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LEE CHANG-DONG

Peppermint Candy, Oasis


Bakha satang, 2000
[Peppermint Candy]

SolIn the spring of 1999, a distraught and incoherent middle-aged man, Kim Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu), dressed in a tailored business suit, lies along the side of a railroad bridge that overlooks an open field by a lake. Nearby, a loose knit group of friends called the Bong-woo Club, formed 20 years earlier at the same site during a social gathering of factory employees, are holding their reunion. Yong-ho stumbles into the picnic, seemingly by accident, and is immediately recognized by members of the group as a fellow factory worker and aspiring photographer who had joined them at the original outdoor event in 1979. Unable to disconnect himself from his desperate, unarticulated anguish and join in the amusement of his former colleagues, the inconsolable Yong-ho climbs to the railroad tracks and throws himself in front of a passing train, shouting "I am going back." The film then proceeds in reverse chronology through the past 20 years to mundane, but emotionally revelatory episodes in Yong-ho's life, from his family's estrangement, financial bankruptcy, traumatic law enforcement career during the 1987 student demonstrations for democratic reform of the Constitution, military service during the crackdown of martial law protestors that led to the tragedy of the 1980 Kwangju massacre, and the loss of his first (and true) love, Sun-Nim (Moon So-ri).

Coincidentally released in the same year as Christopher Nolan's similarly structured film, Memento (which, in turn, recalls the reverse sequence narrative of the dissolution of a marriage in David Hugh Jones' elegant screen adaptation of Harold Pinter's Betrayal), Peppermint Candy is an intimate and compelling account of the contemporary history of South Korea as the nation moved towards democratization. From the opening image of a train immutably traversing a long, dark tunnel (in an opening sequence reminiscent of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Dust in the Wind), Lee Chang-dong establishes a parallel between the motion of trains and the progression of time as signifiers of human (and national) transition: the interstitial shots from a train traveling backwards that episodically connect the stages in Yong-ho's life; Sun-Nim's bittersweet departure after visiting an emotionally callous Yong-ho, who had recently become a police officer (and abandoned his earlier ambition of becoming a photographer) at a time when brutality and torture of prisoners were tolerated as a means of gaining information and rooting out opposition to the military coup government of General Chun Du-Wan; the unforeseen consequences of the Kwangju military suppression as a frightened, wounded Yong-ho awaits medical assistance in a train yard. By creating a regressive chronicle of Yong-ho's ultimately tragic life through seminal events in late 20th century South Korean history, the film serves as an incisive and affecting portrait of the uncalculated human toll of the painful, and often traumatic reconstruction of a war torn nation.

© Acquarello 2003. All rights reserved.

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Oasis, 2002

Moon/SolA flighty, aimless man named Jong-du (Sol Kyung-gu), insufficiently dressed in a summer shirt on a brisk winter day, arrives at a major city thoroughfare to wait for a bus, biding his time by cursorily scanning through a rack of inexpensive sweaters peddled on the sidewalk. Arriving at his intended destination, a multi-level urban residential complex, Jong-du attempts to surprise the occupant by knocking under the playful pretense of laundry service, only to encounter a bewildered stranger who immediately slams the door shut. Unable to find information on the former residents, Jong-du imposes on a restaurant owner by ordering dinner with the naive expectation that he will telephone his younger brother, Jong-sae (Ryoo Seung-wan), who, in turn, will come to fetch him and pay for his meal. However, unable to contact Jong-sae, Jong-du complicates matters by attempting to escape after the police arrive, an impulsive act that sends him directly to the police station, where his prior conviction for a fatal hit-and-run accident is used to confirm his disreputable history of police infractions. The inconvenienced Jong-sae is eventually summoned to collect Jong-du from the precinct and brings him to their eldest brother Jong-il's (Ahn Nae-sang) modest apartment, eager to shift the burden of responsibility for the unemployable Jong-du. However, Jong-du soon begins to court trouble when he pays an unwelcomed visit to the accident victim's family and becomes determined to assist the victim's daughter, Gong-ju (Moon So-ri), a young woman afflicted with cerebral palsy, after being abandoned in the squalid tenement by her selfish brother, Sang-shik (Son Byung-ho) and his wife (Yoon Ga-hyun).

Lee Chang-dong creates a poignant, provocative, and compelling portrait of isolation, compassion, and disability in Oasis. Using pervasive images of light, shadows, and the color white (which Gong-ju reveals is her favorite color), Lee reflects the social ignorance, fear, alienation, and captivity often encountered by the disabled: Gong-ju's character introduction through the image of a white bird in flight as she hums a soothing melody; the recurring ominous shadows of a leafless tree cast against a wall tapestry (of a desert oasis) in Gong-ju's unlit apartment; the metamorphosis of reflected mirror shards into butterflies; the sunlit rooftop of Gong-ju's first outdoor trip. A novelist turned filmmaker, Lee's instinctive narrative clarity and astute observation of social reality is understatedly reflected through mundane events and marginalized characters, articulating an innate humanism that seeks to encapsulate the ennobling beauty and quiet tragedy of human imperfection.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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