Dalkomhan insaeng – A Bittersweet Life (2005)

bittersweet life

Dalkomhan insaeng – A Bittersweet Life  (Action, Crime, Drama,  2005) (18) D: Kim Jee-woon W:  P: Park Dong-ho, Eugene Lee C: Lee Byung-hun, Kim Yeong-cheol, Shin, Min-ah, Hwang Jung-min, Kim Roi-ha, Lee Ki-young. 2h. South Korea.

Synopsis :  When doing right goes very, very wrong… Things go wrong for a high ranking mobster when he doesn’t proceed by his boss’s orders.Ruthlessly violent, it illustrates the ethical codes in the Korean mob and how they clash with personal morality.

TAGLINE : When doing right goes very, very wrong.

bittersweet life

The dingy dark gangster lifestyle is split in two by love and obsession, ultimately driving a crime boss and his prized employee apart. Bittersweet delivers a story this is as simple as it is deep. Sun-Woo (Byung-hun Lee) is the main runaround, bodyguard, bouncer and confidant to Mr Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol) a masculine power boss who has fallen for a much younger beautiful musician who he is obsessed with and finds it hard to express his feeling to as he feels inadequate and fears that he is being strung along. So he sends his dedicated trustworthy henchman to fetch and carry his new squeeze while searching for clues for her infidelity. Once Sun-Woo discovers the truth and makes amends to keep everyone safe as he feels the need to protect everyone involved, things escalate and spiral wildly out of control.

The plot becomes more complex from this point on, not so much as new twists and turn but just simply by the depths that each party goes to while trying to right a wrong that wasn’t a wrong to start with. Even with the cultural differences aside it’s pretty easy to see the full extent of the inhumane extremes of hate and love that are displayed here. but as matters spiral out of control the lines get blurred,  prides takes over and it all becomes nonsense like an arguments when someone realises they are wrong but refuses to back down.

bittersweet life

As with a lot of South Korean movies, this film is also dark yet vivid with colours, burning with emotions and packed with fast paced violent action scenes. This style is enhanced by robust acting from Lee Byung-hun and Kim Yeong-cheol and the fun is backed up by colourful characters that are met along the way including Kim Hae-gon the crazy go-lucky gun dealer who has a short-lived but memorable candid scenes. Kim Roi-Ha (Memories of Murder (2003)) appears as Mun-suk, the ambitious, cocky sidekick who contributes as a streak of rude uber violence which doesn’t seem to amplified among the violent playground.

Director Kim Jee-woon whose previous works include another bittersweet story but in a guise of a ghostly horror movie Tale of Two sisters (2003), is never shy of flooding his audience with a combination emotions. The cinematography finds small quiet emotional scenes to slow down for in-between the chaos, keeping the film real and grounded. It sits very nicely on the fence between soppy drama and a fighting action quest, not letting up one side for the other.

bittersweet life

it’s pretty easy to chuck this film in the revenge series along with a lot of other Korean films such as Memories of Murder (2003) , Host (2006), and the Vengeance Trilogy (2002+) itself, but is it simply vengeance that’s going on here? Despite the Buddhist quote at the beginning of the film which does lay out the main plot, it should have been something from Hagakure.Sun-Woo acts more like a Samurai, showing great honour and obedience to his master Mr Kang. The film is more of a brutal stoney faced redemption story

It’s not often that a film this good comes along, and it’s hard not to lay out some lavish praise for every aspect.


Rating –  10/10

V: A stunning film from every aspect, a perfect example of blending amazing action with quaint drama. Bringing an age-old story of master and servant from an obscure code of conduct into the modern light. Personally for me the film takes my breath away every time I watch it, it never loses that crisp, slick edge.

Q : “One late autumn night, the disciple awoke crying. So the master asked the disciple, “Did you have a nightmare?” “No.” “Did you have a sad dream?” “No,” said the disciple. “I had a sweet dream.” “Then why are you crying so sadly?” The disciple wiped his tears away and quietly answered, “Because the dream I had can’t come true.
BS : There are so many good scenes, one that I adore without giving away too much plot.. is when Sun-Woo is purchasing the guns from the strange fur coated dealer who plays a game with him, who can load the gun the fastest…
5B : 5 Best – Lee Byung-hun, Roe-ha Kim
L:Selected South Korean Films, Revenge films, BitterSweet Movies, My Top 30 films of all time.
PD : Post Discussion – to come