Title: Peppermint Candy
Genre: Romantic Drama
Starring: Kyung-gu Sol, Yeo-jin Kim, Jung Suh
Director: Chang-dong Lee
For something in this genre to get my attention it has to look to be something rather special, and this film promises a tale of woe; a 'memento' like direction, working its way from the end to the origins in 15 minute chunks and chronicling the sad state of affairs our protagonist finds himself in. Opening with our suited lead crashing a reunion picnic - much to the surprise of those who knew him all those years ago - twenty years on from the last time they met at this spot, clearly demonstrating a state of debilitating trauma that ends in him awaiting on a set of train tracks for his nightmare to end. As we travel backwards in time we see his life forced into living alone in a tent having lost it all; a successful businessman and abusive husband, almost proudly displaying his lack of faithfulness to her; as a brutish and heartless cop demonstrating no remorse for his actions, until finally we see his more human origins. His early days being pressured by the police into being something he never used to be; his time in the military as a frightened and useless soldier, and that fateful day he would meet the love of his life.
My opinion of this film seems to have changed wildly and it's difficult to pinpoint precisely where to place it. The opening is remarkably powerful and if nothing else from the film stands out in my mind, Sol's performance as the dejected man with nothing left to lose will be imprinted there as a peak of what this could have accomplished. There should also be some credit given for the bold move in making a romantic film where the lead character would be described as anything but a 'hero' character, even if he doesn't quite stretch into that 'villainous anti-hero' territory. The justification for his actions is presented too; the manner the world has forced him into a position of self-loathing and self-destruction, spiralling out of control in a twenty year circle, steadily demolishing everything that was ever important to him; and perhaps most interesting is the manner it takes a snapshot of the political climate in Korea since the aftermath of the Korean War.
The problem is that so much time is spent dwelling on his actions and not the cause of them. We see him perform these despicable atrocities without explanation, and any empathy built up at the start of the film is eroded down until it's put into context far too late. There is no subtle demonstrations of remorse, no hint as to the past events that have yet to be unveiled, and as a result of the lack of emotional development built up between the characters and on display, the whole piece rapidly starts to go downhill. Outside of a few select scenes, there are no emotions conveyed that can be understood, and even those that translate well out of context are left bare facilitating only the most base understanding.
The benefits of going backwards in time feels more of a way to promote the film as something 'unique' than it does in ever assisting it artistically. The result of this is that for ¾ of the film, all we see is our protagonist performing rather despicable actions, either through peer pressure or not, and it makes him fairly difficult to like. If it was shot chronologically then whilst the film itself would likely improve – though it's still difficult to say precisely how much empathy would be built up for our victim of circumstance – it wouldn't stand out from the crowd, and probably wouldn't have been so well noticed. The message of the man contorted by his surroundings would certainly feel all the more poignant as we see how each pivotal point in his life has served to send him further down the rabbit hole, but it would also mean that the ending could be seen as a depressing note to finish on (unless it were played as his final release from the cruel world he found himself a part of). I don't claim to hold a solution to the dilemma, but the unfortunate result is what could have been a strong film feels degraded by little more than a gimmick.