A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan Insaeng) 2005 Review

Verdict
5

Summary

I believe that ‘A Bittersweet Life’ is a must-see, not only action enthusiasts, but for everyone and it’s also the perfect way to get in touch with wonderful Korean cinema beyond Oldboy and to know the man I put in my top 3 action stars from today, Byung-Hun Lee.

Plot: Things go wrong for a high ranking mobster when he doesn’t proceed by his boss’s orders.

Review: 2013 started with a big return to the world of cinema, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first feature movie in years, ‘The Last Stand’. What most people didn’t know is that ‘The Last Stand’ was also a hollywoodian debut for South Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, which I consider to be one of the very best directors today, especially when it comes about action. While ‘The Last Stand’ isn’t the best example of his skills, his latest Korean movies are the best this country has to offer, from insane shoot-outs to top notch martial arts, going through depressive and ultra-violent stories like ‘I Saw the Devil’ and pure entertaining and funny ones like the western parody, ‘The Bad The Good and The Bizarre’. Therefore I’ve chosen to start my series of reviews from Kim’s movies with what may be his masterpiece so far, ‘A Bittersweet Life’.

‘A Bittersweet Life’ lies somewhere between drama and action, as it tells the story of a gangster and his troubled relationship with his boss that will led him to a bloody vendetta. The biggest accomplishment of this movie is to tell the story of this man in a very compelling way, causing complete immersion and at the same time, balancing this drama with some of the most well-choreographed action scenes of history, a classical brand of Asian cinema. At the same time we are presented to a man with feelings, capable of contemplate his own life by small things without being bland, we can see this same guy, ridiculously violent and unstoppable in search for revenge, a little similar to Jason Statham’s Joey from the movie ‘Redemption’, but way better in both aspects.

Therefore Kim is the person responsible for creating the environment for this to happen, this character only came to life because of leading actor Byung-Hun Lee, who I consider to be the best Korean actor today, in both acting and martial arts aspects. Lee is mostly known in Hollywood by his character Storm Shadow in ‘G.I. Joe’, and for his recent role in ‘RED 2’, as an assassin. Whilst his Hollywood characters didn’t really allow him to show his acting skills, he had plenty of space to do so in Korea. After A ‘Bittersweet Life’, he repeated the partnership with director Kim Jee Woon twice, with equally great results. His character Sun-woo remains his best, maybe matched by his role in ‘I Saw the Devil’, as a revengeful cop. To see an actor capable of balancing acting and fighting skills such as his, is a true wonder, and that’s why I believe him to be one of the top actioners today. In 2014, he returns to South Korea in a period drama movie called ‘Memories of the Sword’, which I know nothing about yet.

As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a nice dramatic tone in the movie, however, the action scenes are over the top crazy and stylish, the cinematography is so unusual that and in spite of capturing every detail of those action sequences, it goes far beyond the average movie, making the experience as unique as it is entertaining. The scape sequence from the warehouse, which can be found on YouTube, is undoubtedly one of the best action sequences ever made, and it’s alone, with its jaw dropping choreography, better than 90% of the action movies coming out every year in the past decade.

Finally, I believe that ‘A Bittersweet Life’ is a must-see, not only action enthusiasts, but for everyone and it’s also the perfect way to get in touch with wonderful Korean cinema beyond Oldboy and to know the man I put in my top 3 action stars from today, Byung-Hun Lee.