Monday, 5 April 2010

Peppermint Candy DVD reviewed

A powerful South Korean drama which reminded me of TS Eliot’s poetry (the Quartet) as it deals with the beginning and the end of a man’s life; where the beginning is also the end, and the end is the beginning. With most films I want to see the end of it, with Peppermint Candy I was dying to see how it begins, yet, when I reached that scene I found out that the the end was foretold. Very intriguing, indeed.

It is an intensely gripping story which begins with the end of Kim’s life, the protagonist, under the wheels of a passing train after falling foul of a riverside picnic near his home town, where he has returned, lonely and in disgrace, after having run out of prospects for his life; and it ends with a picnic on the same spot on the riverbank with the same people, 20 years earlier, when they all were much younger and their future was open and bright, with the same railway tracks on the background. What makes Peppermint Candy so powerful is that the last scene of the film, depicting the beginning of Kim's journey, becomes very moving as he foretells his own ending on that same spot 20 years later, of what was to come. Hence the associations I made with the poetry of TS Eliot. This is a story of a man who goes back to the place where his adult life began, just to find out that the beginning had slipped away from between his fingers. In this respect, the film parts away from TS Eliot.

Trains are a powerful presence, even a protagonist, throughout the length of the film – it begins indeed with a shot taken from what at first seems to the driver’s cab, but it turns out to having been filmed from the last carriage of the train, the footage being rolled backwards. The same device is used to separate the chapters as we progressively learn about Kim’s life story as the narrative rolls backwards. In every episode either we hear or see trains or railway tracks, a strong reminder of the linear structure of the film.

His story is a pitiful one, a tale of a man’s degradation not out of malice or evil, but out of moral and emotional weakness. We learn about the failure of his business ventures; about his betrayal to his wife, child and, even, to his dog; about his life as a brutal plain clothes cop (all trying to outdo each other in their cruelty); about his betrayal of Yumin, the woman he loved as a young man; about the photographic camera returned to him by her as a reminder of their past liaison; about his life as an army conscript, a wimp who kills a young woman, an university student, out of panic; we learn about the peppermint candy which links his past and his present as he reminisces by Yumin’s death bed the bitter sweet candy she used to send him when he was in the army, to his considerable embarrassment; and finally we learn about that initial riverside picnic, about a flower, about a tear.

The train leitmotif powerfully and inexorably drives the narrative forwards, and backwards. Peppermint Candy is ultimately a film about fate and atonement. When a lived life is gone, is gone.

An intensely engaging drama, impeccably photographed, which asks questions to which I have no answers. An extraordinary film, undoubtedly one of the great films of the past decade.

1st May 2010:  I was so impressed by this film that I neglected adding some notes on the DVD itself. Overall image quality, keeping the original aspect ratio, is good. There is also an enlightening  documentary on the making of the film, with interviews to Chang-dong Lee and the actors. A trailer completes the package. As expected, the DVD can be played either on 5.1 or 2.0 sound setting.

Director/writer: Chang-dong Lee South Korea 2000 130 mins Cert TBC

Cast:Yeo-jin Kim, Kyung-gu Sol, So-ri Moon

DVD Release Date: April 26th, 2010

DVD Specifications:5.1 Surround Sound, Anamorphic Widescreen transfer, Removable Subtitles, NTSC Release

DVD Bonus Features:47 Minute 'Making of', Theatrical Trailer, Trailers of other Third Window releases

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All images copyright the producers and Third Window Films.

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