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Dalkomhan Insaeng (A Bittersweet Life)

March 11, 2009

Hard to find fault with this movie

When I finished watching this movie one of my first thoughts was where are the American filmmakers who are making movies like this? If this movie had been made here, which it never would/could, my guess is there would have been a dozen cars blown up, a city destroyed, a billion additional bullets fired, a gratuitous sex scene, a blazingly loud techno-rock score, an eye toward high fashion and merchandise tie-ins and an ending that was overly sentimental and unrealistic. When it was over people would have commented that Bruce Willis was getting a little too old for these types of roles and life would go on and the movie would be forgotten. Life still goes on, but hopefully A Bittersweet Life will get wider recognition and notice.


Sun woo is an enforcer for the mob and he receives a simple assignment from his boss to watch his much younger girlfriend while he leaves town because he’s suspicious that she might be seeing someone else. If Sun woo discovers that she is, his instructions are to kill them both. In the meantime, a rival gang is trying to move in on Sun woo’s boss’ territory and its Sun woo’s job to deal with that. Sun woo also finds himself enjoying the company of the woman he’s been told to watch and maybe kill. Sun woo, a master of martial arts, soon finds himself in need of a gun. That’s a very, very small thumbnail sketch; the plot is much deeper and intricate than that, but I’m not providing a synopsis, only my thoughts.

The writer/director filled the movie with obvious nods to Taxi Driver, Kill Bill and Sam Peckinpah and probably others that I didn’t get, but what sealed the fact in my mind that this was a magnificent crime drama was the character depth of Sun woo. Maybe I’m wrong, but in a lot of movies we have heroes who are bad guys doing bad things for good reasons and because they’re doing something good it’s all OK. In A Bittersweet life we have a hero who’s a bad guy doing bad things for pretty much bad reasons and you can’t help but care for him and feel for him because he wants to do the right things, but, for reasons, can’t. In many movies characters seek revenge for a wrongdoing, but never that I’ve ever seen on the level of this movie, and I don’t mean physically, but emotionally. I think the ending of the movie was just brilliant icing on a flawless cake and about as close to a perfect ending as I can imagine for the movie. Even the movie’s imagery (stuff that usually goes over my head) worked and didn’t seem forced or pretentious and added to the overall beauty. Add to all of that a wonderful acting job by Byung-hun Lee and this is top-notch movie-making and entertainment.

The movie is in Korean with English subtitles. I rate it a 10 of 10 and recommend it to everyone with a warning for extreme and graphic violence.

© 2009 by Michael Fishman

3 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2009 4:42 pm

    one of my personal favs. I have an asian film review blog, I will be reviewing this film in the next month ( i have quite the backlog ), check out my blog sometime, would love to hear your input from a person with such good taste in flicks 🙂



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