‘A Bittersweet Life‘ (달콤한 인생 in South Korean), starring Lee Byung-hun is a South Korean Chef-d’œuvre (in French, masterpiece). Everything – story, script, dialogues, action, romance, camera work, Lee B-hun – is simply superb. Written and directed by the famous Korean director, Kim Ji-woon, ‘A Bittersweet Life’ is a definite watch if you adore movies which have managed to break out of the commercial mold and transcended into masterpieces across generations and languages. Voted by critics worldwide as one of the best movies of 2005, ‘A Bittersweet Life‘ premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.
Lee Byung-hun and Kim Ji-woon need no introduction if you’re already a fan of Korean action genre. Lee Byung-hun is one of the superstars in Korean cinema – stylish, elegant, handsome and extremely fit – he plays ‘Kim’ – a caporegime in the Kkangpae (Korean mafia). A capo (or caporegime) is also called an enforcer in the Russian mafia and they form one of the most powerful men in any organized underworld regime. Directly reporting to the Boss or Under-boss of the family and commanding up to 1,000 armed men – capos are ruthless, violent and synonymous to unflinching loyalty in the mafia. Kim is extremely loyal to his boss Kang, but when his boss travels to China for some business – he asks Kim to keep an eye on his young mistress Heesoo. Kim finds out that Heesoo loves someone and decides to unite Heesoo with her lover – against the wishes of his boss. That is when the world of Kim comes crashing down. ‘Is it worth throwing away all for someone whom you love even when you know you can never have her?’
A beautiful set of dialogues from the movie. 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.”
An excellent clip which kinda depicts the entire movie (must watch):
But what sets this movie apart is – that though this movie is extremely violent from the very onset, yet the romantic touch points are so well put across – the entire movie moves like poetry in action. I wouldn’t dare to compare this with Kitano‘s Sonatine (1993), but definitely, there were a few points in the movie, wherein it looked like Kitano would be extremely proud of Kim Ji-woon as well. Especially, the introduction of the movie is classic – probably, one of the best you shall ever see in any movie. Shockingly violent – its extremely attractive and filmed to perfection.
Quintessentially, the movie revolves around the question – ‘Is it worth throwing away all for someone whom you love even when you know you can never have her?’ After Kim meets Heesoo, besides being drawn towards her beauty and innocence – what really makes him realize is his aimless and extremely violent life which he had led so far. He wishes to change – making an effort to unite Heesoo with her lover, and decides to go solo, after having been banished from his family. Kim realizes that he can never unite Heesoo with her lover by peaceful means, thus, as irony of fate has it, though he wishes to renounce violence, he cannot. After his self-realization and transformation, we see the extremely violent Kim for the rest of the movie, and as one critic from Cinema Eye aptly put, we see “Kim as an angel dressed in vengeance“. Already destined to his fate with the mob closing in, Kim has nowhere to go (the only friend he had gets killed for helping him). He goes in for the final kill – killing his former colleagues and destroying the very empire he had built with his own hands – getting closer to Kang with every kill.
Watch this clip to see the romantic moments between Heesoo and Kim. Every man, even the worst of them, should get a chance to fall in love once… Bad that he couldn’t tell her that 😦
The saddest part of the movie is at the very end when Heesoo calls Kim to thank him for buying her a lamp that she had really liked at one of the malls. Kim tries to answer the call but in his dying breath doesn’t have the energy left to receive the call; it slips from his hand and we see blood dripping on the phone. He stares at it helplessly before being shot for the final time.
One of the biggest points of debate surrounding this movie is – Did all the events depicted in the movie ever take place? Or was Kim just having a dream? The fans and critics could never come to a conclusion. Since a lot of people believe – NOTHING happened – Kim was dreaming only. Since at the very end we see him shadowboxing with himself. Thus, he was just dreaming. Whereas the rest believes – The sequence of events happened since we see at the very last scene – Kim shadowboxing and then his image disappears from the scene. Unless he is a ghost or spirit, how is that possible? Am not taking either side – I just love this movie… 🙂
Bollywood as usual, made an effort to copy this one as well. Shameless as the Indian moviemakers are – not a single time did they mention – Awarapan (2007) starring ‘Emraan Hashmi‘ – is a scene-to-scene, dialogue-to-dialogue copy of this masterpiece. And yes, with lots of Bollywood masala, love triangles, love stories (present and past), needless songs, so much crying and sobbing – they managed to royally screw this up. When I did watch Awarapan, was still shocked and spellbound – kinda – “what the fuck just happened? was that ‘A Bittersweet Life’ in Hindi? How did the guys manage to screw this one? Was that an enforcer crying while getting hit by bullets? Dude, where did that girl come from?” 😦
Shameless Bollywood remake: Awarapan (2007) clip:
Anyways, for those of you, who are not ashamed to see the originals of the Bollywood copies, make sure you see this one… Will blow your minds!
SPOILER: ‘A Bittersweet Life‘ is an extremely poetic, artistic, stylish, ‘film noir’ classic – but also ruthlessly violent. Not recommended for kids and those with a weak heart.