A Bittersweet Life (2005)"Apologize, then nothing will happen. "I. Was. Wrong." Three little words. If you say those three words,
nothing horrible will happen. "I. Was. Wrong." Just three words."
"F**k. Off. Asshole."
My original plan was to modify my other review
from a thread less travelled. Then I hit on a particular moment of style involving shots edited to a light switch clicking on and off, thinking I could isolate that for my post. However, MartinTeller's review
sticks out as something deserving of a longer response because he hits upon what is probably the most common criticism against this film.
It's a very familiar and fairly predictable gangster/revenge tale without much nuance. But like the John Woo and Quentin Tarantino films (and maybe Johnnie To? I dunno) it seems to draw inspiration from, it gets by on style.
While this is the moment where Kim became my favorite South Korean filmmaker, I keep returning not to re-experience all the cool highlights, but to strip away the sheen and dig deeper into the character types. The entire back half is only about revenge on the surface. It's also about Sun-woo taking on the difficulty of walking away from what he does best, and does better than anyone, to live a life of uncertainty where his finely-honed skills will only pull him back in.
Towards the end is the only moment that breaks a linear chronology. It reveals what sets him on his path - and the way it's removed from the scene where it actually takes place is just another of Life's masterful edits - but there are also his scenes with fellow mobsters, living it up with food, clothes and the company of loose women or the boss' more violent enforcers, committing sadistic beatings without a moral code.
Each sequence folds beautifully into the journey. There are a pair of scenes in the first half where Sun-woo roughs up innocent people. In the first, he is filled with guilt and confusion. In the very next scene, he is more violent than necessary given the banal situation, becoming more like... the gangster who confronts him in the very next scene. Each step in developing the character also moves the story forward to that second half, where Sun-woo is surviving more on his wits, making him as sloppy as the gangsters he used to look down on.
So, to Martin and others that share his view I say that there's way more to this film than initially meets the eye. The first viewing gets by on style, but there is a lot more meat to bite into past that initial rush. RATING: * * * ½