A Bittersweet Life

Sunwoo Kim is an ‘enforcer’ for a gangland boss. He is asked to check on the boss’ (much younger) lady-friend whom he suspects is knocking about with someone more her age. If this is the case, he is instructed to take care of them. As ever, the lady-friend turns out to be a floaty angel-faced cello player (it’s never the euphonium, is it?). And, there his troubles really begin.

Kim is an archetype (the film dabbles in conventions and stereotypes, but never slips into cliche): Handsome and stylish (first time in ages I’ve contemplated getting a suit) and violent as hell*. Which kinda sums up the film, too.

The film looks astounding. To my eyes it borrows very heavily from both the Coens and Leone, but the beauty of their work is the way in which they subsume their influences to create something original and startling (although Joel & Ethan really ought to get the finger out). Nothing here feels forced (like the Wray/Cooper ‘joke’ in King Kong), director Ji-woon Kim holds this together as a piece very much of his own vision. (In fact, it’s not until the climax that it clicks with me that the soundtrack is largely flamenco guitar, very spaghetti. But, it fits.)

I’d also suspect that this owes a great deal (although, more in securing funding/proving there’s a market) to Chan-wook Park‘s (well, first two thirds of) revenge trilogy. It is neither as relentlessly plotted as Sympathy For Mr Vengeance, thankfully (this film comes across as a farce based around epic misery and misfortune rather than simple misunderstanding), nor as deeply mysterious as Oldboy. Yet, this lack of character or plot complexity maskes …Life a starker, more brutal, offering.

Tonight BBC4 will screen the third and final part of Jonathan Ross’ Asian Invasion. It deals with Korea. If he doesn’t argue that the country is currently not only giving Hong Kong and Japan a run for their money, but consistently out-thrilling Hollywood, I’ll eat whatever stupid hat he’s wearing. (And, insist yet again that he really need a news researcher/writer. *Ahem*)

Ji-woon Kim‘s previous film was A Tale Of Two Sisters, a film that’s trailer was scary enough to leave me requiring fresh trousers. Needless to say, I never saw the full thing (we don’t do horror round here). And, to be honest if it’s anywhere near as tense as this one, it’s just as well. Although, I am kinda wishing I had done now… This is what god invented celluloid for. An object lesson in using up two hours of strangers’ time.

*Be warned, if you are one of those that subscribes to the idea that Sin City only got away with being that violent because it was so stylised, this is not the film for you. Yes, a lot takes place off screen, but not all of it. Ouch.

Advertisements

Written by Tony Kiernan

24 January 2006 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Film

%d bloggers like this: