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4.5 out of 5 stars46
4.5 out of 5 stars
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on 11 May 2006
Without a doubt I can say that A Bittersweet Life is one of the best revenge movies I've seen and is just as captivating as Park Chan Wook's Old Boy or Tarantino's Kill Bill. The story follows Sun-woo, a hotel manager who has managed to get where he is by carrying out certain jobs for a gang leader called Kang. Just before Kang goes out of town for a few days he asks Sun-woo to keep an eye on his girlfriend as he suspects she's being unfaithful. However when Sun-woo catches the girlfriend with another man he can't bring himself to finish the job. When Kang finds out about his defiance Sun-woo soon finds himself fighting for his life against the people he once called family.

You can probably tell by the plot that this isn't the most complex film ever made and is nothing like Old Boy where you have to follow the clues right up to the very end. In fact A Bittersweet Life is the exact opposite of this; from the beginning you know that the story is heading down a vengeful path of bullets and corpses that can only end in tears. I have no doubt that when people watch this they'll be comparing it to Old Boy but although they are both stylish Korean revenge movies I'd have to say that's where the similarities stop. Old Boy was an extreme new take on the revenge genre that mixed action with a brilliant psychological story but A Bittersweet Life has a much simpler straight forward story with slightly more emphasis on the action and a style that pays homage to classic noir thrillers. That's not to say that A Bittersweet Life isn't as good but just different.

Kim Jee-Woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, The Quiet Family) has done an excellent job at directing this and for me is his best film I've seen so far. Every frame is filled with the type of style that other directors dream of (I literally found myself in awe after only watching the first five minute opening sequence). Byung-Hun Lee (JSA, Addicted) also has to take credit for playing the character of Sun-woo perfectly and is definitely one of the main aspects that make this film great.

The DVD is alright with good picture and sound but the extras do seem to be a bit lacking with only trailers, premiere footage and interview. Overall this is one of the best revenge films I've seen that's filled with style, depth and above all else class. With a perfect mix of Korean drama and bloody action there is enough here to please everyone.
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on 8 November 2011
Very rarely a film comes along that 'changes' you. I don't mean to sound melodramatic here, but 'A Bittesweet Life' grabs you by the neck, plunges your head into a sink full of cold water and then makes you have a lingering look at yourself in the mirror.

'A Bittersweet Life' is the sort of film that goes beyond entertainment and really reaches out to the core of every human. Have you given up on your dreams lately? I probably had until Jee-Woon Kim chucked this across the living room at me!

You don't need me to tell you what an exceptional director Jee-Woon Kim is, but seriously, this is a masterpiece. What I love about his work is the precision in which every frame in every scene is carefully planned and exectuted. No Hollywood laziness here!

A rip roaring action thriller on one hand, a gentle love story on the other, 'A Bittersweet Life' wouldn't be half the film it is were it not for the equally exceptional Byung Hun-Lee who plays Sun-Woo. Hun-Lee plays the seemingly emotionless lead character so well and with every subtle facial expression he slowly wins your affection and opens his soul to the auidence. What a performance.

The last twenty minutes of 'A Bittersweet Life' are its most powerful. 'Pure Class' is the only way to explain how neatly and carefully the film knits itself together and that closing message, when everything becomes clear, will linger long in the memory.

A far cry from a 'Hollywood Star', CGI cheese-fest; this is how you make a film. Stunning. If I could give 6 stars I would as I can't recommend this masterpiece highly enough.
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on 8 April 2007
I mainly read these reviews to find hidden gems that Amazon reviewers recommend. I can now return the favour. Beginning quite slowly I pondered what was so bitter or sweet? However, the pace and action picks up at a certain point in the movie and then doesn't let up. Want to learn about the Korean genre? Definately recommended but clue is in the title.
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on 21 July 2006
This truly is a noodle western, as opposed to one of the spaghetti variety.

A Bittersweet life plays like a modern Good Bad & Ugly, or even Wild bunch. Long lingering shots, close pained expressions, quietly spoken anti heros. It has the lot. To me the setting of modern day Seoul is just as interesting as the American old west, and in this movie it looks even better. This film is beautifully put together, you can watch it for the visuals alone. Luckily there is also far more. The lead performane from Byun-Hun Lee is excellent. He exudes cool while remaining human. He is also very ably assisted by a multitude of character actors.

