Park Chan-wook changes gears to bring us this darkly comic tale of crazy love.
“If only I had one purpose of existence.”
Korean cyborg romantic comedies. Apparently they were a thing a decade ago, with two movies released one after the other: this one, and Cyborg She. Thing is, only one of them is actually about robots. Cha Young-goon (Im Soo-jung) is the titular Cyborg of this film, a young woman who isn’t actually a cyborg, but merely thinks she is. Starving herself, believing that her internal systems will break down if she ingests anything, she believes she needs to lick batteries to stay charged. At her job at a radio assembly factory, she slits her wrists, inserts wiring into the cut, and plugs herself into a socket. Needless to say, she is institutionalised.
At the hospital, Young-goon meets a variety of nutcases (which, based on the comical way they’re portrayed, is not an unfair way to describe them) including a man who is so humble he only walks backwards, a tough woman who believes she knows the secret to flying, as well as a number of medical staff, who she wishes vengeance against ever since they took her grandmother away. There, she also meets Il-soon (Rain), a schizophrenic who takes a shine to her. They get to know each other better, sharing parts of their lives they have kept hidden, and Il-soon even resolves to get Young-goon to eat again.
I’m a Cyborg’s biggest strength is its tone – one which is wildly off-brand for director Park Chan-wook. He appears to borrow heavily from the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet here, notably Amelie and Delicatessen. The whimsical music, odd close-ups and Dutch angles are going to be very familiar to those who have seen any of the French director’s movies, but this is a perfectly fitting style for such a strange little film. If Park had used his typical sleek sophistication, the change in visual language would have been enough to make this an entirely different, far darker experience.
This light tone is also by and large thanks to the cast. Im Soo-jung is no stranger to loony bins, but unlike in Two Sisters, Im keeps thing humorous with a playful performance that endears her character to the audience. The same can be said about Rain, whose kleptomaniac Il-soon is charming and extremely likeable, certainly more so than any character who gets around by crab-walking should be, at any rate. And the rest of the cast, even the medical staff, all have enough positive traits to make them – if not immensely loveable or memorable – at least fun enough to want to keep watching. It’s this that keeps the movie appealing throughout its runtime.
I’m a Cyborg, But that’s OK is not by any stretch of the imagination a serious reflection on mental illness at all. But, like the title says, that’s OK. There shouldn’t be a reason why it should be: it simply isn’t that kind of movie. There might be those who aren’t comfortable with the portrayal of certain illnesses in this film and they’d probably be in their right to, but Park’s movie isn’t really set in any reality, and makes frequent points to this. When we get flashbacks from Young-goon’s life, things become far more serious and even bleak. I’m a Cyborg doesn’t make fun of any mental illnesses, and Park specifically keeps most of the patients’ diagnoses quiet, probably for this reason.
What it is, is a romantic comedy featuring two very broken people. Frankly, I don’t know enough to comment on the realism of the asylum’s patients, but I do know that the film treats its characters like real people and not like dumb jokes (well, maybe it treats one or two like jokes, but not everyone can have equal spotlight time). It could have easily become something exploitative, or one-dimensional, but instead we get a film that is shockingly easy to relate to. It might not be the most striking film in Park Chan-wook’s filmography, but it almost feels like a response to the burnout he must have felt after his violent and bleak Vengeance Trilogy. I’m a Cyborg is, overall, a good time filled with funny moments and surprising poignancy.
Verdict: Decidedly unlike director Park’s other works, I’m a Cyborg stands on its own as a weird, and highly entertaining, little project.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Violence: 6/10 for a few dream sequences
Park Chan-wookisms: 0
Park Chan-wook Regulars: 0
Hospital Security: Pretty damn lax
Rice Megatron: Doesn’t convert radish, what are you doing Il-soon.
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (2005)
Also known as: 싸이보그지만 괜찮아 (Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanha)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Park Chan-wook, Jeong Seo-kyeong
Rain – Park Il-soon
Im Soo-jung – Cha Young-goon
Choi Hee-jin – Dr. Choi Seul-gi
Lee Yong-nyeo – Young-goon’s mother
Yoo Ho-jeong – Il-soon’s mother
Kim Byung-ok – Judge
Oh Dal-su – Shin Duk-cheon
Park Jun-myun – Wang Kop-dan
Son Young-Soon – Young-Goon’s grandmother