Sunday, June 1, 2008

I'm a Cyborg but that's OK review

Offbeat romantic comedy I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK seems to be Park Chan-wook's attempt to remind us that he can make other types of film. Though it doesn’t submerge itself in a vengeance-based story, Park’s creative touch is easily apparent, unlike his "neutral" debut Joint Security Area.

Opening with our main character’s absent-minded suicide attempt in a rich, colorful radio factory, Cyborg, tells the story of Young-goon, a young woman who believes she’s a cyborg and Il-Sun, a young man who believes he can steal other people's souls. The plot details her stay at the hospital from her arrival, her attempts to acquaint herself with her other fellow electronics (soda machines, florescent lights), her detrimental refusal to eat, and her encounters with the hospital staff and patients.

Poor ticket sales and high critical acclaim is indicative of the type of picture this is. It’s difficult to imagine how this wildly creative and endearing film could hardly even sell one-third the tickets of Old Boy, but the slow pacing and the director’s artistic departure from revenge-driven flicks are believable enough reasons. Not to say Cyborg doesn’t have its share of violence. Among the film’s highlights are beautifully rendered scenes of cyborg transformations and hospital bloodbaths in the alternate world of our imaginative main characters.

Within the reality of the mental hospital, Park crafts alternate ones, so we explore the worlds the patients believe they inhabit. The script creates vibrant characters with individual eccentricities from a large woman with a ridiculous obsession over proper skincare to a middle-aged man who believes he is responsible for every unfortunate event and refuses to stop apologizing for it.

Park remains consistent with his characters and finds a medium between accentuating their quirkiness for humor and their humanity for some drama. By treating characters’ mental illnesses as new worlds, Park gives them respect. It doesn’t alienate the audience from the “crazies.”

Perhaps Park simply wants to say “crazy” is subjective, a theme touched upon lightly by Old Boy. Each character has a history, a family (everyone must have a grandma!), their quirks, their fears and their own world. Sometimes these can be shared, and so blossoms a charming, protective romance between our two main characters.

The wide-eyed Lim Su-jeong and world famous pop star Rain put in strong performances to help the romance. Lim works brilliantly for her off-kilter remarks, neurotic behavior and a staunch refusal to lapse into explicit cuteness. Rain doesn’t have quite as much range but he fits the role as for both his endearing and scheming qualities. The supporting cast is exceptional with a delightful mix that feels like a true community.

Though the film is decidedly different from Park’s previous work, his visuals are one definite improvement. Park, along with cinematographer Jung Jung-hoon capture a slick environment filled with rich pastel color, close detail and seamlessly blended special effects from the shine of a single discharged bullet to a extreme close-up of a bug’s back in a surreal yodeling moment that showcases Rain’s vocal talent.

If Park’s work interested you beyond the violence and dynamic action, I’m a Cyborg is worth the time. His scripts are often underappreciated for their characterization and Cyborg offers the clearest view of that without relying on gimmicks, violence or twists.


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