[K-FILM REVIEWS] 달콤한 인생 (A Bittersweet Life)

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[K-FILM REVIEWS] 달콤한 인생 (A Bittersweet Life)

달콤한 인생
(A Bittersweet Life, KOREA 2005)
Dalkomhan Insaeng (lit. Sweet Life)

120 Minutes - 35mm 2.35:1 - Colour
Rating: 18 and over
Released in Korea on 4/1/2005
Total National Admissions (Approx.): 1,291,621
Produced by: 영화사 봄 (Bom Films)
Distributed by: CJ Entertainment

Theatrical Trailer (Downloadable, Windows Media, 700k)
Teaser Trailer (Downloadable, Windows Media)
Music Video (Downloadable, Windows Media, 500k)
Official Website

Note: The review contains spoilers


Director 김지운 (Kim Jee-woon)
[조용한 가족 (The Quiet Family, 1998), 반칙왕 (The Foul King, 2000), 쓰리 (Three: Memories, 2001) 장화, 홍련 (A Tale of Two Sisters, 2003)]
Writer 김지운 (Kim Jee-woon), 봉준호 (Bong Joon-Ho)
Director of Photography 김지용 (Kim Ji-Yong)
Music 달파란 (Dalparan), 장영규 (Jang Young-Gyu)
Editor 최재곤 (Choi Jae-Gon)
Action 정두홍 (Jung Doo-Hong)


이병헌 (Lee Byung-Heon), 김영철 (Kim Young-Cheol), 황정민 (Hwang Jung-Min), 신민아 (Shin Min-Ah), 오달수 (Oh Dal-Soo), 김해곤 (Kim Hae-Gon), 이기영 (Lee Ki-Young), 김뢰하 (Kim Roi-Ha), 진구 (Jin Gu)
CAMEO: 에릭 (Eric Moon)


Christopher Doyle, the great Australian cinematographer, once said: "Sex is overrated. It's communication I care about." In Kim Jee-woon's 달콤한 인생 (A Bittersweet Life), lack of proper communication leads to tragedy, and it's real communication, the one that gives you the will to live, that the characters aspire to. Because in a world where the balancing of violence and power is more important than human relations, there's no place for real dialogue, for sharing something with another person. The characters in this film are like machines, groomed to perfectly function without letting emotions get the better of them. This is a film about machines breaking down, because a breeze of fresh new air briefly entered their life, changing them forever. For Sun-Woo (Lee Byung-Heon), that breeze is represented by Hee-Soo (Shin Min-Ah), the young mistress of his boss, the woman he's supposed to tail, because she's apparently having an affair with a younger man. For Boss Kang (Kim Young-Cheol), that breeze is the defiance of long established hierarchies, the fact the only man he thought he could trust just disobeyed him for what he thinks is a quick infatuation. And so begins Kim's "Symphony for Mr. Violence," a three act story about miscommunication.

First act, piano. Sun-Woo, slick and cool as ice, has been working under Boss Kang for 7 years. He never makes mistakes, his confidence and experience so high he can slowly taste a serving of dessert before heading downstairs to take care of business with a few " noisy" customers. He's good looking, well mannered, always clothed in designer brands and an able driver. But best of all he's a quick, dangerously effective fighter, mixing style with accuracy. Kang trusts him, he says, because he's never fallen in love, he's not weakened by primal emotions, which the old fox sees as a dangerous risk to take when dealing with life or death matters. Kang, white hair and expressionless look hardened by decades of living the tough life, has seen too much, fought too hard to let his empire crumble under young punks with no manners. But he's getting old, his subordinates resemble more a bunch of glorified 양아치 (gangster wannabes) than people who are supposed to cover his ass. He's married but can't communicate with his wife, has a young mistress he keeps more as a trophy or flower vase, watering it once in a while with gifts to keep it fresh. He doesn't need to kill some poor soul to gain respect amongst his peers. All he needs is the status quo of power. But to maintain that, he needs someone who can be trusted, so what better chance to prove if Sun-Woo is up to the task by virtually staging a "jealousy" matter with Hee-Soo? If he can maintain his integrity and loyalty in this situation, Kang will know for sure Sun-Woo has it. That he's finally ready to settle down and let the young boy do the job for him.

Second act, allegro ma non troppo. The plan seems to be going perfectly, Sun-Woo is trying to keep a distance, but something happens, something he never expected. Those fleeting moments with Hee-Soo open an old wound that he had completely forgotten about. For a moment, Sun-Woo is alive again, he sees the kind of life he used to have, he could still have, if it wasn't for all that damn loyalty and integrity. All it took was a few smiles, spending a day looking at a graceful lady full of life eat ice cream next to him, listening to her cello practice, finally relaxing. Finally alive, sharing moments with a real person, not some cartoonish gangster whose gibberish starts and ends with a swear word. And that's when the (Korean) title of the film, an homage to Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita starts to make sense. Sun-Woo finds an oasis called emotion, in the desert that was his life. He's like Marcello Mastroianni, Hee-Soo his Anita Ekberg, her smiles and human warmth the Fontana Di Trevi where for a day he can bury all his problems, all the loneliness and hopeless future, and live life like he'd love to. But for someone who hid his emotions for so long that's too wild a concept to absorb. Emotion turns into vulnerability, which in his profession often means death. His misunderstanding begins from that moment, and so does Kang's. Why did he do that? Was it love? Sexual attraction? Did he just want to challenge his orders? Kang loses the only thing that was sure in his life, that everybody was afraid of him, and followed his word like a sutra. Now he finds himself violated, his power laughed at. Why did he disobey him?

