Peppermint Candy (Korean: 박하사탕; RR: Bakha Satang) is a 1999 film, the second 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. It was the ninth highest grossing domestic film of 2000 with 311,000 admissions in Seoul.
|Revised Romanization||Bakha Satang|
|Directed by||Lee Chang-dong|
|Written by||Lee Chang-dong|
|Produced by||Myeong Gye-nam|
|Distributed by||Shindo Films|
It 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 Busan International Film Festival in its first showing in 1999. It won multiple awards at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival and won the Grand Bell Awards for best film of 2000.
At the beginning, 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 three days before Yong-ho's death. At this point he is already clearly suicidal, spending the last of his money on a gun and contemplates who he should use it on. After confronting his former business partner and ex-wife Hong-ja, 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, and presents some peppermint candies she used to give him.
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 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 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 and 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 a 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.
The events of Yong-ho's life that are 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 are shown, as Yong-ho becomes traumatized by the shooting incident. 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.
Yong-ho's life represents the struggle between historiography and psychoanalysis. Despite his desperate desire to move on from his past, mnemonic traces overpower the psychoanalytical aspects of his life. These mnemonic traces include the train, the camera, and the peppermint candy as well as Sun-im and her surrogates throughout the 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 at his future to move forward. The major traumatic events that were historically imposed on him were so embedded in his life that he could not simply move on. However, finally reflecting back on his past allows him to accept what happened and finally advance into the future. Unfortunately, this was moments before he committed suicide when he turned to face the train. The train is the symbol that guides the film in reverse chronology, and his cry to return to the past signifies his tragically late recognition of the past's significance for his life.
Issues of masculinity in South Korean culture 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 force Yong-Ho to compensate later in life by interrogating the student protesters who inevitably were the reason he was put in that situation. This theme continues 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. What results in the beginning of the film, which will be the end of Yong-Ho's life, is an ultimate humiliation and a lamentation for a lost innocence where personal history is connected with the history of South Korea.
Awards and nominationsEdit
- Best New Actor - Sol Kyung-gu
- 2000 Grand Bell Awards
- Best Film
- Best Director - Lee Chang-dong
- Best Supporting Actress - Kim Yeo-jin
- Best Screenplay - Lee Chang-dong
- Best New Actor - Sol Kyung-gu
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