Brutal but brilliant, "Peppermint Candy" follows the sinister career of a Korean cop in a suspensefully constructed, politically charged, emotionally intense story told backwards.
By JOSHUA TANZER
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
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!"
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
bit the equal of "Memento" a little less mind-twisting but with a
hard-hitting political impact that adds a dimension beyond the American
It's appropriate that we follow Yongho into the past, because the past
what he is running from. Very quickly, we see what a deranged human
he has become "monster" is not too strong a word, but in a real,
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
the movie, he looms large and vicious as a police officer in his
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.
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
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.
he incapable of human emotion, of conscience, of love? No he once
love, as we see. He was once a bright-eyed youth himself, and it is
loss of that innocence that so troubles him in the opening scene when
is reunited with his carefree old friends. The ultimate answer comes in
gripping final scene that is about the original sin of a nation as well
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
power. Its harshest scenes are punctuated with a view from the back of
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
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|
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