58) Peppermint Candy (1999) Dir: Lee Chang-dong Not Yet Released* Date Seen: February 25th, 2009 Rating: 2/5
Even after having read about how Peppermint Candy can be read as a critique of the past few decades-worth of sociopolitical stagnation in South Korea, I find the film incredibly hard to take. The irony of its reverse chronological structure begs the viewer to consider the life of its protagonist, Yong-ho (the ever-awesome Sol Kyung-gu), as an inescapable series of traumatizing events that you need to either take or leave from the story’s end and the plot’s beginning. Considering that the first episode that elucidates why Yong-ho killed himself is a laundry list of financial woes and one emotional one (ie: it's a commentary on the IMF crisis), the ultimatum Peppermint Candy puts forward is very easy to reject.
There’s almost no way for Peppermint Candy structure could sustain itself over the film’s 130-minute runtime given how its based around violent charcter-defining episodes. The monotony of being constantly reminded of how miserable Yong-ho’s life has been smothers any possibility of appreciating the shock and emotional weight of the film’s more excellent episodes, like the one where Yong-ho receives his initiation into the brutality of police interrogations. These scenes are effective but only unto themselves, as fragments that don’t really need further justification to be effectively painful. Stacking one on top of the other is the worst kind of overkill, the kind justified by a "more is better" kind of logic.
Even if one could stomach watching Yong-ho lose everything, the film’s main question of how much a person can change is posed in a jeeringly ironic fashion. With the omnipresent image of the train, Lee suggests that life and people can’t really change but are rather trapped by their own bullheadedness. Before Yong-ho (literally) gets his hands dirty beating up a labor activist for the cops, he teaches a local girl how to ride a bike. The scene serves as a condescending provocation that suggests that the violence he commits in his later life may have had a similarly rocky start but from then on becomes habit-forming. This is the beginning of the budding phallocentric alpha male and the end of the sensitive artiste. It’s also where I tune out.
*Note: I don't count the film's screening at FSLC's New Directors/New Films.