A Bittersweet Life

"Excellent"

A Bittersweet Life Review


If I ever need to hire some gangsters to do a job for me, I'll head to Seoul. Those Koreans are tough, and they've never been as tough as they are in A Bittersweet Life, a crazily violent revenge flick that somehow manages to be a fascinating character study as well. Not since The Godfather have I been in the company of such complex hoodlums.

The action here centers on the handsome Kim Seon-woo (Lee Byeong-heon), a loyal henchman who has served Boss Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol) for seven years and is currently working as the manager of an ultra-luxe hotel bar called "La Dolce Vita." (The movie's English title is a slightly off-the-mark translation.) Coolly cruising around Seoul in his black sedan and nice suit, Kim does whatever his boss asks, and he's especially good at dispatching four to six enemies simultaneously with some gorgeous foot-fist fury. In fact, his attack on a rival boss's gang gets him put on a hit list.

Boss Kang's latest assignment for Kim is to have him shadow Kang's young girlfriend Heui-su (Shin Min-ah) for a few days to see if she's cheating on him. If she is, says the boss, take care of it. Kim spends a day driving the lovely cellist to a recording session, where her dulcet tones soothe his savage nature, if only for a while. Sure enough, she's cheating, and Kim busts in on the lovers and comes close to killing them both using nothing but his fists, but he holds back when he sees the contempt in Heui-su's eyes.

In other words, he fails at the task, and when Boss Kang finds out about it, it's time to dish out the punishment. Of course, it's hard to punish the punisher, and before Kang even gets the chance, Kim is kidnapped, tortured, and buried alive by the rival gang that's been on his tail. And that's just the start of his problems. Escaping from that predicament in a ten-minute 10-on-1 battle fought with flaming logs (all this after Kim's hand has been smashed by a monkey wrench), Kim is then set upon by his own gang's goons.

And just when you're starting to wonder if Korea has the world's best gun control laws, out come the weapons, along with enough ordnance to fight the Korean War all over again. Kim heads back to town for a final bullet-riddled showdown with his boss and everyone who has ever done him wrong. What's great about all this isn't just the gloriously choreographed violence (among the best I've ever seen) but also Lee Byeong-heon's bravura and surprisingly profound performance. Kim isn't a thoughtless killing machine. As the wheels come off his life, he runs through the full range of emotions -- surprise, disgust, compassion, rage, bitterness, exasperation, disappointment -- each one accompanied by a stab wound, a bullet, or a fist to his face. And yet he marches on to the final moments back at La Dolce Vita with a grim determination that's utterly admirable. The world has screwed him over, and he'll try to set things right, even if it means facing a squad of insane Thai assassins aiming Uzis at his face.

Aka Dalkomhan inseang.

Which part is sweet, we wonder?



A Bittersweet Life

Facts and Figures

Run time: 120 mins

In Theaters: Friday 1st April 2005

Distributed by: CJ Entertainment

Production compaines: B.O.M. Film Productions Co.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 9

IMDB: 7.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Kim Ji-woon

Producer: , Oh Jeong-wan

Starring: as Sun-woo, Shin Min-a as Hee-soo, Kim Yeong-cheol as Mr. Kang, Hwang Jeong-Min as President Baek, Jin Goo as Min-gi, Kim Roe-Ha as Mun-suk, Oh Dal-Su as Myung-gu, Lee Ki-Young as Mu-sung, Kim Hae-Gon as Gun Dealer, Eric Moon as Gun Dealer's Brother

Also starring:

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