6 September 2005 | DICK STEEL
A Nutshell Review: A Bittersweet Life
This is a revenge movie, pure and simple. When it comes to this genre, the protagonist usually has some injustice (loosely used here) done unto him, and therefore unleashes hell upon those who incurred his wrath, who of course, failed to finish him off in the first place.
Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a hotel manager. Or so he seems. On the surface, he's calm, cool and collected. But step out of line, he brings upon his fury without remorse, and without sympathy. His cockiness earns him no admirers, but he gives his utmost loyalty towards his boss, President Kang.
He leads a lonely existence without friends, and in his latest mission, strikes a forbidden friendship with his prey that led to his ostracizing from the clan he belongs to. Relying on his personal judgement, in contradiction with his boss's, he consciously interpreted his mission ambiguously, and this led to his downfall. In the mob, as a servant, you do not think, but carry out orders like a faithful dog. Such is his life for seven years, until now.
As with revenge films, those who go against you must die, and you soon find yourself up against impossible odds, and with incredible luck. At times the movie stretches its realism to the limit, but for the purpose of good violent fun. The violence is gratuitous - shootings up close, bleeding by the buckets, hand-breaking, fist-fighting, at times making the audience cringe at too much crimson.
But thumbs up for the action pieces, which were well choreographed, especially the escape fight scene (you must learn, never to give a few minutes to a hit-man), and the climatic shoot out finale. Poetry in motion some might add, at times shot like John Woo's slow-motion style with classical music in the background. Various bad characters are up for our anti-hero's dispatch, and you'll find yourself rooting that he does so with as much pain as possible.
On the other end of the spectrum, this film also had incredible amounts of silence and non-action, which punctuated between the action sequences well. Sort of like a breather - the calm before the next storm.
The relationship element between Sun-woo and Hee-soo (Shin Min-a) however was never fully explored. It was hinted that the cause of the rift between servant and master was the woman, but because of the lack of explicit narrative and dialogue, this was never brought across in a clear manner, and left open to interpretation. Another element that somewhat fell flat was the forced attempts to inject humour with bumbling characters. Felt a bit out of place and the pacing suffered a tad bit.
Nonetheless, as a revenge movie, this film delivered. But there's somewhat a nagging thought in me that it could, and should have reached its full potential given the superb cast, stylish action and of course, bloody violence.