(aka "Dalkomhan insaeng" )


directed by Ji-woon Kim
South Korea 2005


It was easy to be impressed by Ji-woon Kim’s previous feature, “A Tale of Two Sisters”, as it was an intelligent, haunting and beautifully crafted horror film. However, after watching “A Bittersweet Life”, my expectations were not only met, but exceeded, as it is one of the most impressive Korean films I’ve seen in recent years.

Sunwoo is the right hand of a major gangster, functioning as a hotel manager. One day his boss, Kang, asks him to look into, if his girlfriend is seeing another man. Discovering she is, Sunwoo is about to kill them both, but suddenly decides to solve the problem differently. When Kang learns about this, he orders Sunwoo killed.

A seminal gangster film, the core of “A Bittersweet Life” is universal in narrative and structure. It could have been made by Suzuki, it could have been made by Mann, it could have been made by Hodges. The story can be transposed into any period or country, and still maintain its strength and motives.

The two classical elements to this story is first, that Sunwoo makes one mistake, which leads to his “downfall”, here to show mercy, the second to, as an abstraction, to rise from the dead and to take revenge. Kim twists the motif so that Sunwoo is wronged in a way only killing everyone can revenge. While he did make a mistake, it was a decision of the heart, which could be forgiven and could have worked out, if not Kang also made a decision of the heart, namely to kill Sunwoo, because he himself was sick of jealousy and felt betrayed. Creating this revenge motif, the actions of Sunwoo are similar to for instance Michael Kohlhaas by Kleist. Comparing the revenge motifs to the films of Park, the revenge is here single-minded and next to nihilistic.

What further elevates this film is Kim’s mise-en-scene. The world of Sunwoo is geometrical and perfect. Clean lines, white shirts, defined architecture and decoration. It is a world of order. Opposite to this, the world after the downfall is gritty. The spotless world is replaced with industrial settings, rain, mud and back alleys. Here the film resembles the work of especially Michael Mann, who also sets up a perfect world to camouflage the less perfect world of being a gangster.

A Bittersweet Life” is a gangster film worth comparing to “Point Blank”, “Get Carter” and “Thief”. The cinematography is breathtaking, the violence is beautifully choreographed and very brutal, the use of the genre extremely intelligent. Kim shows not only insight into the genre, but a love to it, by paying homages to Suzuki, Woo, Hitchcock, Melville, De Palma, Mann and Hodges, to name a few. “A Bittersweet Life” is a classic.

Henrik Sylow


Theatrical Release: April 1st, 2005

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DVD Review: Tartan - Region 0 - PAL

Big thanks to Henrik Sylow for the Review!

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Region 0 - PAL

Runtime 1:53:57 (4% PAL speedup)

2.35:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
Average Bitrate: 6.11 mb/s
PAL 720x576 25.00 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio 2.0 Dolby Digital Korean, 5.1 Dolby Digital Korean, DTS Korean
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: Tartan

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 2.35:1

Edition Details:
• Cast and Crew interviews (21:25 / 4:3)
• A Bittersweet Life in Cannes (7:43 / 4:3)
• Originale Theatrical Trailer (2:04 / 4:3)
• Tartan Trailer Reel

DVD Release Date: April 24, 2006
Keep Case

Chapters 16



Comments A flawless transfer. While zooming in to 400%, some colours tend to blend, this is not recognizable at regular viewing. No visible artefacts, strong colours, deep blacks, rich details. Just beautiful to watch.

The sound comes in standard three formats, and its superb. Great separation, deep sub, crystal clarity, and excellent use of rears and surround in general.

The additional material consists first of an interview section, where apart from some backslapping, Woon offers a little insight to the film. Following is a section about the film at Cannes, and the theatrical trailer.

 - Henrik Sylow



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