My partner has discovered something of a fascination with Korean actors recently, so we have been through a bit of a spree of Korean movies (i.e. 3), two of which were gangster movies by the same director. This movie, A Bittersweet Life, stars the same stunning actor as The Good, The Bad, The Wierd, in a similarly besuited style of ruthless gangster.
In this movie, Lee Byung-Hun plays Sunwoo, a loyal gangster who is given the task of spying on his boss’s young lover. He catches her flagrante delicto but, showing a sudden and uncharacteristic moment of compassion, lets her and her boyfriend live. His boss discovers this and unleashes the full fury of his gang on the now dishonoured Sunwoo. However, Sunwoo is no wimp, and manages to survive a fiendish round of tortures and humiliations to wreak his revenge on the whole superbly dressed gang. The movie also involves a rival mob, their boss, one of their brothers, and a gang overlord, all of whom descend on the same place in the climactic scene. This is a similar plot device to The Good, the Bad The Wierd; except it’s a little harder to work out who is who in this one.
The violence and fighting is mostly very smooth and fluid, but brutal rather than comedic – this movie is quite brutal. There is a continual elegance about the gangsters too, which distinguishes them from the brutal gangsters of a lot of Western crime movies. Lee Byung-Hun is particularly stylish and elegant – even the way he counts to three before he kills someone is simultaneously feminine and threatening. The action is fast-pace and the plot believable, if a tad confusing, and some of the bad guys, even though quite stylish, come across as very deranged and unpleasant individuals. The cinematography is at times very beautiful and, in some sense I can’t quite put my finger on, very East Asian. Overall, I strongly recommend this movie, and I think Korean gangster movies in general could be well worth investigating.