Review Date: May 25, 2005
Director: Kim Jee-woon
Writer: Kim Jee-woon
Producers: Oh Jung-wan, Lee Eugene
Lee Byung-hun as Sunwoo
Kim Young-chul as Kang
Shin Mina as Heesoo
Very cool! Last year, it was with great enthusiasm that I walked out of my screening of OLDBOY at the Cannes Film Festival, wanting to share my newfound excitement with the world, and today, I had a similar feeling as I strolled out of A BITTERSWEET LIFE, my favorite film at this year’s Festival, with touches of OLDBOY, THE PROFESSIONAL and PULP FICTION, all rolled into one. But don’t let those comparisons throw you off, as this Korean film still manages to create something quite original, with a great mix of romance, emotion, humor and drama, intertwined with a great deal of violence, action, blood and darkness. I really loved this movie because it drew me right into its premise from scene one, kept me hooked with a cute love-dovey storyline featuring a gangster with an “old school John Woo” look and feel, and a hottie chick who was as adorable as she was sexy. The film also managed to give its lead character a real sense of vulnerability, honor and confidence, while at the same time, developing the storyline into something that would eventually explode into a whole other type of movie. And when it explodes, it does so with great panache, as kicks fly all around, blood is spewed, bullets are zipped and bodies are dropped, as the stillness of some of the film’s earlier scenes are balanced off with a barrage of violent acts via one very betrayed-feeling man. To that end, I have to offer my highest praise to lead actor Lee Byung-hun, who is the perfect gentleman to play this role, reminding me of a younger Chow Yun-Fat, with that potent mix of innocence, charm, sexiness and strength.
Even though the film starts off on a much lighter tone, a scene in which he takes a bit of his anger out on a few morons fucking around with him on the highway…is a classic. The man does not appreciate being heckled via car. Once the action and blood-letting begins though, he also manages to kick mucho ass, while at the same time, maintaining a sense of the character’s longing for a loved one, and that Asian staple sense of honor. Another memorable scene, somewhat reminiscent of another out-and-out battle from OLDBOY, features our lead man escaping from a gaggle of baddies, and ending on quite a funny one-liner. That’s another great thing about this movie, while it is far from being a comedy by any stretch of the imagination, it sprinkles enough funny scenes in there, to balance nicely with the romance and action stuff. Another scene in which a boss-man asks his henchman what he thinks is “so funny”, reminded me a little of GOODFELLAS, while the film’s all-out action finale, featured a shot straight out of TAXI DRIVER. Good shite! Sadly, as I joked about in my OLDBOY review last year, I am sure that this film will be “remade” by the Americanos and removed of much of its greatness, which for me, was encapsulated in its dark conclusion, which was both poetic and gosh-darned bloody at the same time. The line about the “nightmare and dream” in the end hit me…right here! (I’m pointing to my chest) All in all, if you enjoy the films that I’ve alluded to in this review, or any action movie that provides a great leading character to which most anyone should be able to relate, humor, tension, awesome action, coolness and a powerful ending, this flick is sure to make you smile, as it did me, on this otherwise, humdrum afternoon.