Peppermint Candy (2000)

June 5, 2002 • Film, Korea, Reviews

Director: Chang-dong Lee
Writer: Chang-dong Lee
Cast: Kyung-gu Sol,
Running Time: 130 Min

Generally speaking, I go to movies to escape reality, not to confront it. Every once in a while, however, the Serious Art Film comes along that has critics trumpeting it and me guiltily avoiding it for as long as possible, like a dose of dreadful tasting medicine. You know it’s good for you, but it’s not going to be fun. This is one of those movies.

The story begins with a middle-aged man, Yongho, joining a 20-year reunion picnic. He seems drunk or crazy, or perhaps both. He stumbles around shouting, singing and making a general embarrassment of himself before wandering over to the nearby railroad tracks. A train inevitably appears and, in a scream of frenzied agony, he ends his life in suicide. At which point you’d be seriously tempted to turn off the remote and watch an old episode of Hawaii Five-O.

However, if you left it on, you’d be rewarded with an intelligent, profound film instead of wasting a half-hour looking at Jack Lord’s conk, however cool it may be.

The story then begins a series of flashbacks that piece together Yongho’s shattered jigsaw life. A train connects each flashback as it shows what lead him to this end.

The reasons that slowly unfold are fascinating. We see him as a ruined businessman, a brutal cop, first-class heel, hopeless romantic, callous youth, frightened soldier and starry-eyed student. With each bit of information revealed, degrees of distance and dispassion are stripped away from the viewer. We begin to see ourselves in the character of Yongho. We begin to recognize how life, and our response to it, takes its toll on the purity and innocence of our youth.

Director Lee has dug deep to strike a universal chord. This is life not as the fairy tale we want it to be, but as the reality it often is. Sol Kyung-gu has the role of a lifetime as Yongho, whose life we see over a 20-year span. No, this isn’t a fun movie, but it is a deeply moving film that stayed with me for months afterwards and is, in my estimation, one of the greatest films made.

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