A Bittersweet Life

A Bittersweet Life


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

A Bittersweet Life is tiresome in the same vein as Tony Scott's Man On Fire. It is weakly scripted and dull, with better performances than such utter hokum deserves. I found myself dreaming of Tarantino tackling the same material.

You can immediately sense that the creators are willing this film to be associated with Park Chan-Wook's terrific Old Boy, purely through association with South Korea, neo-noir and extreme violence. In reality, all it does is liberally steal pieces from superior films and cobble them together without realising just why those movies worked.

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Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a short-tempered, tightly controlled and explosively violent enforcer, who takes care of business for a vicious crime boss, named Kang. He's told to look after Kang's girlfriend - Hee-soo, a highly skilled cellist - and report if she's meeting with anyone unusual or, more likely, going behind Kang's back for sex. She reflects an awakening need in Sun-woo that he doesn't know how to deal with it, falling back on what he's good at - kicking the crap out of people. We see this in a road rage scene of vile potency. One would think that if he had a stress-ball, or a contemplative head on his shoulders, a lot of pain could be overcome.

When Hee-soo is discovered sleeping with another man, Sun-woo lies to his boss to defend her, on condition that the pair never meet again. Kang finds out and orders Sun-woo's unpleasant death. Thus the pattern is established for a criminally dull revenge picture.

A Bittersweet Life's central characters drove me livid. Those seeking emotional, or psychological, insights are wasting their time. The crude simplicity and unoriginality of structure, not to mention the jerking around of the audience, wore me out long before the film did.

Also, the unwarranted brutality is not used for any other effect than just to be nasty. Other than a spectacular firebrand fight - another Old Boy twist on the one-against-many theme - and a fairly amusing competition, assembling and disassembling a Russian handgun, there's nothing that stirs the imagination. The luscious, expensive production design and gorgeous lighting earns it points, but all it really has to offer is brutal, realistic violence, a sickening scream from a truly empty place.

Reviewed on: 24 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 ****
Chris ***

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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If you like this, try:

Hand of Death
Man On Fire