Bittersweet Life, A (2005) Review

"A Bittersweet Life" Korean Theatrical Poster

"A Bittersweet Life" Korean Theatrical Poster

Director: Kim Ji-woon
Writer: Kim Ji-woon
Producer: Lee Yu-Jin
Cast: Lee Byung-Hun, Kim Young-Cheol, Shin Mina, Hwang Jeong-Min, Kim Roi-Ha, Oh Dal-Su, Vadim, Eric, Kim Hae-Gon, Lee Mu-Young, Lee Gi-Young, Jin Gu
Running Time: 120 min.

By Iuxion

A Bittersweet Life is pretty much a cardboard cutout example of how to make an entertaining gangster film, Korean or not. Lee Byung Hun shines in the lead as a hitman who is betrayed by his boss after making a seemingly inconsequential ‘mistake’ and faces an uphill battle as he seeks bloody vengeance. It may not be the most original plot in the world, but it certainly works. Nice touches, like a quiet moment in which Sun Woo (Lee Byung Hun) placidly savors a final taste of chocolate cake before ‘going to work’, add loads to the style and atmosphere.

There’s this one scene about midday through in which these two dorks, full of themselves and not too pleased with driving of our protagonist, ungraciously spit on his shiny black car and throw a cigarette butt at his window. Sun Woo, being the badass that he is (and considering his current mood), abruptly stops his car in front of theirs, gets out, and proceeds to beat the two punks to a pulp. In the coupe de grace, he grabs their keys and tosses them off the bridge. For a moment there I forgot I was watching a movie and simply empathized with the character, his anger just about palpable and real.

If only the rest of the movie kept pumping the adrenaline to the same level, this might have been a classic. As it stands, it’s pretty good, but on the whole, doesn’t really add much of anything new to the genre. The supporting cast, including Kim Young Cheol and Shin Mina (who slightly resembles Jeon Ji Hyun) turn in fine performances, and the direction by Kim Jee Woon is super slick, if by the book. The set design was supposedly done by the same guy(s) as Oldboy, and it definitely shows. Likewise, the music work is commendable.

I’ve heard a rumor that another [longer] cut of the movie exists, and that’s something I’d be genuinely interested in. Some subplots in this version are a little rushed, and the movie could use a bit more characterization and dialogue to help set it apart. As much as I love gun battles, we’ve pretty much seen it all done before, and arguably done better (although the one here is certainly decent). Ditto with some of the torture scenes and the hand to hand combat of the one versus twenty variety, a lot of which I felt could’ve been shortened or removed altogether without much of a loss (besides a nagging sense of déjà vu). That’s not to say none of the violence is striking, some of it is, but next to the innovative sequences showcased in Park Chan Wook’s films of late, I couldn’t help but want for more.

Nevertheless, this is a solid film. If you are at all into this type of thing, then by all means.

Iuxion’s Rating: 8/10

By Owlman

All you need to know about A Bittersweet Life is that it is, in my humble opinion, one of the best gangster movies from recent times that I’ve ever seen. Seriously – a great mix of cool characters, action, dialogue, and humour.

Actually, on a technical note, another thing that you need to know about A Bittersweet Life is that the DTS soundtrack on the DVD is excellent. I can’t recall any other movie that I’ve recently seen on my home system sound so clear – footsteps from afar coming closer, branches blowing in the wind, gunshots rattling your ears (right up to the post-credits gunfire), and more.

Owlman’s Rating: 10/10 (And that concludes my half-assed review of this movie. Buy this movie, man – you can’t go wrong.)

By Equinox21


This is one of those movies that might be talked about for some time. At least I hope it is. The film is called A Bittersweet Life because the main character, Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun), is the manager of a bar called La Dolce Vita (Italian for A Bittersweet Life). In addition to being the manager, he’s also the right hand man to a local mob boss.

When Sun-woo fails to carry out a specific order, because his conscience gets the best of him, he’s put on the boss’ hit list. From then on it’s a struggle to survive, and get answers. This bloody, violent and noir movie ends up with an ultimately ambiguous ending. Did everything really just happen or was it a fantasy concocted by Sun-woo because he’s bored with his life?

A Bittersweet Life was a very interesting movie to watch, and painful to look at in certain parts. Not as graphic as a film like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance or Save the Green Planet, but just as striking. What I really liked was Sun-woo’s journey to obtain a gun. It wasn’t like America, where you can just walk into a store and walk out armed like The Terminator. Sun-woo had to go through a rigorous process in the underworld to get a gun. Of course, this added to his ultimate downfall. Plus, having never fired a gun before, his aim is not as perfect as “in the movies”, this adds to the realism and, to be quite honest, the enjoyability of the film (which also adds to the ambiguousness of the ending).

I would have to say that my thoughts on the film are that it was all a fantasy. Not just because of what is said at the end, but also because of how much punishment Sun-woo takes and stays on his feet (after dozens fall before him, after taking much less in the way of physical bodily damage). This doesn’t make it any less enjoyable, it just makes it more fantasy than an attempt at realistic gunplay action. A Bittersweet Life is highly recommended.

Equinox21’s Rating: 8.5/10

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4 Responses to Bittersweet Life, A (2005) Review

  1. drop says:

    where can I watch this movie. no netflix no amazon no where.

  2. OpiumKungFuCracker says:

    This is the best Korean movie ever made, it’s that awesome…. I’m curious to know MIghty Peking Man’s take on this movie?? Give us a review brother???

    • HKFanatic says:

      I really wish there was a legitimate way for American audiences to see this movie! It’s a shame that this film never got real distribution over here.

    • I can’t remember much, but i know I loved this movie. =D As far distribution, I’m surprised Well Go or Magnet hasn’t picked it up. I’m sure they’ve had some sucess for I Saw The Devil and The Good, The Bad, the Weird.

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