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I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK
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by Jay Seaver

"Park Chan-wook, doing something different, and doing it well."
4 stars

Even with the recent success of Bong Joon-ha's "The Host" and popularity of Kim Ji-woon's "The Good, the Bad, and the Weird" on the festival circuit, Park Chan-Wook is likely still the best-known Korean filmmaker outside his native country. Like any director who has found success within a certain genre, though, his ventures away from the familiar are regarded with suspicion, and as a result, his new movie - which is not a revenge story, but a decidedly off-kilter romance - is not getting much exposure at all on this side of the Pacific.

It's offbeat, in part, because most of it takes place in a mental institution. Cha Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong) was committed there after an apparent suicide attempt that came from delusion that she is a cyborg (which also contributes to her anorexia, as cyborgs don't have to eat). Once there, she meets a number of patients with issues of their own, but the one that she connects with the most is Park Il-sun (Rain), a thief who believes he can not only steal tangible things but parts of people's personalities - and that he's in danger of shrinking to the size of a dot and disappearing.

Though I'm a Cyborg has occasionally been described as a romantic comedy, it doesn't fit the usual template that well. The comedy is often pitch-black, as Young-goon fantasizes about fully recharging and slaughtering the "white 'uns" (the doctors and nurses who took her schizophrenic grandmother away), among other things. And while the romance is at times a little one-sided, it is also fairly uncomplicated; we're not given manufactured misunderstandings or plot devices that separate them. For all the peculiar things said and going on, it is a fairly straightforward love story.

That sort of movie needs a strong cast to make it work, and by that I don't mean the entertaining group of secondary characters (although they are quite enjoyable, too). Rain and Lim have tough roles; they've got to be not all there in a convincing way, but the movie wouldn't be half as enjoyable if the audience merely sympathized with or pitied them. Rain, a pop star in his first major acting role, is at times a little uneven as Il-sun. He's called upon to be more capable and self-aware than the rest of the patients, and it's sometimes a little difficult to get a handle on what his true personality is amid the conflicting purposes. It's not a bad performance; in fact, he's pretty good with dialog, though he doesn't always communicate well without speaking.

This is not a problem for Lim Su-jeong. She plays Young-goon a little broader than Rain plays Il-sun; we can always see the child-like belief in her fantasy world that allows reason to just fly past her. She's very earnest in acting out the rules of Young-goon's world, whether talking to vending machines or holding batteries to her tongue to recharge herself, but she avoids acting overtly robotic. Her behavior would almost be cute if she wasn't also unnerving: She doesn't blink very often, her eyebrows have been dyed to near-invisibility to make her face somewhat of a blank, and she genuinely looks as if she hasn't been eating to the point where it may be dangerous.

Making the female lead look unhealthy is just the start of what Park and his collaborators do to make this film memorable visually. There is some slick CGI in places (a late scene that references the nifty opening credits is actually pretty darn impressive), and some spots where the effects seem to be awkward or scaled back a little to keep the delusions from seducing the audience. Much of the film is shot in bright, almost overwhelming colors, with interesting camera work. It's perhaps Park's most beautiful movie.

Beautiful enough that it's a real shame few here will get to see it on the big screen. Or even the small one - as of right now, it has no U.S. distributor, two years after its Korean release. I hope it does; maybe the release of Park's more commercial next movie will grease the wheels.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=15901&reviewer=371
originally posted: 12/29/08 23:02:29
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2007 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/13/09 Halcyon Dawn i'm sorry, but i frankly found it boring and strange and so vague. 2 stars
9/15/08 Renelson This is not just your ordinary "rom-com". The film is inventive, weird, funny, touching. 4 stars
4/23/08 Karamashi A wierd yet utterly charming gem. One of the year's best so far! 5 stars
4/23/08 Nathalie N Bizarre, amazing and charming... 5 stars
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Directed by
  Chan-wook Park

Written by
  Chan-wook Park
  Seo-Gyeong Jeong

  Byeong-ok Kim
  Su-jeong Lim
  Dal-su Oh

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