A Bittersweet Life

A Bittersweet Life


Reviewed by: Iain Macleod

The coolest film in ages comes yet again from South Korea. Director Kim Ji-woon takes what appears to be a slight plot and mixes it up into a dizzying display of violence and revenge that recalls the glory days of John Woo's Hong Kong masterpieces and Jean-Pierre Melville's ultra cool crime flicks of the Sixties.

When we first meet the protagonist Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) eating a delicate sweet in the swanky restaurant he manages, the viewer is startled to see him not two minutes later using fists, feet and whatever bottles come to hand in a lethal manner on some thugs who could do with a lesson in manners - and all without getting a crease in his suit. It is only the first of many sequences that jolts and stuns you into full attention over a two-hour running time.

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Sun-woo is not only a restaurant manager but also a mob enforcer. When asked by his boss to keep an eye on his younger girlfriend and to use extreme force if she is up to no good, common decency and personal feelings get in the way. Bad news for Sun-woo; great news for us!

Without spoiling it too much, let me say things go wrong for our hero, causing him to take a course of action, which involves scraping faces off concrete, driving cars through walls and buying guns off dodgy Russians.

Kim Ji-woon's last film, A Tale Of Two Sisters, was the best of the crop of ghost stories that popped up in the wake of the original Japanese Ringu. Putting his own stamp and assured direction on the overcrowded Spooky Girls With Loooong Hair mini genre, he manages to pull off the exact same trick here. The cinematography and sparse musical score also deserve a special mention for its particular quality.

While moviegoers might be put off by yet another guns-and-gangsters thriller, they really should give A Bittersweet Life a chance. This is not a film that wishes to remind you of Tarantino, or (God forbid!) Guy Ritchie. There are no hipster, swaggering, ultra cool characters on these mean streets. Sun-woo comes across as confused, angry and scared by the cold, sadistic villains he is up against. It gives the film a more emotional and frightening core, while never being anything less than entertaining and exciting.

Reviewed on: 20 Jan 2006
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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:

Chris ***
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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