Peppermint Candy

Lee Chang-dong, screenwriter of Park Kwang-soo's magnificent To the Starry Island and A Single Spark, has outdone himself in this, his second directorial outing. A film of daunting scope and power, Peppermint Candy opens inauspiciously enough, with a highly disturbed man, Yongho, screaming in the face of an oncoming train. We go backward from there, not in conventional flashbacks but in carefully labeled, irregular dollops—three days earlier, three years earlier, ten years before that—making history seem a lot less linear. Peppermint Candy isn't the first film to be structured in reverse—Betrayal comes to mind—but it's by far the most devastating. The further into the past we go and the more we learn about this suicide case—about his failed business, the ugly breakup of his not-very-attractive marriage, his brutal career in the police—the less we know what to expect. For the perspective slowly widens to include a broader social context, until there seems nothing inevitable or personality driven in the hero's destiny. The story of Yongho becomes a scathing indictment of the history of South Korea, the derailment of his life less a question of personal psychology than the betrayal of a generation. Interwoven into his bio are cameo appearances by the title bonbon, leitmotiv of his first love and signpost of his lost innocence. By the time we arrive at the end (or the beginning), we barely recognize the gentle, sensitive young man beneath the railroad bridge of 30 years ago and readily understand his final scream of rage and horror at what he's become. 129 min.

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