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A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng)

A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) (2005)


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An elegant sky lounge floating like an island in the sky above Seoul, it's like Sun Woo's own little castle. After 7 years he has climbed to the top, managing the upscale lounge and restaurant. An intelligent, cool-headed perfectionist, Sun Woo has earned the absolute trust of his boss with his undivided loyalty and by adeptly managing the business. His boss, Mr. Kang, is a callous man with a secret -- his young love, Hee-soo. When Mr. Kang suspects Hee-soo might have another boyfriend, he

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July 23, 2009:
Denzel Back on Unstoppable...and Remaking A Bittersweet Life?
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All Critics (14) | Top Critics (3) | Fresh (9) | Rotten (0) | DVD (8)

It's all artifice. No matter how good the acting, how stylish the visuals, or efficient the screenplay, A Bittersweet Life never convinces us that it's not a movie.

December 17, 2011 Full Review Source:

What's great about all this isn't just the gloriously choreographed violence (among the best I've ever seen) but also Lee Byeong-heon's bravura and surprisingly profound performance

March 10, 2009 Full Review Source:

The story revolves around Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun), a sleek and elegant mobster whose cat-like grace recalls Alain Delon in Le Samourai.

October 28, 2006 Full Review Source:

click to read review [Greek]

September 10, 2006 Full Review Source: Movies for the Masses
Movies for the Masses

Hair-raising gangster movie in the style of John Woo.

June 20, 2006 Full Review Source:

Um noir cujo trágico anti-herói sofre abusos físicos como poucos do gênero, este filme belissimamente fotografado traz, por trás de sua capa sangrenta, uma tocante luta para preservar um único momento de doçura.

June 12, 2006
Cinema em Cena

Audience Reviews for A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng)

January 15, 2014
Directors Cat
Directors Cat

Super Reviewer

(Dalkomhan insaeng ) We can't turn back time, can we. I am quickly becoming a Korean film addict. I have a strong feeling that I am about to embark on a long neglected quest for a deeper understanding of my paternal heritage. If I could give this movie more than five stars, there would be no hesitation on my part to do so. This film is one for the cinematic ages. There is evidenced here an historical linked legacy of tribute to films that have come before. Yojimbo stands as the foundation for this chain. Although there are surely other films which could be mentioned, for me a clear line of homage to Yojimbo runs from Leone's Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistfull of Dollars) , to, as my flixster buddy Sabina points out, Melville's Le Samourai, to Scorcese's Taxi Driver, to this masterpiece by Kim Ji-woon. Each pays tribute to the ones before, yet each is its own unique masterpiece. If you have not experienced this Korean actor, Lee Byung-hun (Sun-woo), you must do yourself the entertaining favor of seeing him in action. And when I say action, I mean full-bore head-cracking action. His martial arts style is fluid and sharply crisp. His acting is very good as well, especially in that he is able, through facial expression alone, to communicate great emotion. And those eyes! Although I must say that I've noticed a degree of ability for doing this in not a few of my father's family. Maybe it's a Korean thing : ) As Sabina points out, his close resemblance to Alain Delon in Le Samourai is uncanny. The acting is solid throughout, but Kim Roe-ha as the somewhat socially clueless Mun-suk is particularly fine. There is a stronger bond between Lee and Kim, and their combined acting talents shine in their final meeting, a scene straight out of Taxi Driver, where whatever that affection is that they do feel for each other comes across most poignantly. It is the only killing, I believe, that gives Lee pause, perhaps tugs at his heart and/or conscience, in his final march to the end. And speaking of killing. No doubt about it, this movie has been accurately billed as a Korean revenge film. It is indeed bloody, flixster friends, but it is not the kind of repulsive violence you might find in, say, Natural Born Killers. The violence here is purposefully and pretty darn artfully choreographed and filmed. I always appreciate a little humor with my gore, so I give huge points to the gun instruction scene. Ever experience road rage? Go home and watch this. There is a road rage vengeance scene that will make you feel so much better :)A key, for me, in determining the difference between violence that has purpose and violence which is presented for the sake of violence is motivation. While it is true that Lee is a no nonsense ass-kicker from the start, he is not a natural born killer. Live burial scenes in literature, where the victim does somehow escape death, can symbolize a kind of rebirth. At the moment Lee emerges from his grave, he is indeed reborn. It is then that he becomes the stone-cold killer bent on revenge. It would be unfair, however, to say that A Bittersweet Life is only a revenge movie. It is also a love story, and these two motifs are inextricably entwined. Of course, it is not a happy love story, since Lee's love is unrequited, but it is a moving love story nonetheless. Sorry to do this, but the final four sequences of the film, Lee near death, the flashback to his watching the woman he loves play her cello, Lee's death, and the amazingly moving, seemingly non sequitur cut to a still living Lee, somewhere in the near past, shadow boxing with his reflection in a window, all help reinforce the bittersweet nature of his life. I am not fluent in Korean and cannot vouch for the English translation of the title. I, however, love the title because it emphasizes the fact that this is not a tragic end. A man who, finally, fights with himself, and even seems to enjoy that struggle against his own person, is a man for whom life cannot ever end in tragedy. The killing and the longing for love commingle in Lee's last conscious moments, and make "bittersweet " a very apt word to describe his end. To quote one of my friend's favorite lines: I cry not because I had a bad dream, but because the dream was so good, I know it has no chance of coming true. True love, as I've said before, can literally kill you.
April 2, 2012