Final act. Crescendo. Sun-Woo wants to take matters into his own. He's barely used a gun once or twice while working as a bodyguard, he can't even tell the difference between a Russian made Stechkin and a regular one. He finds a seller (Kim Hae-Gon), with his tacky leather jacket, fur on the shoulders, looking like the Korean love child of Joe Pesci and Mad Max. His lackeys? A Russian called Mikhail whose acquaintance with the Korean language starts and ends with an hilariously accented 쓰발 (Do I need to translate curse words?), proving that foreign tongues are difficult, but cursing is an international language of its own. The other guy (Oh Dal-Soo) keeps arguing with Mikhail, mixing Russian and Busan accent with alarming frequency. Sun-Woo has lost everything, that fleeting moment of beauty, but also starts to understand that the 7 years he's given to Mr. Kang, where he worked under him like a dog, meant nothing to him. He was just like every other thug, someone to be disposed of once he makes a mistake. Life has no value for him anymore, all he knows is that he needs to make people pay for what they did to him. He did nothing wrong.

When I heard Kim was making a film noir, I was wondering what would turn out. After all, while Kim has dealt with genre Cinema for almost a decade, his films aren't just dark comedies (The Quiet Family's theater-influenced comedy and reworking of the archetypal TV Drama "Family-ism" of the characters), action comedies (The Foul King's hilarious and touching rendering of the struggles of the everyday man in the dog-eats-dog world of the Korean job market) or horror films (the darkly psychological undertones to A Tale of Two Sisters, and its maniacal attention to detail in sound and art design). The result was something not entirely unpredictable (at least for those familiar with Kim's past work), but still tremendously fresh, giving new vigor to the Korean film noir. Style aside - and stylish this film definitely is, I'd hazard amongst the most stylish Korean films ever - was he going to stick to his usual themes or go in a new direction? Part Melville meets Spaghetti Western, part Jang Jin-style black comedy and part Park Chan-Wook Stylish violence, Kim's unique noir technique perfectly meshes with his past work, offering new mental meat to grind in your mind. He has made something so stylish and minimalist, yet so rich in delving into different aspects of genre-filmmaking, blending what we'd usually expect from an uniquely Korean noir, especially if you look at its predecessors in the mid 90s (Rules of The Game, Born To Kill, Beat).

Thanks to Jung Doo-Hong's constantly improving vision, the action is one of the film's strongest point. Organic, essential, beautifully staged and refreshingly realistic. What's really interesting is how Jung doesn't allow the genre to dictate his style, nor its roots to alienate the characters from their cultural backgrounds. Korea has little or no gun culture, that's why Sun-Woo misses most of his shots, why he doesn't use it with the machismo associated to weapon use in Western or (some) Hong Kong films. He shoots without passion, nervously, often without aiming, hitting parts that are not fatal. He struggles to even mount a strategy since the idea of using a gun is little more than something he saw in the movies. What Kim and Jung did really well here is juxtapose the knife's importance in Korean style violence and the machismo associated with it (go watch some Korean gangster films and you see the weapon of choice is either a sashimi knife or a baseball bat, never guns, even though criminals could get them via the black market), opposed to the bland omnipotence of the black toy. And in line with the rest of Jung's work the keyword here is essential. You don't see unnecessary movement, superhuman wirefu histrionics. The only one allowed to display some style in going mano-y-mano is Sun-Woo, to portray his experience and ability in dealing with physical confrontation. And it's essentialism the focus of the shootouts as well, maximizing the pain inflicted by bullets, showing guns are not a mere toy to use prattling around like some beefcake pseudo-heroic character from Hollywood's action wasteland. It's when the action becomes frenetic and the body count increases that that symphony of violence comes to conclusion, engulfing the hunter and its prey.

Once again, art direction becomes a character in a Kim Jee-woon film. In The Quiet Family, the hotel sort of represented the fragmented and diverse personalities of the family, separated in mind but united by heart, all under the same roof. In The Foul King, the training gym and the ring were Im Dae-Ho's (Song Kang-Ho) gateway to overcome humiliation and the harshness of reality. In A Tale of Two Sisters, the house was a macabre "sister" to the step-mother (Yeom Jung-Ah), almost moving in accordance with that woman's desires, at least in someone's mind... it's no different here. The Sky Lounge, too perfect to be real, harmoniously staged from the light carpet next to the Bar, up to the tree (a running metaphor throughout the film, symbolizing the characters' changes of heart). Hee-Soo's house, with more warmth and colour, as appealing as her owner. Sun-Woo's apartment, as minimalist and slick as only he can be, giving an air of melancholy and loneliness. They all become characters who act in the background to solidify the main players, like those veterans who silently carry scenes complementing their younger colleagues without ever upstaging them. Kim and his Art Direction Team have become masters in dealing with this aspect of filmmaking.

