A Bittersweet Life

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A Bittersweet Life
A Bittersweet Life Soundtrack.jpg
Theatrical poster
Revised RomanizationDalkomhan insaeng
McCune–ReischauerTalk‘omhan insaeng
Directed byKim Jee-woon
Produced byPark Dong-ho
Eugene Lee
Written byKim Jee-woon
StarringLee Byung-hun
Kim Yeong-cheol
Shin Min-ah
Hwang Jung-min
Kim Roi-ha
Lee Ki-young
Music byJang Young-gyu
CinematographyKim Ji-yong
Edited byChoi Jae-keun
Distributed byCJ Entertainment
Release date
  • April 1, 2005 (2005-04-01)
Running time
120 minutes
CountrySouth Korea
Box officeUS$7.6 million[1]

A Bittersweet Life (Hangul달콤한 인생; RRDalkomhan insaeng; lit. "The Sweet Life") is a 2005 South Korean action film written and directed by Kim Jee-woon and starring Lee Byung-hun.

Two versions of the film exist, the original theatrical version and the director's cut. The director's cut's edits include slight cutting and re-arrangement of scenes, swapping music placement and some additional scenes that do not appear in the original version of the film.[2]


Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a high-ranking enforcer for Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol), a cold and calculating crime boss to whom he is unquestionably loyal. The two share concerns over business tensions with Baek Dae-sik (Hwang Jung-min), a son from a rival family, and whose men had been beaten up by Sun-woo for overstaying their welcome at their nightclub. Kang, preparing to leave on a business trip, assigns Sun-woo to shadow his young mistress Hee-soo (Shin Min-ah), whom he fears is having an "affair" with another man. As he performs his duty—following Hee-soo, and escorting her to a music recital one day—he becomes quietly enthralled by the girl's beauty as glimpses into his lonely, empty personal life become prevalent. When he does come to discover Hee-soo and her lover at her home, he fiercely beats him and prepares to inform Kang, but his attraction to her causes him to hesitate. He thus spares the two on the condition that they no longer see each other again, earning him Hee-soo's enmity.

Later, a man asks Sun-woo to apologize for beating up Baek's men, but he refuses. As he relaxes in his apartment, he is suddenly kidnapped by Baek's henchmen to be tortured; they then receive new orders via phone and he is carried off to Kang, who has found out about his attempted cover-up of Hee-soo's affair. Kang's men torture him into confessing why he lied until he is left alone to think about his answer. A daring and violent escape follows, after which Sun-woo plans his revenge.

Sun-woo secretly delivers Hee-soo a gift to make amends, and then meets with some arms dealers for a handgun; the deal goes bad and Sun-woo ends up killing them. This incurs a vendetta with the brother of one of the dealers, who promptly sets out to find Sun-woo. Sun-woo then sets up a veiled rendezvous with Baek and kills him after a brief conversation, but he is viciously stabbed in the process. Bleeding, his violent shooting spree leads directly to Kang amidst one of his business meetings, where he vents bitterly over how badly he has been treated despite his years of loyalty. Kang does not answer, and instead asks if Sun-woo's actions were directly because of Hee-soo. Sun-woo kills Kang, prompting a shootout with Baek's henchmen, who have picked up his trail.

Sun-woo emerges as the only survivor of the battle, just as the arms dealer's brother appears. Dying from multiple gunshot wounds, Sun-woo calls Hee-soo and pauses to reminisce on his only day with her, when he had escorted her to her music recital: while watching her play her cello, he is overcome with emotion and smiles for the first time in the entire film. The arms dealer's brother then executes him.

The film ends with a continuation of an earlier scene, where Sun-woo looks out of a window at the city below him. After making sure he's alone, he begins to shadowbox his reflection in the glass, looking very happy.



