In the spring of 1999, a disheveled and emotionally distraught salary man, Kim Yong-ho (Sol) stumbles onto an outdoor picnic, where he is recognized by some of the attendees. After disrupting their party with incoherent shouts and snatches of a song, he climbs atop a railroad bridge and stands there as a locomotive rushes headlong into him, shouting "I am going back!" With that, we are transported back in time, to witness the tragic events leading up to his life's collapse.
With a backwards-through-time structure similar to "Memento," Lee Chang-dong's astonishing "Peppermint Candy" is a heartbreaking drama of personal disfigurement that episodically mirrors South Korea's turbulent modern history. Each stage in Yong-ho's troubled life corresponds to an equally traumatic period in the nation's bloody emergence from military dictatorship following the notorious 1979 Kwangju massacre. Thankfully, the reverse chronology never seems like a gimmick. Instead, it adds gravity to the revelation that such an agonized man — played with fierce dedication by Sol — was once a quiet, reflective soul with innocence in his heart.