A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng)


A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) (2005)



Critic Consensus: No consensus yet.


Want to See

Not Interested

Add Rating
My Rating    

A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) Photos

Movie Info

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 orders Sun-woo to keep a close eye on her and to kill her if she has betrayed him. After following her for a few days, Sun-woo barges in on Hee-soo and her boyfriend with a clear mission -- but to his own surprise, he lets them go. Sun-woo hopes everything will just go back to the way they were. But his decision has launched an irreversible war with the whole gang, guys who were like brothers just the day before.


Critic Reviews for A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng)

All Critics (11)

The film is filled with cliches of the category, starting with the script and continuing with the characters. However, Kim Jee-woon seems to realize the fact, and does not take the film so seriously, in a tactic that adds to the entertainment it offers

Dec 16, 2018 | Full Review…

The worst things about it are still awfully solid, and the best things are deep and probing far beyond what you'd ever naturally expect from a film of this model.

Mar 4, 2015 | Rating: 8/10 | Full Review…

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.

Dec 17, 2011 | Full Review…

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

Mar 10, 2009 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

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

Oct 28, 2006 | Rating: 10/10 | Full Review…

click to read review [Greek]

Sep 10, 2006 | Rating: 3.5/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng)

A tragic tale of revenge with very well-choreographed fighting and violence - which can be shocking given the level of physical abuse that the character is put through -, and it features a spectacular performance by Byung-hun Lee and a surprisingly beautiful, touching ending.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer



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.

Lanning : )
Lanning : )

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.

xGary Xx
xGary Xx

Super Reviewer

A Bittersweet Life (Dalkomhan insaeng) Quotes

News & Features