The story is simple, a man who is wronged seeks revenge, but also answers. Much of his feeling of hurt may relate to loyalty and relationships between employers, and father figures in Korea which to me seem stronger than in the UK. Still though, in this case revenge seems necessary. When you view in disbelief the terrible torture of the main character at the hands of the one he loved, and his internal torture after viewing something he could never have you will understand his need for retribution, and absolution.

This movie is at times very dark, but has enough excitement and kinetic energy to keep the action fan happy, enough depth and emotion for the intellectual and more than enough stylised cinematography for the most die hard cineaste.
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on 1 July 2007
In the same vein as "Oldboy" comes "A Bittersweet Life," a movie so good it shocked me when watching it for the first time. It's a violent revenge movie with a gripping story with some fantastic actors such as Byung-hun Lee. He stars as Seon-woo, an enforcer for President Kang, a very dangerous man and if he wants to get rid of people, Seon-woo is the one taking care of it. The most interesting thing about this movie besides the story being so great is Seon-woo himself. The way Byung-hun Lee has captured the character sure tells that he's a great actor and what's keeping the movie alive from beginning to end. Seon-woo seem to know nothing about what it's like to have a "normal" life, as the world he lives in is only filled with evil and violence. He has a hard front, can be violent and nasty without remorse, but its fairly easy to see through all that and see that he has a gentle side as well, and that makes him interesting.

For instance with all the violence going on in the movie it sometimes seems like he has no conscience and couldn't care less about what happens to other people. His face is like stone with no expressions to reveal what he really feels, if anything. But at the same time you know that there's something more underneath it all, like when he's around the mistress you really get to see that there's more than one side to him, and that makes him a really likable character. Actually, the further the movie goes, the more likable he becomes and you can't help but feeling sorry for him which is a really effective part of the overall experience.

As reviewer K. Jones has put it, this movie does mixes violence and emotions in an excellent way, and even if the violence is a bit too brutal at times, you still have a lot of "nice" things to fall back on. There are a lot of action elements and the movie is quite stylish to say the least, but the most important thing is that it's not the least bit shallow and while its entertaining eye candy at times; you still really care about the characters and what's going on. This is easily one of the best Korean movies I've seen this year, and a movie that I will probably enjoy watching many times in the future. If you're a fan of "Oldboy," you're most likely to find "A Bittersweet Life" to be pretty sweet, both dealing with the concept of revenge but very different from each other. I also recommend "A Tale of Two Sisters" which is also fantastic.
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"A bittersweet life" is a stylish gangster film from Korea. It is very well acted, with a great central performance.


Lee Byung-hun plays the cool and aloof "Sun-woo" a gangster who runs a hotel on behalf of his ruthless boss "Kang" (Kim Yeong-cheol). While he is out of the country, Kang tasks sun-woo with keeping an eye on his mistress "Hee-so" (whom he suspects of having an affair) and if he finds evidence to confirm she is being unfaithful, tells sun-woo to kill her.
Sun-woo, however, is beguiled by the delicate and rather sad Hee-so. When he discovers she is having an affair, instead of killing her, as ordered, he beats up her lover and orders them never to meet again.
This triggers a set of bloody and murderous events as Kang seeks to kill sun-woo for his disobedience and the vengeful aftermath.

There is just something about these Korean films that makes them so compelling. This one is no exception. It is stylish, has great action scenes and a great pacy story and characters. (The brilliant Huang Jung-min - of "New World" fame, also makes an appearance here as a suitably evil gangster "ally").
Lee Byung-hun is excellent as the anti-hero, seemingly compelled to seek revenge on his former boss, almost against his will, by motives he doesn't seem to fully understand. The action is both visceral and tense, (with the "grave scene" one of my favourites!).

I'd put this one right up there with my other Korean favourites; "New World", "The Unjust", "No tears for the Dead", "Yellow Sea", "A Dirty Carnival".....