The music also deserves a mention. Mad genius Jang Young-Gyu's most mature work yet, aided by Dalparan for the more electronica-heavy parts. Jang still keeps a strong tie to his past work with EoEoBu Project (the cult experimental band that featured in The Foul King, Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance and many other films), but seems past that phase where you try to be creative to impress, not to improve yourself. Dalparan (real name Kang Gi-Young) is perhaps better known for his work with Jang Sun-Woo, and is a past member of the great indie trio PipiBand, the Sonic Youth of Korea. The soundtrack has a very European feeling, with touches influenced by Morricone, Spanish Flamenco, more ethnic flavour, all expertly mixed with Dalparan's thumping beats. It perfectly complements the action with its crescendos, and comes close to the beautiful main theme in A Tale of Two Sisters when it's time to convey what La Dolce Vita, the sweet life for Sun-Woo really is. I almost never buy OSTs because they rarely keep their musical strength dissociated from the film they belong to, but this is one I'd happily give a try to.

And then comes the main course, the cast. Lee, cool as ice, experienced and talented enough to know that his good looks can be a double edged sword if you can't take advantage of them, looking like a stray cat whenever dealing with real people, and a ruthless tiger when confronting foes and alleged friends, suspicious as ever. Kim Young-Cheol, fresh off his turn as Kim Doo-Han (the legendary gangster) in the second part of Yain Shidae, expressionless for 9/10 of the film, showing all his pent up frustration in the crucial moment. Shin Min-Ah, who was really well cast (Who else? Son Ye-Jin was too distant and too beautiful, Im Soo-Jung too sophisticated, Bae Doo-Na too sexy, Kang Hye-Jung too mature), offering the right mix of playful innocence and sexy maturity. Hwang Jung-Min, sly and hilarious in his jealousy and petty selfishness: Oh Dal-Soo, who's becoming a younger version of Baek Yoon-Shik, who makes banter in Russian sound like a couple of drunken people in Busan arguing at a tent bar, part hilarious and part majestic in his ability to capture the frame. Lee Gi-Young, finally back to the movies in a stable way after long years of struggling in TV Dramas as a bit player, as enigmatic and ruthless as Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. Kim Hae-Gon, the writer cum director cum part-time actor, looking like everything but a cold and calculated killer. This is a marvelous ensemble cast, adeptly playing to Kim's vision, making scenes stand out even when probably they shouldn't, adding great flavour to a film that's only deceptively simple.

Although I think Kim has never made a bad film, and most of his work is memorable in its own unique way, this might be his calling card to International fame. Its technical and visual splendor on display a perfect complement to all the artistry behind the scenes, from the music to the sound design (deliciously sophisticated, far removed from the squib fests that plagued too many Korean noirs in the 90s). Its balancing of stylish and nihilistic violence with tremendously effective black comedy, the kind that never gets to its knees begging you to laugh but earns it with its uniqueness. Its beautiful melancholy hidden under the wah wah and the bang bang, it all comes together as a masterful whole. It might only end up quietly pleasing cult film fans, but Kim has finally given Korea a film noir to be proud of. One that shows a master filmmaker at the top of his game, putting so much into a film to make it shine, yet making it all look so simple. In an action film world of stiff trees never moving even if hit by hurricanes, his refreshing breeze will certainly move many people's hearts.


Very good presentation, especially as far as the Audio goes. Very clear, clean and crisp. Quite involved during the action scenes, and the score sounds really great. Video is not reference level like some Korean message boards hinted at, but it's nonetheless quite good. Skin tones look very natural, with no compression artifacts and no problems with the print. The transfer is also devoid of booming whites, black levels are satisfactory, and there's that pleasant amount of grain to make it "film-like" but not enough to be noticeable.
Subtitles are good, all things considered. Good timing and no syntax or spelling mistakes. The translation is good, but also betrays a lot of the comedy (which is quite hilarious in its dry tones, especially anything involving Oh Dal-Soo). I don't think that will take anything major away from the film in terms of the story, but it's an important part a lot of viewers will feel apathetic about, and might make the wrong assumption this is just a dry action noir. But then again, it's difficult to put into words why Oh Dal-Soo's Russian cum 경상도 사투리 (the dialect spoken in Busan and the rest of Gyungsang province) is so funny, or why Hwang Jung-Min's deadpan delivery so captivating. Different people might have different reactions, but I'm not trying to say these are bad subtitles. It's just that they can't crack that level of cultural uniqueness which is definitely an enjoyable part of the film.


