A Bittersweet Life

A Bittersweet Life


Reviewed by: Chris

After the success of A Tale Of Two Sisters, Kim Ji-woon's latest has been eagerly anticipated. In his previous film, the marks of originality, intellectual challenge and superb visual style hailed the possibility of a brave new talent in South Korean cinema.

A Bittersweet Life commences with similarly awesome photography and ambiance. The wind in the leaves of a tree - "Is it the leaves, or the wind that moves?" asks the disciple of the master. "Neither," he replies. "It is your mind and heart that moves."

Copy picture

Cut to La Dolce Vita, the swish bar restaurant, which we are to discover is the gangland stronghold of Sun-woo. A single tree stands in the centre of the restaurant's sky lounge, red and black, glossy and visually forceful. Lushness, or delicacy, is conveyed later by colour, a respite to the bloodshed that will almost certainly swamp us, as a tinkling piano (Chopin is used as part of the score) adds its delicate counterpoint.

Sun-woo has served his boss, President Kang, faithfully for seven years and is now manager of La Dolce Vita, as well as Kang's right hand man. Background profits and gang competition focuses on innocuous sidelines, such as the supply of guns or dancing girls and from which countries they should come.

Kang has a secret lover from the "normal" world, a cellist who is much younger than he, and whom he suspects of infidelity. Kang entrusts Sun-woo to sort it out and show no mercy. The warfare that follows goes beyond honour, beyond profit, beyond vengeance, . . . beyond any rational point, in fact.

Sun-Woo is the ultimate cool bad guy. Indentured to a world of violence and expert in the use of martial arts, knives and guns, he is almost a humanised Bruce Lee, who has woken up on a Tarantino set. It sounds almost too good to be true and it is.

The storylines are formulaic and derivative, consisting largely of how to engineer more ingenious punch-ups, torture or revenge posturing. Light humour, afforded in the contrast between suave top dogs and bumbling henchmen, has been done so many times before - the entertaining debacles could have been lifted from Kill Bill. But entertaining it is, on an undemanding level.

Sadly, it is not the work of the master that we might have expected from the maker of Two Sisters. "The dream I had can't come true," laments the protagonist, and so the dreams Kim Ji-woon fans may justifiably have had don't come true either. Otherwise, A Bittersweet Life is an elegant shoot-em-up, with reasonable boys-night-out potential.

Reviewed on: 23 Aug 2005
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A tale of revenge, infidelity and gangland warfare in South Korea.
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Read more A Bittersweet Life reviews:

Iain Macleod ****
Scott Macdonald *1/2

Director: Kim Ji-woon

Writer: Kim Ji-woon

Starring: Lee Byung-hun, Shin Mina, Kim Young-chul, Whang Jung-min, Kim Roi-ha, Moon Ching-hyuk, Lee Ki-young, Oh Dalsoo, Jin Gu, Kim Hae-gon

Year: 2005

Runtime: 118 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: South Korea

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