PEPPERMINT CANDY is directed by Lee Chang-Dong (OASIS), another film professor turned director. I think he is one of the frontrunners of Korean cinema along with Hong Sang-soo (Woman is the future of man), Kim Ki-Duk (The Isle), Park Chan-Wook (Oldboy) and Kim Jee-Woon (A Bittersweet Life). Lee is a master of true South Korean melodrama; "Peppermint Candy" is his 2nd venture in the art of film-making. This film is a work of art, his talent shines through, and this film will surely be part of his legacy in Korean cinema that will not be forgotten.
A distraught man stands in the middle of the train tracks in a train's path facing certain death. Told in reverse chronological order, through the film's proceedings reveal the sequences that brought him to this situation in the first place and the reason for his state of mind. Why is this everyday man standing in the path of death? Seemingly hopeless, this film is the tale of a broken man.
It is very difficult to give an in-depth overview of this film without spoiling the experience. If you've seen "MEMENTO", then you have a good idea of how this film plays out. However, this film is a very different animal than the Hollywood hit. Through the film's reverse sequences we retrace the life of this man and perhaps make sense of what drove him to self destruction. We go backwards through his life from his failed marriage and his dead-end job, his first love, he was traumatized when he served in the army; all these factors contributed to the emotional and psychological breakdown of this broken man.
Lee's direction is excellent. He accurately captures the essence of a lost and tortured soul; he has crafted a meticulous tale that looks into the psyche of a man with all the things he has done to cope with the challenges of life and the choices he made to get there, his natural ability all but fails him that led him to this situation. I am trying to avoid describing this film as a random chain of events by going through the details of the plot which I think will spoil its effect. To make it easier, I will have to break everything down by the film's themes; a kind, sensitive human being has been tainted by the hate and fear he has experienced in his life. He has made some bad decisions that resulted in several disastrous repercussions that were out of his control. This man has given up on life, he begins to despise himself, and the end result is an exhausted, somewhat delusional and suicidal shell of man. Now, instead of beginning the study of his character from his days as a `kind' and sensitive man, turn it around. What we get is an effective character study or case study if you will if you're a psychiatrist. We retrace his life up to the point where his descend into sheer depression began. We also see three decades of Korean history since this is the backdrop of this story.
Aside from Lee's direction, "Peppermint Candy's" key to its success is how good the actor is playing the main character; the actor has to be very capable of providing depth and essence to the character of a broken man. Kyung-Gu Sol manages to bear his soul with his stellar performance as Yong-ho. He manages to effectively immerse me in the scenes that I can't help but experience his feelings, thoughts and desire in the proceedings. Fear, rage, empathy, confusion and even contempt are the emotions guaranteed to be felt by the viewers who want to understand Yong-ho. Kyung-Gusol's performance is so powerful and adaptable that he truly expresses the director's views in life and love, also how the world and society influences how we make our choices. To be honest, I was drawn to this film because of Moon So-ri. If you read my review or seen the film "OASIS"; you'll know and understand why I am so impressed with this actress. Moon So-ri plays Yong-ho's first love; Sunim. She plays a very important and significant role for without the relationship between Sunim and Yong-ho the film would lose much of its effect and we will not see Yong-ho as empathetic and maybe even despicable. The dynamic chemistry between these two excellent performers is so effective that the two get to act again in Lee's third film "OASIS".
PEPPERMINT CANDY is in every sense of the word, backward; both in its theme and execution. You may say it is disturbing, and quite undeniably so. The screenplay's approach with the "going backwards" style actually made the film's premise stronger. It is a very realistic if somewhat PESSIMISTIC view of life's ups and downs. Harrowing and undeniably depressing, it is still has a very uncanny ability to express pure beauty through sheer EMOTIONAL pain. It is a VERY honest film that made me ponder life and certainly feel its pain even after the closing credits.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!! [4 ½ out of 5 stars]
VIDEO/AUDIO: 1.85 ratio anamorphic widescreen. The U.S. release has decent PQ and sound. It has some grain and lacks in sharpness and contrast. The picture while acceptable is not exceptional. If you are able to play import DVDs, buy the region-3 Korean release from CJ Entertainment; it has excellent picture and DTS sound. Whatever you do, this film is a must-see.
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