Commentary with Director Kim Jee-woon, Lee Byung-Heon, Kim Young-Cheol
An entertaining discussion with the three, who give their input showing good chemistry. As always for Kim's commentaries, his slow paced delivery makes it even easier to digest what he's saying. Also, the atmosphere of friendship between the three is a plus. Amongst the arguments discussed:
- The first scene with the old tale about the master and the moving of the heart. Kim decided to add it because it was the most obvious way to introduce the film, and convey its main theme, the changing of heart for its characters.
- Kim Young-Cheol talks about how, at first, he thought the first meeting between Sun-Woo and Kang could have been a little boring, because they discuss nothing particularly important up to Kang's request. But then he realized it showed their special relationship and how it set Sun-Woo apart from the others. Lee and Director Kim noted how it took two days to shoot, but looking at the editing it was worth it. A small scene, but telling us many things about the characters. Director Kim commented even Ryu Seung-Wan liked it a lot, saying Kim Young-Cheol looked like a cute 아저씨 (middle aged man) when talking about his girl.
- Director Kim commented how Lee eating the candy in Hee-Soo's house was never in the script, and how he likes the idea of introducing a character with a shot of his or her legs, or feet, admitting that might lead to people considering it a fetish of his.
- The three highlighted how the scene where Sun-Woo eating at a tent bar, right outside the restaurant where Hee-Soo and her date were eating, highlights his loneliness better than anything else could. Seeing her so happy, so carefree when dancing made him feel left out, reconsider why he was living like that. He also explains why there's an abrupt cut after the Cello practice scene, with the music disappearing all of a sudden. That was to highlight how Sun-Woo got back into the game quickly, still blinded by his code of loyalty.
- Director Kim said he added the scene with Baek (Hwang Jung-Min) and the phone, which didn't exist in the script, to kind of show what his personality was. He also highlights how Sun-Woo's apartment gives away his loneliness.
- Talking about Hee-Soo's character, Director Kim added the ice cream scene to create a sense of stimulation, provocation. Kim Young-Cheol also added (when Hee-Soo says: "This is boring") how youngsters nowadays lack consistency and don't have understandable patterns to follow when dealing with them, compared to his generation.
- The three agree the scene where Sun-Woo abruptly turns away from Hee-Soo shows best his changing relationship with her.
- One important thing is how Director Kim staged the fight inside Hee-Soo's apartment. While the action shown before in the Sky Lounge was very pragmatic and even stylish, there's a nervousness to the fight that highlights how Sun-Woo is starting to become tainted by his growing and changing feelings, and how that affects the way he fights. He wanted to give a Peckinpah feel to the way his sentiment toward the woman moves.
- Lee says how the "4 words scene" (잘.못.했.슴. in Korean, 3 in the English Subtitles) might not translate too well for foreign audiences. Agree with that, going from 그.냥.가.라 ("Just go" using the 4 words again) to "Fuck. You. Asshole." is not exactly funny nor stylish.
- The three discuss how the scene shot from behind of Kang returning to Korea at the airport reminds of Ben Kingsley in Sexy Beast. Kim wanted to convey that kind of feeling here.
- Director Kim talked about the three Filipino actors in the film, who weren't professionals. He commends them, especially the student, for their hard work.
- In one of my favorite parts, Kim Young-Cheol admitted that as he gets older, he's showing less and less patience. He wonders how a young director like Kim could come up with that kind of dialogue in the film. Lee jokes that Director Kim's not that young, after all.
- The scene in the rain where Kang and Sun-Woo meet again wasn't in the script originally, but they added it to show something changed between them.
- They talked about how important the scene where Kang keeps listening on the phone even after being on the car was, showing that he still cared about Sun-Woo even after what happened. They all thought the scenes in the rain were really hard to watch, considering it was so hard for Lee to shoot them and it was very cold that day.
- Kim really liked that "family" line from Kang, showing that kind of ideology running through the gangsters' minds.
- They talk about the hilarious scenes with Oh Dal-Soo and Vadim, the Russian. He wasn't actually an actor, but a dancer. He nonetheless did a great job. They laugh at how Oh's Busan accent even permeates the Russian dialogue.
- Kim comments that the funniest scene for foreigners was the one where Kim Hae-Gon and Lee Byung-Heon can't build the gun back and waste time, and it's a shame they won't get much out of Oh's funny Russian/Busan dialogue.
- Kim comments how the final scene looks like something out of a David Lynch film, with the huge red curtain (that'd be Fire Walk With Me or the Twin Peaks series)
- One funny anecdote was how he didn't find any good location for the toilet scene, so he used again the same exact spot where Song Kang-Ho and Song Young-Chang fight in The Foul King.
- A lot of people discussed why Sun-Woo didn't die after getting hit by that bullet, but Kim said it just hit his ear. They also discuss how Eric's role was a little too 만화 (Korean manga) style, but it still fit well with the film.

Commentary with Director Kim Jee-woon, Director of Photography Kim Ji-Yong, Art Director Ryu Sung-Hee
This was quite good. As you read more of my DVD reviews you'll learn how I'm not too fond of this type of commentaries. Why? They often end being dry debates over technicalities that the average film fan has never heard of. This is quite different. Since Art Direction is a crucial element of Kim's work, everything talked about here becomes all the more important. Most of the commentary deals with the choices (in Art Direction, Set Design, Lighting, Cinematography) Kim made vis-a-vis the conventional noir techniques. It also sheds some light on why certain colors were used. Kim refers to his taking the London Subway and the tone found there, mixing it with the color found in the Sky Lounge, that somber reddish tone that distances from the characters. Ryu also talked about the choice of green for Hee-Soo's house. After doing much research, she found out green is the color that best conveys the mysterious psychological charm of women, whereas white conveys loneliness. They highlights how strikingly different Kim Young-Cheol's style is to the almost monotone fashion "pattern" of gangsters in Korean Cinema. That grey tone fit well with the slightly darker tone of his skin. They also highlighted how Sun-Woo's apartment not only gave away his loneliness, but also that the house represent something of little importance to him (as exemplified by the boxes, showing he often moves), something to just crash in, take a shower and sleep after work.
And it goes on like this for two hours. They offer interesting anecdotes about different locales and shooting sets, use of colour and light, and generally keep up a good level of discussion for the whole thing. Entertaining and informative. Worth a listen.


