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I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK
Year: 2006


Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Special Edition
CJ Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Korean Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English subtitles
Various Extras

Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Rain (Jung Ji-Hoon), Im Soo-Jung, Oh Dal-Soo, Park Joon-Myeon, Kim Byeong-Wook
The Skinny: Park Chan-Wook's latest is not entirely successfuly, but it's still better than most stuff being released in Korea. A charming and entertaining Valentine to mentally-unbalanced misfits everywhere. It may may not live up to Park's earlier films, but hey, that's OK.

by Kozo:

Tired of the revenge grind? Would you like to see director Park Chan-Wook lighten up? If so, here's your antidote: I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK. Park goes for a change-up with his latest flick, which eschews the overtly dark, intense themes of his vaunted Vengeance Trilogy for something seemingly more warm and fuzzy. Megahot singer-dancer Rain headlines the film, but the real star is Lim Su-Jeong (Lump of Sugar). Lim plays Young-Goon, an odd young lass whose quirks are so extreme that she's been committed to an institution. You see, Young-Goon thinks she's a cyborg, so she talks to the soda machine, fantasizes about using her cybernetic enhancements to slaughter the doctors, and generally eschews normal human activities like, say, eating. Life can be simple when you design your own reality.

Young-Goon isn't the only one lacking a few spark plugs; her fellow asylum residents are also stuck in their own realities. The place is crowded with an amusing menagerie of unbalanced misfits, many of whom get generous screentime to demonstrate their mental maladies. Chief among them is Il-sun (Rain), a young man who supposedly possesses the power to steal another person's soul. Even though it makes absolutely no realistic sense for Il-Sun's "soul theft" to work, he's able to practice it on his fellow patients, stealing a variety of their attributes, including their ping pong abilities, their overdone humility, and more. Young-Goon takes an interest in Il-Sun because she wants him to steal her lingering humanity, so that she'll be able to execute the doctors via her imaginary bullet-shooting fingers. Il-Sun returns Young-Goon's interest for more real-world reasons. Not only does Il-Sun start to show romantic interest in Young-Goon, but Young-Goon's self-proclaimed cyborg status starts to become self-destructive. Can Il-Sun help her before her cyborg fantasies end in her own death?

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is a rather obtuse experience, especially in the early going. The film begins like an absurd, Tim Burton-esque fantasy, with the patients and their individual problems given affectionate, entertaining focus. We're introduced to them as people and not as head cases, and their madness seems like something to celebrate and enjoy, in a "haha, these delusional people are funny" sort of way. It's all rather amusing and enjoyable, but after we receive introduction upon introduction to the asylum's patients, the parade of disturbed, but still quite loveable headcases starts to get tiring. There's only so much a person can take of the absurd characters and their situations; before long, the film seems to lose direction. We get that the patients are loveable and messed up, but we don't get that the film necessarily has a point. Sure, Lim Su-Jeong is cute and Rain is charming, but can that carry a whole film? We say no.

However, the film rights itself during the second half once Young-goon's eating issues take greater importance. Young-goon refuses to eat any real food because in her mind, she's a cyborg and only requires a good recharge to get back her mojo. In reality, she's on her way to starvation, and the concern that Il-Sun shows - and his method for getting her to start eating again - is creative and even touching. The film takes some time to get going, but once Park's main characters begin to connect, the film becomes much more affecting. For the most part, Park shows a remarkable handle on his material, managing not to overdo the quirky or slop on the sentimentality. There's still plenty of sentiment and quirkiness in the film, but Park makes it palatable by getting us to care. He shows obvious affection for his characters, and easily conveys that to the audience. The actors help too; Lim Su-Jeong and Rain turn in engaging performances, managing to create real sympathy for their sometimes cloying, overly cute characters.

Despite its abundant comedy and the cuteness, the film possesses dark and even disturbing portions, too. The audience receives many flashbacks where we witness the circumstances that drive the characters to get committed - or sometimes even voluntarily check in - to the hospital. The scenes possess an emotional rawness that make them compelling, and are tough to watch because they portray the emotional suffering of people we've come to care about. Hereditary madness, shock therapy, suicide attempts, vomiting - these things are not warm and fuzzy, and Park doesn't exactly put a happy face on all of it. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK looks like it'll be a light, romantic comedy, and the warm, sometimes inviting production design and absurd, deadpan comic tone bear that out. But there's stuff underneath the surface that does stick to your guts - that is, when the burgeoning romance between Rain and Lim Su-Jeong isn't making your heart skip a beat. Thanks to the above, plus some clunky existential themes AND some graphic fantasy sequences where Young-Goon shoots up the hospital, we can officially declare this to be true: I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK has something for everyone.

What it doesn't have, however, is a completely convincing mixture of elements. The film is sometimes unfocused and uneven, and doesn't really earn every last one of its thematic or narrative conceits. A large part of Cyborg plays like a fantasy, but clearly, the film takes place in the real world. As a result, one might expect the film to go the direction of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, i.e. there may be a real-life price to pay for being out of touch with reality. That never comes to pass, however, and the film ultimately wheezes to a protracted ending punctuated by the appearance of an obviously symbolic rainbow. Happy tidings get their due, and from an audience standpoint, the warm and fuzzy feelings do make the film immediately enjoyable. However, given all the elements in play - and the cold, hard fact that these misfits are simply unable to care for themselves - the eventual leaning towards the positive doesn't exactly ring true.

Still, there's credit owed here. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is a tough movie to sell, as its mixture of surreal fantasy, uncomfortable reality, and too-cute characters can be as alienating as it is enchanting. The whole may not entirely convince, but Park Chan-Wook makes the parts exceptionally effective. Park's deadpan comedy instincts are razor sharp, whether he uses them in the service of black humor or surreal fantasy, and many key moments in the film are undeniably felt. As a director, Park possesses the rare ability to engage the audience in unexpected ways; his films are edgy and entertaining, and always go beyond superficial thrills or laughs for something deeper and more felt. Cyborg is most definitely a change-up, but it's also a welcome one. Frankly, it's refreshing to see a director try something new instead of leaning on the same genres and themes as some suddenly hot international directors (think Wong Kar-Wai) are wont to do. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK may be one of Park Chan-Wook's weaker efforts, but as another entry in his hopefully rapidly growing filmography, it's a fine little film. (Kozo 2007)

 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen