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Ko - production in Busan
  • by Pierce Conran /  Dec 06, 2018

  • 1999130 MINDrama
    DIRECTOR LEE Chang-dong
    CAST SUL Kyung-gu, MOON So-ri, KIM Yeo-jin
    RELEASE DATE January 1, 2000
    CONTACT East Film
    Tel : +82 2 3143 2340
    Fax : +82 2 556 3965

    In the fall of 1999, the 4th edition of the Busan International Film Festival gave its coveted opening slot to the sophomore work of a filmmaker who was already becoming a key figure of the rejuvenating Korean film industry. That filmmaker was multiple Cannes Film Festival awardee LEE Chang-dong, and the film, coming two years after his well-received gangster drama debut Green Fish, was A Peppermint Candy

    In the summer of 1999, a middle-aged man in a suit stumbles through an alumni reunion picnic. The revelers are at first annoyed with this intruder, until they recognize their old classmate Young-ho. Hostility makes way for a warm welcome until his erratic and violent behavior prompts them to ignore him again. Young-ho then climbs on to the nearby train tracks and welcomes an incoming train with open arms. Over the film's remaining two hours, a train’s eye view going in reverse links us to six prior sequences, first taking place a few days earlier in 1999 and then jumping back several years at a time until the story comes full circle 20 years earlier in the same location.

    With its reverse structure and powerful investigation of historical trauma, not to mention the performances of future stars SUL Kyung-gu and MOON So-ri, A Peppermint Candy turned a promising filmmaker into a bona fide auteur who has been showered with acclaim for the last two decades. A former novelist, not to mention screenwriter for Korean New Wave director PARK Kwang-su, LEE’s approached his script with a literary eye, employing a bold narrative structure that deconstructs a character by framing him within history.

    In many ways Young-ho is a normal man but after unwittingly playing a part in one of the darkest hours of Korean history as a conscripted serviceman, his life begins to follow a darker course that creates, bottles up and then releases a terrible violence within him. At different points in his life he is a policeman specializing in interrogating political dissidents and a small business owner. Of course we discover his life in reverse, which prompts us to question where his pain comes from rather than merely judge him for his violent acts. We also learn about his broken family life, which has its roots in a tender first love story that was tragically cut short and left lingering unanswered questions.

    In his first leading role, SUL Kyung-gu gives the performance of a lifetime, encapsulating all the bitterness of a man whose painful life events were forced onto him by society until he grew into the habit of doing it to himself. While real life may not always be so cut and dry, the natural conclusion of Young-ho’s character arc is where we first meet him, standing on the train tracks, waiting to be obliterated by the unstoppable force of time.
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