A Bittersweet life is not one of those detective story that shoots up at everycorner, as devoided of feeling and thinking as a machine gun at the other end of a heavy shooting.
Not that it wallows in philosophical debates and gives in to sentimal teary eyes. Not that the director looks at his belly button and finds an intellectual alibi in violence.
Negative. Like some of the best of John Woo, from The crime syndicate and the killer, A bittersweet life naturally evolves in a genre where it doesn't break the rule. Everything is to the teeth. The cold gangster, methodical and sophisticated, the omnipotent godfather his mistress, to be watched and shot if she misses out on her duty or loyalty…
The second ordering the first to spy on the third one, A bittersweet life has a slight flavor of derailed love triangle. Especially as the loyal gangster betrays its vows, save the beautiful and unfaithful as he looks at her with Rodrigue eyes. From there, the bad guy gives his lieutenant a major ass kicking, but he will come back from his grave after an anthologic beating where he's left for dead, and his vengeance is fierce. Vengeance is the mesure of his despair and of a passion that he's incapable to express with words. A kind of wild crusade that Kim Jee-woon shoots with the elegance of Jean Pierre Melville of Samouraï, piling up bodies under a cold light, and balancing out the horror with a lighter note. At the end, A bittersweet life stands at the opposite side of light, nihilist and tragic. Bitterly beautiful, bloody and moving.