Peppermint Candy

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This article is about the film. For the herb, see Peppermint.
Peppermint Candy
Peppermint Candy.jpg
Theatrical poster
Hangul
Hanja
Revised Romanization Bakha Satang
McCune–Reischauer Pakha Satang
Directed by Lee Chang-dong
Produced by Myeong Gye-nam
Makoto Ueda
Written by Lee Chang-dong
Starring Sol Kyung-gu
Moon So-ri
Kim Yeo-jin
Distributed by Shindo Films
Cineclick Asia
Release date(s)
  • 2000 (2000)
Running time 130 minutes
Country South Korea
Language Korean

Peppermint Candy (Hangul: 박하사탕; RR: Pakha Satang) is a 1999 film, the second film from South Korean director Lee Chang-dong. The movie starts with the suicide of the protagonist and uses reverse chronology to depict some of the key events of the past 20 years of his life that led to his death. The film was the ninth highest grossing domestic film of 2000 with 311,000 admissions in Seoul.[1]

The film was received well, especially in film festivals. Spurred by the success of Lee Chang-dong's directorial debut, Green Fish, Peppermint Candy was chosen as the opening film for the Pusan International Film Festival in its first showing in 1999. It won multiple awards at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and won the South Korean film industry's Grand Bell Award for best film of 2000.

Plot[edit]

At the beginning of the film, the main character Yong-ho wanders to a reunion of his old student group. After causing some general mayhem with his deranged antics, he leaves and climbs atop a nearby train track. Facing an oncoming train, he exclaims "I want to go back again!". What follows is a series of prior events in the main character's life that show how he became the suicidal man portrayed in this scene.

The first flashback takes place only a few days before Yong-ho's death. At this point he is already clearly suicidal, confronting his former business partner and ex-wife Hong-ja before the husband of his teenage crush Sun-im pays him a surprise visit. Yong-ho is taken to visit a comatose Sun-im in a hospital.

The next flashback shows Yong-ho's life five years earlier. At first glance, he seems to be a rather successful businessman, but the problems in his life become clear when he confronts his wife, who is having an affair with her driving instructor. Yong-ho is unable to claim moral high ground, since he is also shown having an affair, with an assistant from his workplace. Finally, Yong-ho is shown along with his wife at their new house, having dinner with his colleagues, where it becomes apparent that the marriage isn't working.

On the third flashback, Yong-ho is shown as a police officer in the year 1987. At the beginning, he is shown along with his pregnant wife at a mundane scene. After this, he is shown apprehending a witness and brutally torturing him for information about another man's whereabouts. This leads Yong-ho to Kunsan where he along with his fellow police officers capture the wanted man. While in Kunsan, Yong-ho is distracted from his work by fruitlessly trying to search for Sun-im and instead ends up on a one night stand with another woman.

The following flashback shows Yong-ho when he is just starting his career as a policeman and is pressured by his peers to torture a crime suspect, presumably a student demonstrator. Shortly afterward, he is visited by Sun-im. Yong-ho coldly and cruelly dismisses her by feigning interest in another woman, his future wife Hong-ja. At the final scene of this sequence, Yong-ho is shown sleeping with Hong-ja, whom it is shown he never truly cared about.

During the next flashback, it's May 1980 and Yong-ho is performing his mandatory military service. While Sun-im is trying to visit him, his company is taken to quell the Gwangju Democratization Movement. Yong-ho gets shot in the leg and is told to stay behind. This leads to a scene where he confronts a harmless and presumably innocent student, whom he accidentally shoots and kills.

The last flashback shows Yong-ho as a part of the student group that reunited at the beginning of the movie. This is also where he meets Sun-im for the first time. The scene poignantly shows the innocence that Yong-ho had, before his country molded him into the violent and jaded man he is at the start of the film by pitting him against his friends.

Analysis[edit]

The events of Yong-ho's life shown in the movie can be seen as representing some of the major events of Korea's recent history. The student demonstrations of the early 1980s leading to the Gwangju massacre is shown as Yong-ho becoming traumatized in the shooting incident.[2] The tightening grip on the country by the military government during the 1980s is mirrored by Yong-ho losing his innocence and becoming more and more cynical during his stint as a brutal policeman. Similarly, Yong-ho losing his job during the late 1990s mirrors the Asian financial crisis.[3]

Yong-ho's life depicted the struggle between historiography and psychoanalysis. Despite his desperate desire to move on from his past, mnemic traces overpowered the psychoanalytical aspects of his life. These mnemic traces include the train, camera, and peppermint candy as well as Sun-im and her various surrogates throughout the different vignettes, which led the psychoanalysis of his life to triumph over historiography. The relationship between historiography and psychoanalysis can be seen in historicism and progressivism where Yong-ho chooses to look back on his past instead of looking solely on his future to move forward. The major and traumatic events that were historically imposed on him were so embedded in his life that he could not just simply move on. However, finally reflecting back on his past allowed him to accept what happened and finally advance into the future. Unfortunately, this was just moments before he committed suicide when he turned to face the train. The train was the symbol that guided the film in reverse chronology and his cry to return to the past signifies his tragically late recognition of the past's significance on his life.[4]

Issues of masculinity in the South Korean culture also arise in the film. Yong-Ho's masculinity is broken during the Gwangju Massacre scene in which the militarized masculinity enforced by the Korean government; a required 26 month duty in the military, an order to kill innocent civilians, and a need to conform to the standards of the other soldiers around him; ultimately forces Yong-Ho to compensate later in life through interrogating the student protesters who inevitably were the reason he was put in that situation.[5] This continues on with the way he treats women later on in his life, objectifying and mistreating his wife Hong-ja and ultimately losing his one link back to his innocence, Sun-im.[6] What results in the beginning of the film, what would be the end of Yong-Ho's life, is an ultimate humiliation and lamentation for a lost innocence where personal history is connected with the history of South Korea.[5]

Main cast[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

2000 Baeksang Arts Awards[7]
2000 Grand Bell Awards
2000 Blue Dragon Film Awards

References[edit]

  1. ^ "2000". koreanfilm.org. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  2. ^ Leong, Anthony (2001). "Peppermint Candy Movie Review". mediacircus.net. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  3. ^ "Peppermint Candy". koreanfilm.org. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  4. ^ Shin, Chi-Yun; Stringer, Julian (2005). New Korean Cinema (1st ed.). New York, NY: New York University Press. pp. 166–167. 
  5. ^ a b Steve Choe, "Catastrophe and finitude in Lee Chang Dong's Peppermint Candy: temporality, narrative, and Korean history"
  6. ^ Perez Eyzell, Jose Alejandro. "Peppermint Candy: Redefining Korean Masculinity". The Film Journal. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 
  7. ^ "Peppermint Candy". cinemasie.com. Retrieved April 20, 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Spring in My Hometown
Grand Bell Award for Best Film
2000
Succeeded by
Joint Security Area