One of the films that established the progress of the contemporary S. Korean cinema, "Peppermint Candy" was one of the most commercially successful films of 2000, and screened in many festivals around the world, winning a plethora of awards both locally and internationally.
The story actually starts with Yong-ho's suicide, and then moves, in segments, backwards in time, in order to present the reasons that led him to this extreme act. Many of them coincide with some of the most important incidents in S. Korean history, as the student's demonstrations that led to the Gwangju massacre. Furthermore, the story around Yong-ho's first love, Sun-im, who loved him dearly is also revealed as the story progresses, proving the impact it had on him.
Lee Chang-dong presents a melodrama that stands apart from the plethora of similar productions due to its intense political element. In that aspect, and in order to fully comprehend the story, one should have certain knowledge of the country's history, since Lee assumes that his audience is familiar with the sociopolitical background of each segment. Apart from that, the reverse chronological order is artfully established, and does not confuse or tire, in an achievement that benefits the most from its elaborate editing. The character's depiction and analysis, and particularly of the two protagonists is another point of excellence, since all of their actions become utterly comprehensible and even justifiable. I also enjoyed the way Lee uses trains, which appear in almost every important moment of the film, with the purpose of reminding the way Yong-ho committed suicide. The general depiction of the film owes much to Kim Hyung-koo's wonderful cinematography, that succeeded in the realistic depiction of the various eras of the film, while also presenting some very beautiful images.
Sol Kyung-gu plays Yong-ho in one of his earliest protagonist roles, and is magnificent, giving a clear sample of what was about to follow in the next years. He steals the show even from the first scene of the film, when he appears on a picnic in his suit dancing and bothering everyone around him. Furthermore, he presents a variety of sentiments and attitudes, being utterly persuasive in the depiction of all of them. He is, by himself, one of the reasons to watch this film. Moon So-ri plays Sun-im, and, although her part is not so large, her presence is felt in the whole duration of the film. She acts quite well, in a role, though, that is not so demanding.
"Peppermint Candy" is one of the best melodramas of S. Korean cinema, particularly because it does not lose its seriousness at any point and because it does not become hyperbolic in his effort to draw tears.
Review by Panos Kotzathanasis
Available on DVD from YESASIA
Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic and reviewer specialising in East Asian Cinema. He is the founder of Asian Film Vault, administrator of Asian Movie Pulse and also writes for Taste of Cinema, Eastern Kicks, China Policy Institute and Filmboy. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook. Panos Kotzathanasis can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[Guest Film Review] "Peppermint Candy""
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