Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Bittersweet Life (South Korea; Ji-woon Kim, 2005)

 Sometimes it's worth it to admit you were wrong. Sun-woo (Byung-hun Lee) discovers this the hard way as his he is caught lying to his boss, having refused to eliminate the latter's unfaithful girlfriend and her lover, a transgression that leads to him being targeted for termination; all of which could have been avoided by simply saying three little words of concession. But stubborness is one bad motherfucker; and so is Sun-woo. Supported by an impressively beautiful musical score, Sun-woo's nearly super-human stamina is demonstrated through lengthy action sequences that are as bloody as they are creatively entertaining, containing enough guns to make John Woo proud. Almost always outnumbered, Sun-woo uses his incredible speed and fighting skills to claw his way back to face his boss, the outcome of which might demand a bit of suspension of disbelief on the viewer's part; but what film doesn't. While perhaps a bit less sadistic than Kim's more recent I Saw the Devil (2010), featured at Sundance this year, A Bittersweet Life is still psycholigically charged, the action sequences being buffered with moments of soul-searching and human frailty, Sun-woo's established powers of restraint slipping as his world gradually turns upside down and his use of violence becomes more temperamental than calculated. Much more aesthetically-conscious than most modern American film, Life is yet another fine example of South Korea's successful appropriation of the crime genre.   

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