Great Films Hunting

Will I find them or will I die trying?

A Bittersweet Life (Kim Jee-Woon, 2005)


The film starts with Sunwoo (Lee Byung-Hun), a hotel manager, slowly eating a luscious chocolate. A waiter comes in and says, “You should go downstairs for a moment . . . there’s some trouble.”  Sunwoo doesn’t stand up immediately, and continues scooping his chocolate. It seems like even this solemn moment, he can’t live a little joy.

When tasked to tail his young girlfriend’s superior, Hee-Soo (Shin Min-A), Sunwoo ends up a decision that favors his mercy but against his odds.  Despite having a hint of the real reason, Mr. Kang (Kim Young-Chul) his superior tortures and forces Sunwoo to say the reason in his own words. Feeling betrayed of his 7 years of service, Sunwoo sets out to seek revenge.

Here’s a revenge plot that doesn’t follow a conventional development arc. Tension doesn’t add up as it reaches to climax, if there’s a climax at all, and somehow tension gets lost at some point. Take for instance when Sunwoo buys a gun. It takes more time than it deserves, but then tension doesn’t to be a major factor in the film.


Sunwoo doesn’t commit to a sophisticated means to get even. His plan is simple and reckless. Infiltrate the hotel; shoot down anyone that comes in his way until he gets to his superior. The less choreographed fight scenes are intense, but are always played by Sunwoo apathetically and nothing but child’s play, as if to show the film is not about action and thriller. Then again, you’d be right thinking that way.

A Bittersweet Life (2005) also features a man confined in world that doesn’t necessarily enrich one’s life. We don’t know for sure if Sunwoo fell in love with his superior’s girlfriend. This is where the film’s motif comes in – the lamp. Sunwoo’s room is barely lit, and with only one definite light source – the lamp. His superior’s girlfriend is beautiful but her definite characteristic is that she likes one thing – lamps. By then we can roughly say that Hee-Soo is a rare light in Sunwoo’s dim world.

All throughout the film, we see Sunwoo smile only once – a genuine happiness. It is the time Sunwoo watches Hee-Soo playing an instrument. Before his imminent death, he calls her and for the last time, hears her voice. A seemingly bittersweet scenario to end his life. Sunwoo sympathizes for Hee-Soo, and this feeling costs him his career. Despite what he’d been through – and it was bloody – we know that, as we see Sunwoo’s body drenched in blood, he doesn’t regret it at all.


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This entry was posted on April 28, 2013 by in South Korea and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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