited with his carefree old friends. The ultimate answer comes in a gripping final scene that is about the original sin of a nation as well as this one character.

    Masterfully written, beautifully made and powerfully acted, "Peppermint Candy" is a jewel that sparkles with intelligence and emotion but cuts like a diamond. Every scene, potent with both danger and inner emotion, subtly changes our view what we've already seen. Even the smallest details of filmmaking contribute to the film's power. Its harshest scenes are punctuated with a view from the back of a train — shown backwards to look like it's moving forwards through the beautiful, mountainous countryside — accompanied by soft, melancholy string quartet music that traces a line back to the guilt-free past while never letting us forget the wretched man's death on the tracks in the future. The symbolism of small everyday items like peppermint candy is profound, and the difficulty of creating a fresh, new present out of a rotten past is something we come to feel on a personal level. This is a story from Korea, but its human implications apply to humanity all over the world. There has rarely been a better film made, ever.

    DECEMBER 31, 2001

    Reader comments on Peppermint Candy:

  • Offputting In Some Respects   from Francis Li, Apr 4, 2005
  • Re: Offputting In Some Respects   from Mason Mann, Jun 12, 2005
  • [no subject]   from abe, May 8, 2006
  • problems with the film...   from Rene, Jun 28, 2006

  • Post a comment on "Peppermint Candy"