Although you've seen them already on Twitch, the menu designs deserve a mention. They are stunningly beautiful, their style in line with the film.

01 LA DOLCE VITA 달콤한 인생
In the 6 years I've been buying Korean DVDs, this is perhaps one of the finest featurettes I've ever come across. Basically all the major cast members talk personally about what those great fleeting moments of happiness were for them. This not only connects the actors themselves with the film's main theme, but brings them closer to the viewers, in a way no honest interview will ever do.
- Self Interview [1'03"]
Introduction by Kim Jee-woon.
- Lee Byung-Heon [4'03"]
Lee feels strange doing a self camera interview. His life was full of small choices and big choices, but life continued to go on regardless of that. But if he had to say which choices influenced his life forever, he'd pick two. First goes back 10 years ago, when his mother's friends advised him to give acting a shot. The other more recent, a day before 9/11 he was in Boston, and decided to leave a day earlier, canceling his flight with one of the two planes that made history. That kind of destiny, those choices changed his life forever.
- Kim Young-Cheol [3'05"]
Kim says sweet moments in life are short, but he still thinks this is a sweet period of his life. Sitting alone, 12:30 in the morning is sweet. Talking with people, sharing ideas, working together, making good memories is always a sweet time for him.
- Shin Min-Ah [1'59"]
Shin feels she learned a lot shooting this film. Learned to have confidence in herself, which will surely help her in the future. Help to think more, feel more, take one step at a time.
- Kim Roi-Ha [5'14"]
At home, in his bedroom, Kim shows photos from his past, reminisces about his beginning as a sculptor, a theater actor. He says his happiest time was working part time jobs, having fun with his friends carefree, enjoying life.
- Hwang Jung-Min [2'23"]
Hwang mentions how Waikiki Brothers changed his life as an actor. After stopping his theater work for personal reasons, he was about to move abroad to start a business, and then the audition for Im Soon-Rye's film came.
This is wonderful, very special. As honest as you can get, and even if it's short, I wish they'd extended it to crew members and Director Kim.


Commentary From Director OR Crew (On/Off)

Basically a simple Making Of featurette with two separate commentary tracks from Director Kim and Crew Members. They show the usual steps of filming, from rehearsal to costume fitting, from camera test to the first day of shooting, and so on. Some interesting info is given by Kim and the crew members, but it's mostly all material that will be talked about later, or was discussed about in the commentaries. There's a nice working atmosphere between cast & crew. I love how Lee Byung-Heon runs to the monitor before he even takes off all the mud from his face. Good stuff.

This is just great, similar in tone with the huge documentary on the President's Last Bang DVD, but more in depth and divided into sections.
-Art [12'53"]
Art Director Ryu Sung-Hee talked about how the noir style influenced their choices. The most important thing was the use of colours. Take the Sky Lounge and its red, black and green tones, its catwalk like "light carpet" which was perfect for a final confrontation. She then went on talking about the single sets. The Sky Lounge, Hee-Soo's house, the Weapon Dealer's refuge, and the place where Sun-Woo gets abducted. They all do this while showing 3D Models, photos, and clips from said locations.
Main focus on building Hee-Soo's house was that of a person far removed from the usual femme fatale in Film Noir. The use of that natural, light green, giving a feminine touch to the room, all the small and unique props showing she's a woman who traveled a lot, and someone who could adapt to new things, change easily and move on. As for that small hangar where Sun-Woo was abducted, the main thought was building something that would help action. Again in Weapon Dealer's room, the biggest attention went to create an atmosphere that you couldn't get used to, with purple sofas next to dirty furniture. For Ryu, the most difficult set to make was the Sky Lounge, for its complexity and level of detail.
-Music [7'57"]
Dalparan and Jang Young-Gyu talk about the kind of music Director Kim wanted, then go on discussing single pieces from the soundtrack, adding the reason why they made changes, and why that particular piece was used in a scene.
-Action [13'50"]
Jung Doo-Hong introduces the action in the film. He says that while the action scenes in noir film are usually wild and spectacular, since this is a relatively new genre for Korea, they followed the basics. They shot some rehearsal at the fighting school with a handheld camera, showing it to the Director later (a common practice for Jung). He made the kind of action that was most comfortable to shoot, the kind of movements he would make if he was in that situation, stressing the essential. He talks about his three favorite scenes, the best being the last one in the Sky Lounge, which felt like an orchestra playing music to him. He compliments Lee Byung-Heon for his hard work, saying he's a fast learner, with a lot of ambition and will to improve, the right body and athleticism. He also talks about his relationship with Kim Jee-woon, this being the second time they work together after The Foul King. He says at first he felt uncomfortable, with Kim acting a sort of mother role, letting him do what he wanted, not scolding him when he made mistakes, understanding what Jung wanted to do. But he was really happy working with him in the film, it was one of the best experiences in his career.
-Sound [4'37"]
Sound Supervisor Choi Tae-Young talks about the realism of the sound design, compared to Hollywood. He talks about how they had to recreate every sound with foley effects, and then went on to discuss the advantage of Dolby Digital EX in dealing with surround sound..
-Gun Smith [8'47"]
A very fascinating summary of every gun used in the film by Camarms's Lee Seung-Ryong, the Weapons Supervisor. First weapon is the APS Stechkin, used by the Weapon dealers, using special bullets, popular with the Russian Mafia. Moving onto the Smith & Wesson N60 Revolver, very famous in America, able to fill 5 bullets, a firearm used in many gangster or police films. Then The Smith & Wesson used by Eric at the end, very similar to the N60 but longer and heavier, with capacity for a bullet more. The AK47S, perhaps the most famous firearm in Cinema. Cheap to buy, used today by Guerrilla forces in Afghanistan and Iraq (and pretty much everyone fighting the US). Lee says the AK74S was more famous back in the 80s, but now the 47 version is the most used. And finally the Styre SPP, an Austrian gun used by special forces, in spite of its looks very light.
-Special Art [4'52"]
Kwak Tae-Young talks about the realistic yet not too over the top special makeup effects and prosthetics in the film. They show the pipe used to hit Sun-Woo's arm and the prosthetics for it, along with the fingers after he gets hit. The blood on Kang's hand in the bathtub, and the phone battery scene.
-Special Effect [4'56"]
Lee Hee-Kyung talks about the special effects in the film, and Kim's interest about the matter. They used lots of blood, explosives and air pumps, the work on the bodies hit by bullets, and the way the glass tiles exploded in the Sky Lounge scene.
-CG [10'17"]
Finally Je Gal-Seung talks about the VFX work in the film, the Inferno Artist Park Shi-Hwan about the special wind effects and the texture mapping added to the "fake" bricks when the car breaks the wall. Senior Animator Eom Tae-Young talks about the 3D Animation CG, used mostly for wounds. The VFX Artists again talk about the special blood CG wounds on the hands, and the CG on the final Sky Lounge scene.

