A Bittersweet Life

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A Bittersweet Life
A Bittersweet Life Poster.jpg
Theatrical poster
Revised RomanizationDalkomhan insaeng
McCune–ReischauerTalk‘omhan insaeng
Directed byKim Jee-woon
Written byKim Jee-woon
Produced byPark Dong-ho
Eugene Lee
StarringLee Byung-hun
Kim Yeong-cheol
Shin Min-ah
Hwang Jung-min
Kim Roi-ha
Lee Ki-young
CinematographyKim Ji-yong
Edited byChoi Jae-keun
Music byJang Young-gyu
Distributed byCJ Entertainment
Release date
  • April 1, 2005 (2005-04-01)
Running time
119 minutes[1]
CountrySouth Korea
Box officeUS$7.6 million[2]

A Bittersweet Life (Korean달콤한 인생; RRDalkomhan insaeng; lit. "The Sweet Life") is a 2005 South Korean neo-noir action drama film[3] written and directed by Kim Jee-woon. It stars Lee Byung-hun as Sun-woo, a hitman who becomes targeted by his boss after he spares the latter's cheating mistress.

The film was released theatrically in South Korea on 1 April 2005. It opened on 265 screens throughout the country, and registered a total of 1,112,950 admissions by the end of its run.[4][5] It was also screened out of competition at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival.[6] A 30 seconds longer director's cut was later released, featuring slight cutting and re-arrangement of scenes, swapping of music placement and some additional scenes that do not appear in the theatrical cut.[7] The film received an unofficial Indian remake titled Awarapan in 2007.[8]


Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a high-ranking enforcer and loyal subordinate of crime boss Kang (Kim Yeong-cheol). The two share concerns over business tensions with Baek Dae-sik (Hwang Jung-min), a son from a rival family. Previously Sun-woo had beaten up Baek's men 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 Sun-woo performs his duty — following Hee-soo, and escorting her to a music recital - 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 beats up the man and prepares to inform Kang. However, he changes his mind and 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. Agitated, he gets drunk in his apartment, and is kidnapped by Baek's henchmen. They prepare to kill him, but Kang saves him with a phone call. Kang, who has learned of his attempted cover-up of Hee-soo's affair, questions his motive, but he doesn't answer. Kang orders his men to torture Sun-woo, but gives him a chance to fix his mistake. Instead, Sun-woo escapes and vows revenge.

Sun-woo delivers Hee-soo a farewell gift, then attempts to buy a handgun. The deal goes bad and he ends up killing the arms dealers. This incurs a vendetta with the brother of one of the dealers, who goes to the nightclub he works at. Sun-woo lures Baek to an ice rink and kills him, getting injured in the process.

Undeterred, he arrives at the night club and kills his way in. Confronting Kang, Sun-woo vents over how badly he has been treated despite his years of loyalty. Receiving no justification, Sun-woo kills Kang. Baek's henchmen, who have been trailing Sun-woo, shoot at him and Kang's henchmen. Sun-woo emerges as the only survivor of the battle, just as the arms dealer's brother appears. Bleeding profusely, Sun-woo recalls watching Hee-soo's music recital. That was the only time he was seen smiling. 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.[9]

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.[6] The film at the time had the highest price when its distribution rights were sold to Japan for US$3.2 million.[10]

Critical reception was highly positive, with critics describing it as "organic, essential, beautifully staged and refreshingly realistic."[11] 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." [12] 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."[13]

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."[14] A critic from BeyondHollywood.com gave the film 4/5 stars.[15] 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.[11]


The 2007 Indian film Awarapan contained plot elements similar to the film. 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.[16][17]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^ "A Bittersweet Life". British Board of Film Classification.
  2. ^ "A Bittersweet Life". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
  3. ^ "달콤한 인생". Naver.
  4. ^ "A Bittersweet Life (2005)". Koreanfilm.or.kr.
  5. ^ "달콤한 인생 (2005)". Daum Movies.
  6. ^ a b "Festival de Cannes: A Bittersweet Life". Festival-cannes.com. Archived from the original on 2012-10-11. Retrieved 2009-12-12.
  7. ^ Wurm, Gerald. "Bittersweet Life, A (Comparison: Theatrical Version - Director's Cut) - Movie-Censorship.com". www.movie-censorship.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  8. ^ "10 Bollywood Movies That Lifted Their Stories From South Korean Films". MensXP.com. 6 April 2019. Retrieved 6 April 2019. 6. Awarapan - A Bittersweet Life - A hitman is asked to keep an eye on his boss' mistress. However, when he learns that she is being exploited, he decides to rescue her from the clutches of his boss. While actor Lee Byung Hyun flawlessly portrayed the conflict going on inside the character in the South Korean version, Emraan Hashmi failed to recreate the same magic or should we say turmoil in the Bollywood one.
  9. ^ "A Bittersweet Life OST Special Edition". YesAsia. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
  10. ^ "Duelist Sells Japanese Rights for $5 Million". The Korea Times via Hancinema. 16 February 2005. Retrieved 2015-06-28.
  11. ^ 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.
  12. ^ Elley, Derek (15 May 2005). "A Bittersweet Life". Variety. Retrieved 2012-03-02.
  13. ^ Toy, Sam. "A Bittersweet Life: Another brutally beautiful story of the Korean underworld". Empire. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  14. ^ "A Bittersweet Life". Cinema Eye. Retrieved 2008-02-08.
  15. ^ "A Bittersweet Life (2005) Movie Review". Beyond Hollywood. 27 July 2005. Archived from the original on 1 January 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2008.
  16. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (17 August 2017). "Michael B. Jordan, Jennifer Yuh Nelson Plot 'A Bittersweet Life' For Fox & 21 Laps". deadline.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  17. ^ McNary, Dave (18 August 2017). "Michael B. Jordan Eyed to Play Mobster in 'A Bittersweet Life'". variety.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  18. ^ "A Bittersweet Life - Awards". Cinemasie. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  19. ^ "8th edition of DEAUVILLE ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL prizes". Hancinema. 13 March 2006. Retrieved 2013-08-10.
  20. ^ Brown, Todd (25 July 2006). "Fantasia Winners Announced". Twitch Film. Archived from the original on 1 October 2012. Retrieved 10 August 2013.

External links[edit]