Review by Jamie M MacDonald

“The sound of a hole being ripped into a life”
Enforcer and hotel manager Kim Sun-Woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a man with a great reputation with both his boss Mr Kang (Kim Yeong-cheo) and others in the life. He is just a no nonsense man that gets on with the job in the most professional way. So, when he has an altercation with President Baek`s men at the hotel, Sunwoo feels he has nothing to apologise for, but Baek (Hwang Jung-min) has other ideas. Also Mr Kang is going away on business, and asks Sunwoo to chaperone his younger mistress Hee-Soo (Shin Min-a) who he suspects is seeing a younger man. Mr Kang`s orders are simple, if Sunwoo discovers that this is the case then he must kill them both. Things are destined to go wrong as Sunwoo doesn`t follow his bosses orders to the letter. He makes the best solution he feels for the situation, but his boss does not agree, now Sunwoo is forced into the fight of his life, in this most bittersweet of life`s.

Released in 2005, it is hard to believe that A Bittersweet Life is now nineteen years old. Written and directed by Kim Jee-woon this film still packs a heavy punch, and deserves all the praise it got at the time of its release. Even now it is regarded very highly, as it should be. For me, it is one of the best revenge thrillers of the 2000s. A lot of the film hangs on the charisma of its leading man; here Lee Byung- hun gives a performance that is slick and cool, but also very vulnerable and human. This is shown when he is keeping an eye on the boss’s girlfriend, at her concert I think he smiles as she plays her cello, this is the first time the seriousness is wiped away from him, also it is the first time you see him showing any kind of emotion. The cast are very impressive all round, but this is Lee Byung- Hun`s film, he really does light up the screen with his presence! It is full of colourful characters all the way through, has some powerful well-acted scenes between Sunwoo and Mr Kang. I just can’t fault this film in any way, the smile on Lee Byung-hun face in the last shot, is just something
else, as I said it still packs a heavy punch.

The action scenes, both the gunfights and the Martial Arts scenes are stylised but I feel not overly stylized. You are not taken away from the action when it happens; you are actually closer to the action the way it is done. There is a scene where SunWoo is held and his hand smashed. Watching the film this time around I wonder if director Kim Jee-woon was influenced by Sergio Corbucci`s Django, in the classic Spaghetti Western from 1966 Franco Nero`s hand is smashed before the finale. In this film before the big finale at the hotel the same thing happens to the main character. The way the camera follows the massive ratchet that they use to hit his hand, how the camera follows it getting dragged across the mud, reminded me of the scene in Django. 

It was great to revisit A Bittersweet Life in its new 4k transfer that was scanned from the original 35mm print negative. The depth the 4k scan gives to the image and the sound is quite something, and most definitely a step up from my Tartan Release DVD.

A Bittersweet Life

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