The continued study of Korean film still amazes me, something I should just start assuming until I see a truly terrible Korean film. However, my most recent discovery with Chan-wook Park's I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK is certainly the most cinematically enthralling film to date. The director, more globally known for Oldboy, brings something so vibrant and energetic that I was finding myself thinking the film more of a live action version of Paprika than a piece of dramatic film. However, despite being rather unusual narratively speaking, Park's film is a serious and captivating love story that unfolds in a bizarre and haphazard fashion pushing my own understanding of what constitutes the genre of romance. I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK, is, despite its rather sci-fi leaning title is about as real a film as one can ask for, of course it is set within the experiences of a mentally insane individual so our understanding of reality as viewers is somewhat off-kilter. Park manages to take a very confusing and disorienting state of mind and not only make it approachable, but almost normal. Simply put, I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK completely undermines everything it can within two solid hours of a visual feast that will lodge itself inextricably within your mind.
As mentioned above, I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK focuses on the experiences of an individual who is mentally unstable, one Young-goon (Su-jeong Lim) a factory worker who believes herself to be a cyborg that requires electricity in order to function. Her irrational ideology causes her to jam wires into her wrists that result in her being electrocuted. Baffled by her actions, her mother places her in a mental ward, claiming that she is probably acting in relation to her grandmother who believed herself to be a rabbit. Her belief, like Young-goon's resulted in her being hospitalized. While at the mental institute Young-goon meets a bizarre cast of patients that include a man who witnessed an accident he believed to be his fault, which resulted in him being obnoxiously kind, a young woman who believes herself to be training for a Swiss choir despite not possessing the traditional looks of a Swiss girl and one woman who has a penchant for lying incessantly. Young-goon seems content to ignore the group as a whole until she meets a kleptomaniac named Park Il-sun (Rain) who has the ability to steal other patients' disorders amongst other things. Although the two have a rocky start, it becomes clear that feelings emerge between the two and they seem destined to unite, until Young-goon stops eating, as she believes she only needs electricity to survive. Troubled by his inability to help Park panics and acts aggressively, until he comes to the realization that he can convince Young-goon to eat by claiming to have created a device that converts rice into electric energy, a fake device that he cleverly tricks Young-soon into believing has been planted inside by her heart. Assuming this to be the truth, Young-goon begins eating again and feels revitalized, although she ignorantly believes it is from electricity. Park, the other patients and the hospitals doctor gladly play along in this ruse, as it assures her well-being and the blossoming of a relationship between Young-goon and Park.
The love story element of I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK is not necessarily a love story at first sight. For a better portion of the film, we are led to believe that Young-goon will simply be battling her own decaying sanity in a cinematic color palate to make Almodovar jealous. However, it changes as one begins to make note of the subtle interactions between Young-goon and Park from the onset. Park, donning various masks throughout the film, continually makes glances at Young-goon and goes so far as to constantly hover over her in observation, even playing along with her illness to assure her happiness. In this sense, it is very much a love story in the vein of something like Lars And The Real Girl, in which individuals acknowledge the mental difficulties of another and adhere to their eccentricities with gusto and care. However, if one looks at just these elements it would appear as though the film is preoccupied with Park's longing for Young-goon, and as such, it would be a one sided love story. Yet, Young-goon is not passive in her burgeoning relationship with Park, in fact, clearly taking a pride in him stealing her panties and even beginning to stalk him, although she fails miserably. Though she pursues him constantly, it is perhaps her willingness to simply listen to Park, who is clearly the rebel of the institution, an act with which seems incredibly unfamiliar. Director Park does not simply stop here though and makes masterful work of the narrative to assure a slow build to their eventual kiss which is done with sweet care while still adhering to the mental insanity elements of the film world. In the composition of scenes, I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK is a superior love story and is easily one of my new favorite works in the romance genre and quite possibly one of my favorite Korean films in general.
Netflix has this cerebral gem available via watch instantly, although I plan to obtain a copy on bluray, because it is something visually stellar, although I will have to wait for its price to become a bit more pleasing.