Director Lee Chang Dong uses a male character as a symbol of deprivation during the political, economical and social crisis in the 80’s and 90’s in the militarized and masculinity Korean society. This film could be considered as a melodrama that explores the extent to which Young Ho’s life is shaped by the social system. Compared to other movies, it portrays Young Ho’s life from the current to the past, where he jumps to the rail way and screams “I am going back”, and commits a suicide. This event takes the audience through a process in Young Ho’s life marked with harsh experiences that made him a totally different young man, full of hopes yet living a life of dreams.
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Each of scenes portrayed the Young Ho’s past, and tells the reasons why he decided to kill himself later in the movie. These events are shown through the psychological exploration of Young Ho’s life, which transformed him into a person without hope and love and an oppressive and manipulating society slowly diminished his individuality. In this sense, the film encapsulates the transition of the military dictatorship in the Korean government during the 1980’s to the economic crisis in the 1990’s within the Korean government by portraying in Young Ho’s life. One of the main elements that were shown in the movie was the masculinity of Young Ho. His masculinity portrayed a militarized society which shaped Young Ho’s personality and mind. Because the Korean military represents the strong male masculinity, the movie clearly shows how the military took control over the Korean society during 1980’s and 1990’s, which created a militarized society that emphasized masculine nature.
When Young Ho finds out about his wife Honja cheated on him, he brutally abuses her. It was ironic to see how he treated his wife, while he was having affair with the secretary. So, basically, man could do whatever they want and decide on anything without discussing with his wife, which represents the male oriented society. Since The Gwang Ju massacre resulted in killing many students and civilians, it impacted Korean government for many years and later two South Korean presidents ended up getting thrown by the civilians. There are violence scenes where Young Ho brutally abuses the student to get the information he needed at the Kwangju massacre scene, where the soldier beats the men by kicking them and assaulting them. This scene contradicts with the system of Korea military, which a person with authority in military could beat up low level soldiers and abuses them. Also, it showed the way Young Ho was treated in the military and how he learned to use those unmoral behaviors to civilians. Even though, the movie criticized of Korean ruined society, Peppermint Candy also could be considered as a movie that criticizes the military system in Korea. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the military changed men into totally different people through traumatic experiences like how Young Ho was changed by this.
Yong Ho was changed into brutal and disparaging man after he experienced with the Kwang Ju Massacre. It was the most important turning point in the process of Young Ho’s brutal life because he actually feels how it is to kill someone innocent and did the murder he would have never done. By showing the masculinity behavior of Young Ho, the film itself gives a massage about the corruption of Korea’s government and society. The director portrayed the image of militarized masculinity as the violence, strict discipline, and rational calculation, which were shown throughout the movie and how Young Ho used all these elements to emphasize his male oriented society. Throughout the movie, Young Ho, the protagonist of this film keeps away from activities that were considered feminine.Young Ho and his fellow policeman discuss about the role as a father, which tells that they are only to talk with their teachers after they did bad things in the school. If Young Ho was involved in lots of feminine activities, it disparages the power of masculinity and would not satisfy the ultimate purpose of movie. At the same time, Young would felt the shame and guilty about what he did. Men during 1980’s and 1990’s did not think that it was their job to deal with child’s teachers, and could decide their decisions without discussing and coping with wife. All of these show how this character fits into the concept of militarized society and how the film reflect upon a society that shapes their behavior and mind after 2 years of intense military service and training.
Therefore, the masculinity issued is shown as a huge part of the plot, where it brings the attention to main character. Peppermint Candy shows the role of women within the narration in order to emphasize how it affected the overall movie plot. Since, the movie mainly concentrated on a man’s life and male oriented society, I had hard time observing any feminine ideology that was shown in the movie. Most of women was ignored or treated badly by people representing a male-oriented society during 1980’s and 1990’s. In the movie, female roles are shown through Sunim and Honja, who has different kind of element. They played major role in constructing Young Ho’s mind about life and the story plot of film. In the movie, Sunim represents inspiration and love because she was Young Ho’s first and true love, but Honja represents as an object to be cheated on and ignored because he sleeps with her even though he did not feel true compassionate love. Before, Young Ho became brutal and carefree man, he actually lived a life with full of hope because of Sunim’s love. But, after he changed into a different person, he avoids to meet her and has different mindset about her than before. Because, these two females actually had relationship with Young Ho and ended up in harmful way, Young Ho begins to feel hopeless and hatred toward other people and his life. Since, women roles are used as tools to support a male-oriented plot, the director meticulously used it to express how the women’s role in military was portrayed as negative ways. In the movie, Young Ho accidentally killed young girl during the Gwang Ju Massacre, which made him into more brutal man. Because she died without any fault, Young Ho felt so much shame to himself and realized how it feels to kill someone innocent.
By experiencing tragic event, Young Ho’s masculinity was shaped by pain and sorrow of his action toward female character. The director could’ve used the male student instead of female student in the movie, but then it would not support a male oriented society which is the ultimate purpose of this film. However, I was not sure if the director intended to use this method to criticize the female role in society or if the film originally planned to express power of masculine society or even the militarized society had impact on the director. Finally, it explores not only of the political degradation of Korea but it also degrades masculine moral ideology in the society.. The director Lee Chang Dong used various symbolisms to enhance artistic concept and the degradation of masculinity in the movie. Most of audience would be unaware of the meaning of specific symbolisms in this movie because symbols make conscious and unconscious connections about the character and depends on its cultural background. The tragic fatale of Young Ho’s life is more emphasized through the ongoing train and it also represents a man power. This train is always appear after tragic events in his life which tells audiences that society and masculinity are the ultimate causes of Yong Ho’s disgrace and behavior. The view from the back of train shows the movement of man’s life toward guilty free and happy past by showing the beauty of nature, but at the same it reminds the audience about the man’s suicide on the track at the beginning of film. In the movie, his camera represents his dreams and hopes about becoming a famous photographer and lives a moral life. After Yong Ho sells his camera, and cheats on his wife after beating her badly, the audience sees the train passing. The train moving backwards represents the reversing of the narrative and the delightful life of Young Ho.
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In addition, the peppermint candy represents the masculinity and innocence in the movie. It was Young Ho’s first love gift from Sunim and it also made Young Ho remember her and was able to prevail his masculinity. Unfortunately, His innocence and ideals goes away when the candy was crashed on the floor by a sergeant. As soon as he left the candies behind, it was turning point for him and he lost innocence by militarized world. He used to be a bright-eyed youth in the opening scene, but he loses his innocence as the plot progresses. In each scene, the symbols like train, camera, and peppermint candy show the pure and good side of Young Ho and considered as the resistor against the militarized and masculinity society. As soon as each one gets destroyed, Young Ho shows brutal and immoral behavior. Each one of these symbols allows adding details to the development of Young Ho’s behavior. Therefore, these and other symbolisms express masculinity in Peppermint Candy. All of these elements show how the film represents masculine society and how it influenced overall plot. It is important to notice that the focus of movie is not masculinity alone, but also show that every man had pure and innocence part inside of their hearts. Peppermint Candy is a story about a man within a political society which shaped him in negative ways and ultimately shows the negative side of Korea’s society during 1980’s and 1990’s.
However, Masculinity clearly sets a background in overall society and affects a main character’s mind. Since the society was male oriented, the movie looks for reconstruction of society and Korean masculinity from a strict and harsh militarized to a pure and freedom one. Therefore the director Lee Chang-Dong explores one of the most tragic moments in Korean history in an extremely powerful way by portraying a male character who struggles within the militarized society.
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