After three films that revelled in such dark issues as organ theft, incest and child kidnapping, wrapped in the key theme of revenge, it seems understandable that Park Chan-wook chose a lighter tone for his next project, the inventively titled I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK. That’s not to say, however, that in doing so he has compromised the exploration of challenging subjects and the creative characterisation that distinguished his earlier work. Here, he weaves a tale that could be described as a berserk romantic comedy, but beyond such classification he offers a film that bursts with quirky ingenuity and striking visual beauty.
Brought up by an eccentric grand-mother who was convinced she was a rodent, Cha Young-goon (an excellent Lim Su-jeong) sees herself as a ‘sort of human robot’ who needs battery power to function. This leads her to electrocute herself and she winds up being locked up in a mental institution, where she meets an array of misfits afflicted with similarly bizarre conditions. Amidst the chaos she finds the enigmatic Park Il-Sun (Korean pop star Rain), a mysterious young man who claims to have the ability to steal other people’s souls.
In spite of its outlandish premise, the real strength of Park’s film lies in its wholly unconventional approach to the theme of mental illness, which is generally portrayed either through bleak realism or optimistic drama. Rather than focusing on the restrictive and depressing nature of mental disability, Park instead invites us to directly experience life through the wacky mindset of his characters, making their bizarre pursuits and undertakings not only exciting but also strangely touching. There is a particularly poignant moment when Il-Sun comes up with a compelling ploy to convince Young-goon to eat: believing food will cause her to malfunction she is close to starving herself to death so he creates a device that he says turns food into electrical energy, thus saving her life.
I’m A Cyborg does have its flaws, particularly in its slightly inconsistent script, which at times causes the film to drag, though this is largely overcome through Jeong Jeong-hun’s stunning cinematography. Having worked with Park since Oldboy, he creates flamboyant visuals that live up to the impressively surreal scenes featured in Lady Vengeance. While many may flinch at Park’s change in direction, as evidenced by the film’s poor reception in his native Korea, those who embrace I’m A Cyborg‘s lovable quirks will find much to enjoy.
Read the interview with Park Chan-wook.