A Bittersweet Life Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
various artists
ReleasedApril 7, 2005 (2005-04-07)
LabelPony Canyon (Korea)

The A Bittersweet Life original soundtrack was released on April 7, 2005.[3]

A Bittersweet Life OST track listing
1."Dialogue #1" 0:27
2."My Sad Night" 4:00
3."Irreversible Time" 2:14
4."Dialogue #2" 0:04
5."Romance"Yuhki Kuramoto5:00
6."Red Lounge"Dalparan4:26
7."Long Journey" 2:33
8."Red Ice Rink"Dalparan3:05
9."A Bittersweet Life II"Dalparan3:09
10."A Bittersweet Life"Dalparan2:33
12."Fairness" 2:58
13."Dark Room"Dalparan3:09
15."Etude in E Minor" 1:55
16."Dialogue #3" 0:20
17."Sky Lounge" 4:18
18."Irreversible Time (Quartet)" 2:09
19."A Bittersweet Life III"Yang Pa5:39
20."A Honeyed Question"Hwang Jung-min4:27

Box office and critical reception[edit]

The film was screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.[4] The film at the time had the highest price when its distribution rights were sold to Japan for US$3.2 million.[5]

Critical reception was highly positive, with critics describing it as "organic, essential, beautifully staged and refreshingly realistic."[6] Derek Elley from Variety magazine described the film as "a tour de force of noirish style and Korean ultra-violence that will have genre fans nailed to their seats." [7] Sam Toy from Empire stated Lee "puts in a star-making performance as the brutal chief whip-turned-fugitive, never overplaying what could easily become hammy and clichéd, and easily holds this Korean noir together." He added "this is hugely enjoyable, and beautifully brutal."[8]

Lee Byung-hun was praised for his acting ability with a critic from Cinema Eye saying that he "brings sheer excitement in his performance" and is "an angel dressed in vengeance." The critic also noted that A Bittersweet Life is "the best film of 2005."[9] A critic from BeyondHollywood.com gave the film 4/5 stars.[10] On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a 100%, with an average score of 8.1 out of 10 based on ten reviews.

In 2009, Empire named it third in a poll of the "20 Greatest Gangster Movies You've Never Seen* (*Probably)."

When the film finally ended its theatrical run, it had 1,291,621 admissions.[6]


In 2007, Bollywood movie Awarapan was released, which contained plot elements similar to the movie. The film, directed by Mohit Suri, starred Emraan Hashmi, Shriya Saran and Ashutosh Rana. In August 2017, an American remake was announced, with Jennifer Yuh Nelson to direct and Michael B. Jordan to star.[11][12]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ "A Bittersweet Life". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
  2. ^ Wurm, Gerald. "Bittersweet Life, A (Comparison: Theatrical Version - Director's Cut) - Movie-Censorship.com". www.movie-censorship.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  3. ^ "A Bittersweet Life OST Special Edition". YesAsia. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
  4. ^ "Festival de Cannes: A Bittersweet Life". Festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
  5. ^ "Duelist Sells Japanese Rights for $5 Million". The Korea Times via Hancinema. 16 February 2005. Retrieved 2015-06-28.
  6. ^ a b "K-FILM REVIEWS: 달콤한 인생 (A Bittersweet Life)". Twitch Film. 7 August 2005. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  7. ^ Elley, Derek (15 May 2005). "A Bittersweet Life". Variety. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
  8. ^ Toy, Sam. "A Bittersweet Life: Another brutally beautiful story of the Korean underworld". Empire. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  9. ^ "A Bittersweet Life". Cinema Eye. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  10. ^ "A Bittersweet Life (2005) Movie Review". Beyond Hollywood. 27 July 2005. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  11. ^ Jr, Mike Fleming (17 August 2017). "Michael B. Jordan, Jennifer Yuh Nelson Plot 'A Bittersweet Life' For Fox & 21 Laps". deadline.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  12. ^ McNary, Dave (18 August 2017). "Michael B. Jordan Eyed to Play Mobster in 'A Bittersweet Life'". variety.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  13. ^ "A Bittersweet Life - Awards". Cinemasie. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  14. ^ "8th edition of DEAUVILLE ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL prizes". Hancinema. 13 March 2006. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  15. ^ Brown, Todd (25 July 2006). "Fantasia Winners Announced". Twitch Film. Retrieved 2013-08-10.

External links[edit]