At first impression, it would be easy to dismiss director Kim Jee-Woon’s film as another revenge flick from South Korea in the same vein as Park Chan-Wook’s “Vengeance Trilogy” but that would be unfair. A Bittersweet Life is an amazing film. The story revolves around a young man, Sun-Woo, who is manager of his restaurant, but is also an errand boy it seems for an underworld boss, with lots of fingers in pies. When the boss goes away for a week, Sunwoo is given the task of making sure the boss’ much younger girlfriend isn’t cheating. If she is, she’s to die, as is her bit on the side. Of course, she’s cheating, but Sun-Woo can’t bring himself to kill her, as he has a little crush on her.
For instance with all the violence going on in the movie it sometimes seems like he has no conscience and couldn’t care less about what happens to other people. His face is like stone with no expressions to reveal what he really feels, if anything. As brutally, violent this film is, it’s quite refreshing that the filmmakers didn’t lose their sense of humor. To its credit, the film pitches in its share of comedic moments in the screenplay with all the blood and gore. This is a dark world Sun-woo lives in, and so is his occupation, and as such the film delivers more than its share of violent scenes. film just goes crazy, after a few events I won’t tell cause I don’t want to spoil the film but after them Sun-woo goes on a revenge spree.
To qualify my tastes, I like gangster films, and I love the new wave of genre-busting Korean films. I do hope that nobody takes this film as trying to bite off of Chan-wook’s trilogy because you’ll miss out. It’s definitely not as complex as the trilogy but at the same time it has its own style and feel to it. The action and cinematogrpahy are great throughout. It is unrealistic in parts, but that’s how the movie was designed. It’s a story about revenge, and an uncompromising adherence to honor and duty. For the first half of the movie he is all about fists until he is forced to pick up firearms when the number of his enemies greatly increases. The “love” story was the only negative point for me. He becomes infatuated with his boss’ girlfriend, but she doesn’t give him anything more then a glance and a smile during the whole movie.
As a revenge film, this film kicked ass but it was sad to see him lovestruck over a female who never loved him back. This isn’t going to win an award or anything, but action movies don’t get that kind of recognition anyway. This is what I would call a smart action movie. There is good character development, coupled with action that isn’t too over the top, killing any suspensed disbelief. Also, while a inconclusive ending may work for a horror movie, it does not work for all films. This kind of finish on Bittersweet Life seems studied instead of enigmatic and is the only real flaw I can point out in an otherwise flawless film.