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Film / A Bittersweet Life

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"You can do a hundred things right, but it takes only one mistake to destroy everything."

A Bittersweet Life is a 2005 South-Korean Revenge movie directed and written by Kim Ji-Woon (I Saw the Devil, The Good, the Bad, the Weird) starring Lee Byung-Hun as Sun-woo, a high-ranking enforcer for a powerful Korean mobster who goes through hell after disobeying one of his boss' orders. Being Mr. Kang's most loyal employee, Sun-woo is assigned with the task of watching over the former's young mistress, whom is suspected of being involved with another man. But Sun-Woo finds himself incapable of following the order of killing the two lovers after the suspicions are proven right, starting a war with his former crime family.


This movie provides examples of the following:

  • Action Hero: Sun-woo, a mobster trained in martial arts who won't die easy.
  • Anti-Hero: Sun-woo is a skilled and ruthless enforcer working for a big criminal organisation, but lets Hee-soo and her lover walk out (mostly) unharmed, as long as they agree to stop seeing each other, instead of murdering the two of them. Whether this choice is caused by pity, ethical reasons or by his growing feelings for Hee-soo is up to debate.
  • Avenging the Villain: Sun-woo ends up being killed by the gun dealer's brother at the end. Interestingly, the gun dealer's brother doesn't seem to know that Sun-woo was the one who killed his brother, he just knows that it's one of the people participating in the shootout at the end, so he kills all the survivors.
  • Ballistic Discount: At first, Sun-woo tries to buy one gun peacefully. However, the arms dealers figure out his ruse so he is forced to kill them all. He then takes all the weapon he can carry.
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  • Buried Alive: Happens to Sun-woo. He manages to dig himself out, but is threatened with being buried in a ditch three times deeper after. Fortunately, he manages to escape before that can happen.
  • Call-Back: Near the end, Sun-woo references Mr. Kang's words to him after being asked why he didn't kill Hee-soo and the man she was meeting with earlier in the film.
    "No, not that kind of thing. Tell me the real reason."
  • Combat Pragmatist: Rather than engaging in a bloody one on one fight only the best would win, Sun-woo prefers to kill the three major antagonists by gunshots. Especially noticeable in Mr. Kang's and Mun-suk's cases, one killed by a sudden point blank shot to the chest and the other shot down with no time to react, respectively.
  • Dead Man's Trigger Finger: In the final shootout, Sun-woo managed to wound one of the mercenaries who's armed with an AK-47. Said mercenary ends up staggering backwards and firing his weapon as he fall, killing maybe a dozen random mooks on accident.
  • Destination Defenestration: In the final shootout, a gangster hit by stray gunfire ends up staggering backwards... through the penthouse window. Behind that is a twenty-storey drop.
  • Downer Ending: Sun-woo kills Kang and his henchmen, but dies alone in the process, and Hee-soo and her lover are likely to remain separated and unaware of these events.
  • The Dragon: Sun-woo seems to serve as this to Kang, until their falling out.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: If you're a supporter of the All Just a Dream interpretation.
  • Not So Stoic: There's only three moments in the entire movie at which Sun-woo is shown smiling. His lifestyle and monotonous daily habits also suggest he doesn't have much of a off duty life. As in Hee-soo's words, "You're so boring to talk to.". However, he proves to be able to demonstrate feelings ranging from endearment when seeing Hee-soo play the cello to hurt in his last conversation with Mr. Kang before killing him.
  • Only a Flesh Wound: The protagonist takes multiple stabs to the stomach and is hit by several bullets but still stands after all the mooks in the restaurant are dead. The only one who's finally successful in killing him is the gun dealer's brother.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: averted with one of the arms dealers, whose head miss a huge chunk where the bullet exits.
  • Stupid Crooks: The three arms dealer. Two of them relentlessly argue with each other. The boss isn't much better, leaving loaded magazines within the customer's arm reach.


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