Jan 29, 2009

A Bittersweet Life

I've heard nothing but solemn praise towards this Korean film. Regarding my preliminary viewing, I refused to accept a summary of the film. Like with all my Korean cinema, I prefer to have the entire experience to be fresh and immaculate. At the end of the day, A Bittersweet Life is plentifully engaging and another prime example of the superiority of the Koreans crafted art. Stylish, cunning, and with mastered formulas, Korean films are the best of the lot. They do what we do even better. As with the "sad hitman/bodyguard/enforcer" lifestyle, this film not only manages to breathe life into an archetype that is populated with persona clones (Bangkok Dangerous, No Mercy for the Rude, The Professional, Another Lonely Hitman). While some of these films may fare exceptionally well or even be masterpieces, A Bittersweet Life really does something fresh.

One of which that A Bittersweet Life does better is the outstanding direction of the "Action" scenes. I quote action there to illustrate that the idea of action isn't an idea that is focused upon. The philosophy of combat and explosions, thrilling tense environments, are nowhere to be found. What is presented are series of brutality, plain and simple. A Bittersweet Life excels in delivering the facets of a powerful melodrama even in the midst of a final shoot out that gives Hard-Boiled a run for it's money. Many of the theory's of set art follow from Korea's earlier Oldboy. Much of the key thoughts are provoked here save for a certain twist at the end of Oldboy.

Much of A Bittersweet Life revolves around subtext, as you will. The theme of revenge is tossed around quite a bit, shaking up loyalties and providing a code of the Korean mob. During a dialogue-driven scene, a line in particular will sum up the life philosophy of this film - “No one can ever see what’s coming next.” This provides a set-up for the ultraviolent extended climax that caps off the glorious pride/honor drama that A Bittersweet Life accompanies. In the final moments of the film, you see Sunwoo demonstrating two moments of happiness and we're not talking about his effort to normalize with several cans of Guinness. We watch behind glass as Sunwoo cracks a smile while watching Heesoo play the cello and also, his flashback to shadowboxing in the reflection of a glass window over the comforting metropolitan skyline.

You might sense familiarity with Lee Byung-hun's face etched in the back of your mind. His performance in Three Extremes' Cut guaranteed the set of three films at least a bit of commercial success as how the other two films did nothing for me, really. If you haven't seen any of his work, you most certainly will with the release of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra come this summer/fall. A Bittersweet Life is filled with "bittersweet" moments such as his encounter with a gun for near the first documented time. Soon thereafter, he must "race" putting a gun back together in order to deliver the finishing blow on a humorous character. Such an action could not be complete with a horrible consequence.

A Bittersweet Life is something to marvel at. It's organic and structured similar to a double helix strand. One could shower Taxi Driver with acclaim for introducing an incredibly violent character whose only weakness remains love, but the timeline stretches farther over Scorsese's head than realized. He only commercialized the nihilistic tone of violence and the beauty of vengeance. With symphony-like composed scenes of murder placed delicately over a light classical jingle, you can not go further. His initial entrance into the hotel marks a scene that makes relatively cheerful music something to once again fear. Films rarely get better than this. Well, maybe the Bollywood remake entitled Awarapan will capture something this missed, but I doubt it.


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