Sunday, 9 May 2010

I'm A Cyborg, But I'm Okay

Title: I’m A Cyborg, But That’s Okay
Director: Park Chan-wook
Released: 2006
Staring: Su-jeong Lim, Rain, Hie-jin Choi Hie-Jin, Lee Yong-nyeo
Rating: 4 / 5

Plot: Young-Goon (Su-Jeong) believes she is cyborg, who after plugging herself into the mains, in a failed attempt to recharge her batteries; finds herself committed to an Asylum, were she soon attracts the attentions of her fellow inmate Il-Sun (Rain) who believes that he can steal other people’s souls / attributes, who she soon forms an unusual bond with.

Review: It was unsurprising that after the bleakness (Yet still highly enjoyable) of “Joint Security Area” (2000) and his Revenge trilogy, as well as providing one third of “Three Extremes” (2004) which his contribution “Cut”, that director Park Chan-wook would want his next film to be a little more lighter in tone, especially when he expressed his interest in making a film for his then eleven year old daughter, the result of which is this film.

It’s clear from the beginning that this film is the complete opposite to what we have come to expect from Chan-wook, as it opens with Danny Elfman style title music as Chan-wook once again turns a curious eye on the world, rather than looking at the more darker areas of society as we have come to expect from him, which might make many of his fanbase, which he has gained with his earlier films, which were packed with so many powerful and often shocking images, so the idea of a watching a romantic surrealist film set in a mental institution, let alone one without the prospect of anyone being beaten with a hammer, or eating live squid might prove to some not the most appealing of prospects and true while this offering from no doubt one of the most exciting and interesting directors currently working in modern cinema, might not contain any of the shocking imagery of those earlier films which made them so memorable, there is still a lot to enjoy here even if this film is lighter in tone, he still allows for his darker side to seep into this film, I mean after all what other romantic comedy can you think of, which opens with the leading lady, wiring herself up to the mains?

Still although he might be turning a rose tint onto his dark world view, Chan-wook still has not sacrificed any of his visual styling, as it is still a film filled with beautiful colours and fluid camerawork, with the power of this direction truly coming into effect once Young-Goon is committed, as we follow her being pushed around the institution, slowly being introduced to her fellow and equally colourful inmates, which include “Oldboy” lead Dal-su Oh, who appears here as Dal-su an inmate who is not only excessively polite and constantly walking backwards, but also belives himself to be responsible to any misfortune which happens around him, while meanwhile Young-Goon is left in a catatonic state for the early part of her stay, allowing us to be introduced better to some of these characters, in much the same way we were introduced to Geum-ja’s fellow prison inmates in “Lady Vengeance” (2005), though thankfully she snaps out of it in time, to prevent any of them to take the attention away from her, while at the same time allowing the audience to get used to this new world he has created, which its safe to say is the complete polar opposite of what we have become so used to.

While it’s true that Chan-wook could easily have made a heavy film about mental illness, but instead he has chosen to bring us inside this world which the inmates have created for themselves, as Chan-wook removes all but the necessary traces of asylum life, such as the group therepy sessions, making it all too easy to simply view this film as a Korean version of “One Flew Over The Cuckoos nest” (1975), though he still finds a place to include the shock factor of the scenes in which Young-Goon is fed nasally, after the doctors tire of her constant refusal to eat, believing that it will destroy her cyborg parts.
It's almost a playful curiosity which is used to look at Young-Goon’s condition, all the more so when so much of the film is seen through her eyes, as she talks to appliances and licks batteries to recharge her own, even seeing electroshock treatment as recharging, as we watch her toes lighting up like coloured light blubs. Still it is through this world view that Chan-wook also manages to satisfy his more violent cravings, which see Young-Goon engaging in a delusional massacre of the institution doctors (or white coats as she refers to them as). Shooting bullets from her fingertips, in one of the more memorable scenes and although effective the first time we see it, feels more like padding by the time this same delusional fantasy makes a second and more extended appearance. Still Young-Goon’s condition like the rest of her fellow inmates is not viewed as something which requires curing, but instead with a happy go lucky view, as the individual conditions being suffered by each of the inmates, often feel like they are there more for the audiences amusement, with none certainly coming across as a danger to anyone bar themselves.

Now if the prospect of watching anything remotely attached to the romance genre fills you with butt clenching dread, fear not as the romantic elements here are more suggested than acted upon, as Il Sun’s intentions are clearly to help Young-Goon than anything resembling trying to get with her and hence avoiding a barrage of awkward moments and cheesy one-liners, while at the same time no doubt becoming the first film to include a seduction by pretending to fit a food-to-electrical-energy conversion unit (or rice megaton as he calls it), as he Il Sun attempts to get Young-Goon to eat again, with their relationship it would seem based on their individual curiosity about the other, which again is thankfully saved from being drenched in saccharine sweetness, as Chan-wook puts enough faith in his audience to get their relationship, without having to sledgehammer it home, as he continues to find unique ways to engage his audience with even the most simplest of scenes, such as Il Sun attempting to help Young-Goon eat again, or even those of Young-Goon being pushed down the hallways past various other inmates are packed with entertaining details, requiring a repeat viewing to capture them all.

My main gripe however with this film came with it’s ending, which comes so abruptly that it made me wonder, if Chan-wook had no real idea how to end it and instead choose to leave things open ended as to what happens next, as the credits start to roll through what essentially feels like the middle part of a scene, making for an abrupt and forced ejection from this world. Still even though this isn’t the greatest ending, it doesn’t stop this film from proving once more, why Chan-wook is still one of the most exciting directors currently working, as he has yet again not only made another fascinating film, but has also proved that he is far from a one directorial trick pony, even though some members of the fan base might not get to grips with it’s lighter tone, in much the same way that Takashi Miike suffers criticism for his lighter films, it still remains an entertaining and fun movie, that is really worth giving a look, aswell as providing a light introduction to newcomers.


  1. This looked like a really good movie, reminds me of a Japanese drama, I can't quite recall its name but it's about an ideal boyfriend being a robot, who eventually developed real human emotions and fell in love with the girl he was assigned to "love" as a mission. HOW WEIRD!

    Anyway thanks for dropping by my blog!

    p/s: you've got a great site here!

  2. Thanks for droping by here too!
    That sounds like a new one, as the idea of guys falling in love with female androids, tends to pop up alot in anime especially.

    It's just so good that foreign cinema, has become popular enough for movies like this to filter through, rather than just horror and overly arty films. Now if I can just find a label that will dedicate itself to release Kajiu movies. :)

  3. Loved the film, we're Park fans too.


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