I'm a Cyborg But That's OK (2006)

Park Chan-Wook's Vengeance trilogy fell victim to the laws of diminishing returns: Sympathy for Mr Vengeance was far and away the best, Old Boy was good, and Lady Vengeance was, y'know, okay, I guess. All of them were super-violent, so I'm A Cyborg But That's OK, which can be roughly classified as a sort of romantic comedy, seems like a pretty radical departure - but a welcome one. Mind you, Park still hasn't quite let go of the revenge motif: I'm A Cyborg's titular cyborg is dead set on getting revenge on the medical profession for its perceived mistreatment of her schizophrenic grandmother. And there's still some violence, it's just contained within some wacky fantasy sequences.

The basic plot, then, is that Young-goon's grandmother went crazy, believing herself to be a mouse and eating only radishes. When she was carted off to a mental institute, her dentures were left behind, causing Young-goon some pretty intense angst about the fact that her gran now wouldn't be able to eat her beloved radishes. Young-goon's own sanity deteriorates pretty quickly, though, as messages from the radio tell her that she's a cyborg, able to communicate with machines, unable to eat human food, and tasked with killing all the "white'uns" that took away her grandmother. Before long she, too, ends up in a mental hospital, where she meets a whole host of weird and wonderful characters, including a man who assumes the blame for everything that ever goes wrong, a woman who believes her socks will let her fly, and a strange man in a mask who steals everything and anything, including the personality traits of other inmates. Played by Korean popstar Rain, this last patient, Il-soon, finds himself rather taken with the bizarrely endearing Young-goon, and sets out to save her from her self-imposed starvation...

It's all very light and fluffy, which, considering it's a movie about mental illness and death, is a bit difficult to adjust to at times; the ridiculously ineffective group therapy sessions are more Rainbow than One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, and while we're told that Young-goon is three days from death's door, there's no real sense of urgency. The fantasy sequences are inventively bizarre (my personal favourite is the yodelling, which Rain pulls off with startling aplomb!) and the visual style of the film is wonderful, brightly coloured and gorgeous to look at, but it's difficult not to feel ever-so-slightly emotionally short-changed. The film as a whole, and in particular the relationships between characters, could have benefited from a bit more weight, a bit more darkness. Young-goon's plight never quite seems real, and her threats to kill all the doctors and nurses never actually seem likely to be carried through. She's tiny and fragile, but almost always still beautiful and endearing; that Il-soon could fall in love with her doesn't require much of a stretch, but then you almost take that for granted; that their romance will blossom and she'll be okay and he'll be okay and everything will be okay. (Possibly because the title of the film says so.)

It seems strange to complain that a Park Chan-Wook film is too lightweight, but this really is. It's a shame, because it's still beautiful, but it could have been so much more powerful had it been a little more grounded in reality. The mental hospital seems more like a holiday camp for the endearingly eccentric than a hospital treating real human beings in mental and physical pain, and almost everything is played for laughs, which just makes it difficult to take it too seriously. That's clearly a conscious decision, but I just wanted a bit more... something. As it stands, I'm A Cyborg But That's OK is cute and sweet and watchable, but also rather forgettable and fluffy.

IMDB link

Originally published at Den of Geek.

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