04 말해 봐요! 저한테 왜 그랬어요 (Tell Me! Why Did You Do That To Me?) [21'22"]
Perhaps the most hilarious featurette of the DVD. Basically a general "mea culpa" where someone asks another crew members (usually to the director) why did he do something. You have Lee Byung-Heon asking director Kim why he made him wear that kind of tuxedo and sunglasses in Poster, why they made a prosthetic doll of Oh Dal-Soo for one of the scenes, Production Designer/Art Director Ryu Sung-Hee even asked Kim why he sent one of her team to brings some props from a sex shop, was he embarrassed about that?
Perhaps the most important question is from Jung Doo-Hong. Why did he make that shadow boxing scene at the end? Kim says to show that essentially Sun-Woo was fighting himself more than anyone else, and to show the happiest, sweetest moments in his life. Quite fun, I don't think I've ever seen a feature like this on a DVD.

Commentary (on/off) by Director Kim Jee-woon, Director of Photography Kim Ji-Yong, Art Director Ryu Sung-Hee, Kim Young-Cheol, Lee Byung Heon

S#1A alternate, Kim Jee-woon
This was in the Music Video. It's a tracking shot of a car following what looks to be Sun-Woo. Kim says he cut it because it was too cliched.
Cuts to the scene where the waiter asks Sun-Woo to come downstairs.
S#12, Kim Jee-woon
This was the first day of shooting at the NamjiDo Golf Course in Seoul. Sun-Woo and Boss Kang are there, when the phone rings. Kim says he cut it off because the weather didn't create the right look on the background. Cuts to the waiter walking in the Korean restaurant.
S#13, Kim Young-Cheol/Lee Byung-Heon
Continuation of the scene at the restaurant. Boss Kang shows a photo of Hee-Soo (the same he looks at later in the film), and Sun-Woo looks even more inept dealing with issues like this.
S#16, Ryu Sung-Hee/Lee Byung-Heon
Inside Hee-Soo's house, after eating the candy, Sun-Woo picks up one of those Russian Dolls and messes it up trying to put everything together. Hee-Soo comes out of the shower, tries a few pairs of shoes and goes back to her bedroom.
S#20, Kim Jee-woon/Lee Byung-Heon
This opens a few moments before the scene where Sun-Woo stares at Hee-Soo dancing. It shows two girls next to him looking strange. Kim thought the whole thing was too awkward.
S#29, Kim Jee-woon
The scene where Baek gets one of his lackeys to pick up the phone. It continues with him singing.
S#30, Kim Jee-woon, Lee Byung-Heon
Sun-Woo talks with the chef and takes care of other things. Then a woman walks in the Sky Lounge and he looks at her. This cuts to the scene where he walks toward Hee-Soo before turning around. Kim wanted to show to what extent his work went, and how every time he looked at a woman from behind, he thought it might have been Hee-Soo.
S#33, Kim Jee-woon
Sun-Woo is alone at home, playing an old videogame with a gun (looked like an Atari ST or Amiga? Maybe a Commodore 64). Connects to the message on the answering machine Hee-Soo sends him. Kim wanted to show how lonely Sun-Woo was. He cut it because of its length but liked it anyway.
S#50, Kim Jee-woon
Sun-Woo is in the garage, angry after his confrontation with Oh, he starts beating on a nearby car. Kim cut it because it had a similar feeling to a scene that was close to it.
S#52, Kim Jee-woon
Sun-Woo is fighting with Hee-Soo inside her house. She asks if he did that because of the guy. He tells her he didn't care about him. She asks the important questions: "Then, was it about me?" Sun-Woo stares at her for seconds, says no and then walks away. This was an important scene for Kim, but decided to cut it anyway.
S#55, Kim Jee-woon
Boss Kang coming back from the airport, and inside the car. Kim cut it because it had too much of a Matrix feeling.
S#57, Kim Jee-woon
Right after the scene where Kang gives the gift to Hee-Soo. She throws it at the mirror.
S#60, Kim Jee-woon
Sun-Woo wakes up after Oh and his gang of Filipinos attack him. They realize he woke up, and hit him again. Kim wanted to show the contrast between the luxurious Sky Lounge and the lugubrious place he was at now.
S#72, Kim Jee-woon, Kim Young-Cheol, Lee Byung-Heon
Kang is in bed with his wife. He gets up to have a drink and meets Sun-Woo in the hallway. They start fighting and Kang grabs a golf club. Sun-Woo leaves.
Kim said that instead of showing the predictable charismatic image you find in Bosses from other gangster or noir films, but wanted to bring them down to a personal level. Kim mentions how the 6 Iron he takes fits him even more since that's his favorite club.
S#83, Kim Ji-Young, Kim Jee-woon, Lee Byung-Heon
Right after the shooting at the weapon dealer's place, Sun-Woo quietly stares. A phone call comes and he quickly leaves the place. Kim wanted to show Sun-Woo was even contemplating suicide, but the call woke him up.
S#88, Kim Jee-woon
Moon picks up the phone and heads out. Kim cut it because of timing issues.
S#102, Kim Jee-woon
Sun-Woo touches his wounded body in the toilet. He calls Hee-Soo, telling her if he can make it she'll get another call. While he thought it was an important scene (present in the Theatrical cut), he thought it was too awkward to put something that was essentially predicting his death before it even happens. It looked too much like the last famous words you tell the woman you love, so he took it off.
S#110B alternate, Kim Jee-woon
This would be the last call he makes to Hee-Soo. Kim says he wasn't supposed to shoot it, but took a chance anyway.

