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'A Bittersweet Life' - the Beginner's Guide

2005/03/24 Source

Director Kim Jee-woon and Lee Byung-hun
It is possible to confuse the director with the movie star. Severe in a knitted hat and sunglasses, director Kim Jee-woon, 41, starts the banter by saying, "If we pose together you might get buried in the picture". Lee Byung-hun, 35, in ripped jeans, counterattacked: "You make fun of my ideas, but you always end up incorporating them in your work".

The movie "A Bittersweet Life" created by the director of the blockbusters "The Quiet Family", "The Foul King" and "A Tale of Two Sisters" and the ambitious actor who watches movies he stars in for more than 20 times, is a story of the wretched crash of a gangster who once seemed to have everything going for him. Here we introduce you to the movie and the story that lies behind it.

Espresso or Style

"There really was a gangster like that in real life. "There really was a gangster like that in real life. He graduated from a very prominent university, only wore black suits and was the epitome of good manners. He was greeted with bows and called "big brother" everywhere he went", says Lee Byung-hun. "The espresso Lee Byung-hun enjoys in the movie contains both sweetness and bitterness. That is life, and that is what our movie is about", Kim Jee-woon adds.

What separates "A Bittersweet Life" from other genre movies is its style. While wearing a tailored black suit and insisting on drinking espresso, Lee Byung-hun declares, "I'm not a bum".


"It must be a scene never seen in any other Korean action movies. The intense visual impact of the blazing timber enthralled me". (Lee Byung-hun) "As the movie progresses, so does the level of violence. It parallels Byeong-hun's emotional state in the movie. Paradoxically, through violence I wanted to evoke sympathy towards these men, with its recklessness and meaninglessness". (Kim Jee-woon)

The characters' only method of communication is violence. In the same way he portrayed the anxiety of the girl in "A Tale of Two Sisters" through the flower patterned wallpaper of primary colors, the director reveals the inner state of the wrecked man through the intensity of the blazing lumber and the dampness of a deep pit.

Shadow boxing or noir

"Choosing the genre is like choosing the subject. It is the genre that can best express what I wish to convey". (Kim Jee-woon) "Honestly, I wanted to watch that movie. So I willingly participated". (Lee Byung-hun)

Shadow boxing in the Sky Lounge Hotel, Lee in the movie admires his reflection in the window. But his dark shadow is contrasted with the city's lights. It is a scene that emphasizes the noir genre's focus on the dark inner self and its collapse.

A 38-caliber revolver and a fall

"Starting his revenge, he leaves the traditional weapon behind and chooses the gun. We start with his awkward expression when making a deal with an arms dealer until we reach his heroic but tragic fall from power". (Lee Byung-hun) "A gun is a masculine form of power. Doesn't it symbolize both the glory and the fall?" (Kim Jee-woon)

The noir gunfight in the latter half of the movie using an arsenal of Russian and American guns sets a stark contrast with the first half.

La Dolce Vita or A Bittersweet Life

Much of the movie is set in a hotel bar called La Dolce Vita. As Federico Fellini made clear in the movie of the same title (1960), bitterness too often follows a sweet choice. This is Kim Jee-woon's aesthetic pessimism.

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