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2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Bittersweet Life, A
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by Dr Nick

"Predictable? Perhaps. Still one hell of a revenge thriller."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2005: South Korea is quickly surpassing Japan as the Asian headquarter for slick, ultra-violent gangster movies. And while it has become somewhat of a norm to conpensate for excessive violence with multiple storylines and complex plot structures, this film needs no such excuses. It's fast, as straight-forward as anything you'll ever see and very, very violent. Not for the faint-hearted, but the rest of us will enjoy the ride.

Sun-Woo is the manager of a swanky hotel/nightclub owned by a local crimelord. That's his official title anyway. What he really does is take care of "problems". With an innocent face you don't expect him to be the brutal kick-ass machine that he is, but therein lies much of his power. One day the boss puts him on a mission to find out if the boss' younger girlfriend is having an affair and to "finish them if it's true". It is true and when he develops feelings for the girl Sun-woo finds himself unable to carry out his orders. Soon, he's not only wanted dead by his boss, but by what seems to be every criminal in the city. After a somewhat slow start the shit soon hits the fan and the film kicks into overdrive, making it one of the most exciting action thrillers of the year so far.

A Bittersweet Life is a fresh and welcome addition to the often stale revenge thriller genre. Director Ji-woon Kim wastes no time on distracting multiple storylines and instead concentrates on making what he has as spectacular as possible. The classic themes are all here: revenge, honour, respect. Somewhere in the bloody mess is also some love, but its only purpose here is to show that somewhere under Sun-woo's cold eyes is something that resembles human emotions.

Director Ji-woon Kim doesn't glamorize the world of crime and instead almost ridicules it. Most criminals are shown as inept losers who can't perform the most simple of tasks, much to the annoyance of their bosses, who are only slightly more intelligent. This adds some much needed comic relief, as otherwise the film would probably have been too nasty. It's Sun-woo's intelligence that keeps him alive and after a while it becomes clear that this is reason alone to have him killed. This keeps him ahead of his enemies through most of the film, but being alone against the world is not easy, something Sun-woo learns the hard way.

The film also looks great, making use of interesting locations such as ice hockey rinks and deserts. Featuring some spectacular action sequences, car chases and shootouts Ji-woon Kim has made an almost perfect action thriller. Having already impressed with his horror film A Tale Of Two Sisters a while back, this is a director to keep an eye out for.

Part of what makes A bittersweet Life so appealing is the simplicity of the plot. There really isn't much to analyse here, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. As one of the characters in the film says, "Life is about suffering", and no sentence can summarize the film better.

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originally posted: 08/19/05 19:51:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Edinburgh Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Fantasia Film Festival For more in the 2006 Fantasia Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/20/07 Muted Orbz I wouldn't compare this to Oldboy. Luckily Korea has many talented directors. 5 stars
3/09/06 Mushuga A thousand and one times better than "Oldboy" 5 stars
1/19/06 jt A great film. Sad but beautiful. The leading actor is a rare talent. 5 stars
11/09/05 white siberian husky awesomely cool film, watch it! No regrets.. 5 stars
8/02/05 Brett Olson Contemporary film noir... as good as it gets. 5 stars
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Directed by
  Ji-woon Kim

Written by
  Ji-woon Kim

  Lee Byung-hun
  Shin Mina
  Kim Young-chul
  Whang Jung-min
  Kim Roi-ha
  Moon Ching-hyuk

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