06 달콤한 인생의 대한 진실 (THE TRUTH ABOUT A BITTERSWEET LIFE) [17:17]
This is the DVDPrime discussion that was reported about a while ago. Kim basically sat down with some DVDPrime members to discuss about the film, and it was an interesting debate. Kim opens talking about the main theme of the film, his desire to make a fun story. To show that while life is short, those fleeting, precious moments that change a person's life are beautiful and sweet. He wanted to do that through the elements of film noir. Just like The Quiet Family, the title hints at the core of the film. He also talks about how the end cannot really be interpreted as a dream, but more like as a flashback of his happiest moments, his meeting with Hee-Soo and that feeling before working for Kang. Reading the script, Hwang Jung-Min commented that it would have been cool if it was all a dream, starting from the cello practice scene, where the focus is behind Lee's face. Kim and the DVDPrime members continued talking about whatever they didn't like about the film, and what they hoped to see in Kim's future films. This was obviously edited and much longer (reports said 2 hours, although I find that hard to believe), but they did get some very interesting Q&A in, so it was a worthy discussion.

An interesting clip from the Cannes Film Festival, showing the crew's arrival in France, their walking the red carpet before the film's screening, and more. Producer Lee Yoo-Jin chimes in saying she felt it was an honour to be invited to Cannes, even if Out of Competition. They worried a lot, before going to Cannes, how European audiences would react to the film, but was relieved they laughed at the funny scenes, and accepted the film with great warmth, giving it a very long applause. A few interviews follow (I guess with critics, whose face I can't recognize). The first critic talks (English with Korean subs) about the quiet introspection and James Dean like appearance of Lee Byung-Heon. The french critic (French with Korean subs) loved how Lee conveyed his cold exterior while deep inside he was consumed by rage. Back when he looked at the first images of the film on the Net, he felt a strong resemblance to Alain Delon, the same magnetism, and he thinks that's also a kind of tribute to Melville and the French noir of the 70s Kim wanted to make. He goes on saying Lee might become the next International star, and Kim's film will succeed because anyone can identify with those themes. Lee continues highlighting the good reaction the press showed, especially in terms of artistic merit, the film's visual appeal and its sound design. Kim Jee-woon jokes at the Q&A with the press that his film is like Melville meets Kill Bill. Shin and Lee conclude talking about their experience. The segment ends with Kim thinking Cannes is a bonus for him. What he really wanted to do was make something Koreans would like, but he's proud Cannes invited him. In the future, he'll try to make even better films. A nice little clip.

08 SWEET SLEEP [3'30"]
Ending credits roll with images of the cast sleeping on one of the three screens, Hwang Jung-Min singing (quite well!) on another, the credits rolling on the third. A nice touch.

