Lee Chang-dong's emotional powerhouse of a sophomore feature Peppermint Candy (1999) is perhaps his most structurally inventive, starting with a man's suicide going backwards--an idea possibly borrowed from Harold Pinter's play and later film Betrayal, and executed contemporaneously alongside Christopher Nolan's Memento.
What distinguishes Lee's film from Nolan's (aside from looking and feeling as far from Westernized neo-noir as a film can get, with its deceptively simple camerawork and bright Rohmerlike sunlight) is the former's deft interweaving of South Korean politico-economic history, from 1980 to 1999, with the life of one Kim Yong-ho (Sol Kyung-gu). A few days before (we learn) Kim lost his business due to an embezzling business partner, lost most of his money due to a stock market crash (The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis) the rest to a loanshark, lost his wife and child because--but I get ahead of myself.
Films like these you know the first question that comes to mind: is the structure justified? Is the backwards time scheme just a gimmick to draw the audience's attention or a crucial tactic for presenting the film's main theme? For the first half hour you're not quite sure: we first find Kim lying on a pebbled riverside, blinking at the harsh sun. He walks into a riverside picnic and you get the sense the man is staggering drunk--he blinks uncomprehendingly even when they recognize him, shrieks words into an offered karaoke mike ("What should I do? You left so suddenly! What should I do? I can't live without you! Do you have a secret no one knew? You were so tender! Na-na-na-na! Na-na-na! Na-na-na-na!"). He walks onto the nearby railroad bridge, which worries the picnickers, one of whom pleads for him to get down. Then the train blows its whistle.