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A Bittersweet Life (2005) – English Review


Life is pain. Didn’t you know that?

A gangster gets an assignment from his boss to look after his young girlfriend. He’s told to call him if he sees her having an affair with other men. If that happens, he’s told to kill her. But first, he must call his boss.

A Bittersweet Life is a dark movie that doesn’t offer much warmth or light at the end of the tunnel. Kim Ji-woon is a master at trying different techniques with cameras. And he’s also good at picking out a good soundtrack, and the visuals are always good.

A Bittersweet Life oozes quality. It’s almost like I get a tear in my dry eye just thinking about the movie. This is such a great movie! The actors are fantastic, they deliver the goods from start to finish. It’s just a shame we don’t get to know these characters better. But this is a man’s world. Either you eat, or you will be eaten! It’s as simple as that!

The biggest weakness of A Bittersweet Life is the story and the character depth. The story is ridiculously simple, and I missed more character depth. Everyone is rotten, that’s the only thing we learn. Who is the protagonist, and what has he experienced in life that makes him so hateful? He’s in a way the hero of the movie, but he’s as rotten as the others.

The boss is absolutely ridiculous! He’s so full of himself, and he’s so touchy. He doesn’t know what the word respect means. He thinks he can mess around with people, but he gets bitten when he messes with the wrong person!

A Bittersweet Life starts fresh with a short fight scene where the protagonist’s companion counts to three before all hell breaks loose. The companion counts down with his fingers, and this scene is so cool. I was afraid the movie wouldn’t follow up after that cool scene, but it follows up and just keeps getting better and better.

There are strong and visible characters in the movie. But as mentioned, the characters lack character depth and distinct personalities. They are just evil and hard, straight and simple. The closest we come to different personalities are the two goofy arms dealers who are two idiots. But other important characters should have been given more personality and depth.

The action scenes are as stylish as the rest of the movie. We get to see a long fight sequence and a shootout that hits you hard in the face when it starts. A Bittersweet Life slows down a bit when our friend Sun-woo meets the girlfriend of the boss. After that meeting is over, the fun begins. There’s never any dead time from this point and forward. You just lean back in your chair and enjoy the ride.

There are two longer action sequences in the movie, and the best one is the long fight sequence. This long action sequence has so much energy that I always have goosebumps all over my body. I feel my nipples get hard just thinking about it! The energy is from another world, and Kim Ji-won plays with the camera and different angles, and it works perfectly! But the most important thing is that you see what’s going on when the shit hit’s the fan. That’s something many movies forget.

Revenge movies from South Korea are the best movies you can see in this genre. If you liked the Park Chan-wook revenge trilogy, you will surely like this simplified movie that doesn’t focus on a good story and character depth. It prioritizes action scenes. Kim Ji-woon is better than Park Chan-wook in my eyes with action scenes and spectacle.

Kim Ji-woon is good with black comedy, and you expect that since the best South Korean movie directors are known for that and they do it well. He has previously shown that in The Quiet Family. He can also make good comedy movies, as he showed in The Foul King. Before A Bittersweet Life, he made one of the best psychological horror movies I’ve seen named A Tale of Two Sisters. He’s a true all-rounder, and I would say that he was the best movie director South Korea had for a period before traveling to Hollywood and making The Last Stand. After that, he never became the same again. He was South Korea’s best and one of the world’s best movie directors before that trip. I hope someday he will again create some magic because when he was at his best, he created so much movie magic.

A Bittersweet Life is a real man’s movie with a ridiculously simple story and a lot of violence. It’s so elegantly done. The only thing I missed was more character depth and characters that stood out more. Because in this movie, most of the characters are lions!

Rating: 9/10

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