Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Life is Beautiful

Peppermint Candy (1999) - Lee
The film chronicles key events in the life of Kim Young-ho (Sol Kyung-gu). It opens with Kim stumbling into his school reunion outing near an idyllic creek under the railroad tracks. After making a scene, he throws himself in front of an oncoming train. Tracing backward into 20 years, it shows the dehumanizing effect that the violence has on a person. With a crooked smile and bad temper, Kim is not a nice guy. But he wasn't always like that. It's hard to believe that he was once a young man who liked looking at wild flowers and wanted to be a photographer.

The Gwangju Masssacre in 1980 in which thousands of pro-democracy students lost their lives by the military force, deeply scarred a generation of Korean people. Peppermint Candy deals with that incident in a personal storytelling that is amazingly effective. Kim's sneering detachment, unhappiness and violent nature of his later years is explained slowly through traveling back in time in an absorbing, revealing way. Its accumulative power in making us sympathize with this deeply detestable person is undeniable. Lee Chang-dong is a gifted writer/filmmaker whose use of 'time traveling' device here is much more elegant and resonant here than the likes of Memento and Irreversible. His attention to detail and use of different cinematic devices (music, phrases and especially peppermint candy) for connecting different times are not showy but beautifully done, almost reminding me of Kieslowski films- again, much more resonant given the historical/personal context. I can't say anything more than that it's an amazingly beautiful, touching film.

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