09 EPK [6'50"]
- Music Video (Directed by Lee Byung-Heon) [2'50"]
달콤한 인생 (Sweet Life) by (양파) Yangpa. It mixes scenes from the film with other unused scenes. Although I've never been a huge Yangpa fan, this song fits well with the images. Lee seems to have pretty good talent for directing Music Videos. After Yoo Ji-Tae doing short films, do we have another director in the making?
- Teaser Trailer [1'30"]
Just great. Simple, to the point, summarizing the film's main selling points without spoiling too much. The voiceover from the film is effectively used.
- Theatrical Trailer [2'00"]
Again emphasizing the 저한테 왜 그랬어요? 말해 봐요 (Why did you do that to me? Tell me) line from the film. I love the big dramatic score starting with the violent scenes.
Mixes violence and grace with great panache. Top notch. I like the line at the end after the release date :의리없는 정쟁이 시작한다 (The war without loyalty starts...)
- TV Spot [30"]
Strictly focused on the cast under the beats of Dalparan and Jang Young-Gyu's score. OK.

I don't know if it's because he's lucky or in love with the format, but Kim's films on DVD always end up amongst my favourites. Be it the shorts and interesting extra features on The Quiet Family DVD, the great extras on The Foul King (in an era where extra features in Korean DVD were a rarity) or the beauty that is the A Tale of Two Sisters DVD. This is no different. The film is amazing, the extras top quality, the presentation excellent. The brave amongst you will wait for the mammoth 11,000 Yen Japanese release, but anyone else can do with this, and never regret that decision. This is a truly great DVD, amongst the best of the year.

DVD Specs

Audio: Korean Dolby Digital DTSes, 6.1 EX
English and Korean Subtitles (1, only subtitles Russian, 2, subtitles everything)
2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, NTSC, Dual Layer, Region 3
Released By CJ Entertainment (authored by Bear Entertainment) on 7/26/2005

Related Links:
Korean Director's Cut DVD
Japanese Theatrical+Director's Cut Limited Edition

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Todd BrownAugust 8, 2005 9:08 AM

Come on ... how about some detail?

kirevAugust 8, 2005 9:27 AM

great review!

"This is a film about machines breaking down, because a breeze of fresh new air briefly entered their life, changing them forever.".. this line of yours was very insightful to me.

ElusiveAugust 8, 2005 9:59 AM

Thank you so much for this!! It's really frustrating not understanding the featurettes, so I'm going to be reading through all of this.

Thanks especially for the Lee Byung-hun self-interview. His was the only one I sat through completely

KickazZAugust 8, 2005 10:03 AM

Although Antarctic Journal got badmouthed all over the place, I'm looking forward to it. :)

Still haven't seen it myself.

Todd BrownAugust 8, 2005 10:11 AM

I can confirm that X was positively gushing when he finished watching it ...

logboyAugust 8, 2005 3:42 PM

still waiting for this and 'crying fist'. already told koreandvds.com that i will be "going elsewhere in future" if only as a result of their policy of making people wait 40 days before theyll send a replacement...

mrmarzoAugust 9, 2005 12:05 AM

when is this going to be released region 1? Anyone know if they can get this in San francisco's chinatown?

KujoAugust 9, 2005 7:57 AM

I absolutely loved this film. It's my favourite film of the year so far.

andrewAugust 9, 2005 2:50 PM

off topic: can anyone confirm EoEoBu's involvement in Crying Fist? I swear one of the songs in there was theirs'. I saw them in concert once in Seoul (friend of a friend of a friend), and they've got quite a character to them.

ToryAugust 9, 2005 10:56 PM

Thanks, x, for the review and for the answer to my question. Cannot wait to see this movie. My little brother's been picking on me about it. And I keep picking on him 'cause he's all googly-eyed about Sky High.

FaboolAugust 9, 2005 11:19 PM

I must be the first one to say I was a bit disapointed with the film :/

Didn't quite manage to evoke any feelings with me. Good production values and some nice camerawork but it just didn't.. 'click' with me; a shame since I really liked A tale of two sisters.

Good work on the review though. A good read.

FilmbrainAugust 10, 2005 10:06 PM

X - Thanks so much for the detailed breakdown of the extra features.

Your review has caused me to hold off on writing my own—like Fabool, I was left cold by the film. Wonderfully made, but lacking in emotional depth. I'll give it a second viewing before reviewing it.

RahatAugust 16, 2005 3:56 PM

Incredible walkthrough. Watched it right before reading your review. Agree that the depth was lacking, but in some ways, I enjoyed that because it let me fill in my own explanations/thoughts, accurate or not.

dimsum99September 2, 2005 2:18 PM

Thanks, x! Your explanation makes a lot of sense. Kang certainly wasn't born yesterday, and I'm guessing he just wanted to give Sun-Woo a final test of sorts. It's possible he's even eyeing him to be his successor. Well, things didn't turn out favorably. What a great movie!

I wonder what Kim Jee-Woon has up his sleeves next. Can't wait. ^^

owen quigleySeptember 5, 2005 2:18 AM

does any one know if the music in the

subtitled trailer is used in the movie

ksenSeptember 12, 2005 1:57 PM

Thank you!!

BartFebruary 14, 2007 2:38 PM

This has to be my favorite movie of all time. I loved your very detailed analysis of the extras and commentaries since I dont know the language. I absolutely loved the OST and I can highly recommend it. One of the few OST where when you listen to it, you are automatically taken back to that specific scene in your mind. It just fits perfectly.

Too bad the dvd didnt have english subtitles for the extras though :-(