Super Reviewer

A mob enforcer is made an example of when he shows mercy and fails to execute the mistress of the boss he has served with unquestioning loyalty for the previous seven years. Bloody vengeance ensues. Yes, this plot line isn't exactly the most original material you are ever going to see, but this film really is something special. Lee Byung-hun is an anti-hero following the classic examples of everything from Yojimbo through to Kill Bill; an intelligent, quiet and seemingly unflappable character who is the last person on Earth you'd want to piss off! It has the artistic visuals of Chan-wook Park, the gritty violence of Scorsese, the balletic, blood soaked action of old school John Woo films and a quirky credibility reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino. The result is everything I want from a crime drama or revenge story, and anyone who likes any of the above should take pains to track down a copy. Yet another bloody and bloody marvellous film from Korea.
February 10, 2012
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

"You can do a hundred things right, but it takes only one mistake to destroy everything."

A Bittersweet Life is a 2005 South Korean film directed and written by Kim Ji-woon and starring Lee Byung-hun. Ruthlessly violent, it illustrates the ethical codes in the Korean mob and how they clash with personal morality.

A Bittersweet Life is genre adept Kim Jee-woon's fourth feature film, following strong showings in black comedy, sports comedy and horror. In this instance, it's a crime/revenge film and another completely different rendering than his previous films, proving that Kim has a strong capacity for understanding the genre film, twisting it and providing solid entertainment out of it.

The story is a very simple one without any notable twists and turns: a dedicated mob enforcer, the model for coolness in criminal, has a moment of sympathy and his boss of many years takes it personally. Brutally beaten and upon the verge of being killed, he seizes a moment and escapes, going on a vengeance rampage once free. An interesting thematic undercurrent to the story is a level of self-deception and desire in the characters. In being unable to be honest, these men seal their fates. Granted, it doesn't make the story any more complex, but it adds a lot to the characters and their motivations, with the self-discovery of answers to their own unanswerable questions being secondary (or perhaps primary) goals.

It's a tragic story, but elevated by the remarkable characterizations of all the players, from the charismatic cool anti-hero to the various bosses and upper level henchmen, all of whom are memorable characters. Furthermore, the direction definitely oozes with the type of cool that drives fanboys into seizures: lots of stylish ultraviolence, dialogue laden with buckets of cool, etc. The shots, the lighting, the acting, the art/production design--everything contributes so immensely to a high level of cool. And that might be a weakness for this film, but it seems like that's what the film set out to do and so it doesn't really disappoint.

As such, the running time of two hours barely registers as the piece moves from step to step with heavy outbreaks of violence. Kim makes several homages to other films in the crime/action/vengeance films in process so fans of these kind of movies might have even more fun. However, while the film executes so strongly its goals of being a remarkable genre piece, it doesn't really try for much else, so those not interested in a stylish crime/revenge film loaded with violence and tons of style will find nothing special here. Those who do go in looking for this in a film will find a lot to like. Strongly recommended for those who appreciate the genre.
September 1, 2011
Lorenzo von Matterhorn

Super Reviewer

    1. Kim Seon-woo: Why, asked the teacher, are you so sad after your dream? Because I know it will never come true.
    – Submitted by Lars P (21 months ago)
View all quotes (1)

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Foreign Titles

  • Bittersweet Life (DE)
  • A Bittersweet Life (UK)
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