Monday, April 22, 2013

Film Review: A Bittersweet Life (2005)

A Bittersweet Life (Review)
South Korea/2005
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a calm yet ruthless gangster, and an enforcer for Kang, a powerful mob boss. Kang suspects his new girlfriend, Hee-soo, is cheating, and orders Sun-woo to trail her; if she is cheating, he must kill her and her new lover. However, Sun-woo finds love in Hee-soo that threatens his life...

The story manages to make an entertaining gangster film. Just when you thought you've seen it all, A Bittersweet Life delivers a violent tale love, loyalty, and vengeance, with a fresh, well-executed style. The story balances action and suspense well with its themes. The edge-of-your-seat action consists of realistic fights, blazing shootouts, and thrilling chases. The film continuously pushes forward to an amazing finale - the action is breathtaking and the ending is bittersweet, reminiscent of the ending in films like Scarface and Taxi Driver. As with most South Korean films, the "happily ever after" formula is nonexistent; I won't go any further to avoid spoilers.

Lee Byung-hun delivers a very authentic and balanced performance as Kim Sun-woo. His charisma is electrifying as he nails this performance with pinpoint accuracy. A ruthless gangster played so elegantly. Shin Min-ah plays Hee-soo wonderfully, and beautifully, throughout her limited screen time; never overacting as many have done in similar roles. Kim Ji-woon smoothly and precisely directs this bittersweet tale. The pacing is great - ending before you're ready for it to end. Choreography for the action sequences was also exceptional creating a realistic and immersive experience. The music also adds to the film, and had a similar, yet distinguishable, sound to A Dirty Carnival.

I own the A Bittersweet Life Director's Cut Limited Edition Digibook on Blu-ray (Region A). The picture quality is great, and so is the sound; it's not perfect and there may be room for improvement, but it is great for a 2005 South Korean film. This edition of the film comes English subtitles for the film and for the menus (so you can navigate through the menus if you don't know Korean.) Special features include the Making of A Bittersweet Life, the Style of A Bittersweet Life, Commentaries (including a director's introduction) and much more. It also comes with some limited edition postcards; I wish I could share images of these but I don't think I can due to copyright laws and such. (leave a comment if you know whether I can or cannot share these.)

Overall, A Bittersweet Life works exceptionally as a crime drama, and an action thriller. It's beautiful noir-style, superb performances, and bittersweet story blend together to create a masterpiece - an addicting and immersive experience. I highly recommend purchasing this film, even if you have to import. The digibook I own can run you a nice chunk of change, so I recommend it for fans of the film or collectors.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong Violence and Blood.

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