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on 8 February 2008
I have said it before and I will say it again...if you want to find genuinely exciting cinema these days, look to the east. With A Bittersweet Life (great title) writer and director Kin Ji-woon has given us as good an action movie as you are ever likely to find in Hollywood, as well as a fine character study and a driven revenge drama.
Sun-woo (the effortlessly cool Byung-hun Lee) is a man who leads a very strange life indeed. When we first meet him, he is immaculately turned out quietly drinking coffee and eating cake in the restaurant of a large and obviously expensive hotel. It quickly becomes apparent that he is the manager of this hotel when he receives a call to sort out some trouble in one of the bars downstairs. However, when Sun-woo's idea of sorting out the trouble is to beat the three men who are causing the trouble (and are obviously gangsters of some description) to within an inch of their collective lives, we realise that he is much more than he appears. Sun-woo, as well as his hotel job, is the trusted enforcer of local crime boss Kang (a fabulously menacing Kim Young-chul).
When Kang calls upon Sun-woo to keep an eye on his new young girlfriend whilst he is away on business, things are not as straightforward as they seem. Kang suspects she is having an affair, and informs Sun-woo that if he discovers this to be true, he is to sort out the problem in a very terminal manner. Unfortunately, Sun-woo falls for the girl, so when he discovers the truth, he does not kill her or her lover, but instructs them never to see each other again. This simple act of what amounts to kindness for Sun-woo sets in motion a terrible series of events which sees Sun-woo betrayed by those around him and sets him on the path of brutal and extremely bloody vengeance.
Some reviewers have ascribed various western equivalents to this film, but I feel that it is doing this movie a disservice. Whilst the obvious stylistic debt is to John Boorman's Point Blank, the two do not bear comparison. In Point Blank, Lee Marvin's Walker was a virtually unknowable cipher, a figure bent solely on revenge. Sun-woo is a much more rounded character, not only seeking vengeance but also looking for answers. Other lazy comparisons also spring to mind, such as the simply awful kill Bill, and even Oldboy, based purely on the fact they their central theme is revenge. However, a Bittersweet Life is infinitely more stylish and dizzyingly kinetic the Kill Bill, and bears no similarities to Oldboy other than, as mentioned above, the similar theme. This is a much simpler movie, relying on a series of stupendous action set pieces, some shocking violence and not a small amount of comedy (for proof, witness the sequence where Sun-woo and a gun dealer desperately try to assemble their respective guns so they can shoot their opponent before they themselves are shot). Whilst it lacks the subtlety and mystery of Oldboy (no shocking revelations at the end of the movie), it is still a gripping and breathtaking thrill ride of a movie.
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on 20 July 2011
A Classic film not to be missed the story line is full of twists and turns, to the point of the main star getting his ass kicked !
But its one of those films that gives you a twist that leaves you glowing in your arm chair.
Dead and buried they think he is, but fight for life he does and once out from the grave this kick ass film wakes up, revenge is bittersweet in the end but worth the sacrifies.
A gunning for you, martial arts, shoot-em up, mess you up film, Portrayed really well by all.
Try it you'll like it, i guarentee it ;0)
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on 17 October 2007
A bittersweet life is a korean film that plays along the narrative and structire of a classic spagetti western except it isnt a western,maybe you could call it an eastern,regardless,its set in a modern world,in korea and deals with issues such as morality,loyalty,honour and last but not least vengeance.
In the asian culture honour is a big thing,getting things right and by the book are regarded as second nature,but pride can get in the way and the belief that you are right so when our anti hero here,sun-woo,is asked to do something and he doesnt then he can either say sorry or face extinction,so its two sides going against each other to prove their worth.
I yet again have barely scratched the surface but films this good need to be watched with little knowledge of,other than they slay,this film has some great action scenes that last and define the korean movemnet of cinema,brave and ambitious without losing realism,this is a great film from a director who certainly brushed up on the work of sergio leone prior to making this,a modern day classic perhaps!
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on 25 January 2013
Kim Jee Woon was more explicit with the western genre in the good, bad, weird, but I had totally forgot about the spaghetti western motifs and the sense of humour in a bittersweet life. Byung-hun Lee's performance in both the psychical demands of the crazy stuff he has to blunder his way through and the gravitas he show as a ghost, a wild dog who outlived his purposes and use is enthralling. This film has three insane set-pieces, chief of which is falls half way through the film, once seen never forgotten. All told its a bit special from the Korean director extraordinaire. Whether its Lee's performance, the choreography or the cinematography. Its no surprise that Kim Jee Woon is up there with the best directors in the game, he demands the best from each and every element of his film, making a bittersweet life a cracking good watch.
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