Nether Regions 04.05.11: I'm a Cyborg, But That's Ok
Posted by Chad Webb on 04.05.2011
The title enough should compel you to click, but in case it doesn't, this film comes from Park Chan-wook, the director behind Oldboy. Here he explores romance and mental illness in an unconventional comedy...
Nether Regions started as a segment of the Big Screen Bulletin that meant to showcase films that have been discontinued on DVD, are out of print in the United States, are only available in certain regions outside the United States, or are generally hard to find. Now it is a column all its own! You might ask, "Why should I care about a film I have no access to?" My goal is to keep these films relevant because some of them genuinely deserve to be recognized. Every time I review a new film I will have a list of those I covered below so you can see if they have been announced for DVD release, or are still out of print.
I'M A CYBORG, AND THAT'S OK
Starring: Lim Su-jeong and Rain Directed By: Park Chan-wook Written By: Park Chan-wook and Jeong Seo-gyeong Running Time: 105 minutes Release Date: December 6, 2006 (South Korea) Missing Since: Never Released in US Existing Formats: Many Regions Except for the US Netflix Status: Not Available Availability: Moderately Rare
After I reveled in the mastery of Oldboy, I was instantly a fan of filmmaker Park Chan-wook. His "revenge" trilogy is glorious, but what helped cement his place as one of the world's top directors was a little quirky romantic comedy few in the United States have seen or heard of. With the unforgettable title of I'm a Cyborg, But That's Ok, this was a deliberate divergence from his previous efforts, and proved his versatility and general prowess behind the camera. This is a funny, compelling, and refreshingly wacky glimpse into the lives at one insane asylum.
Young-goon communicates with Il-Soon.
After the superb opening credits sequence, we meet Young-goon, a young woman who worked in a factory constructing radios before she cut her wrists and tried to connect herself to a power cord. Deemed suicidal, Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong) is placed in a mental ward. She is delusional and thinks she is a genuine cyborg. This results in her refusing to eat. Instead, she licks batteries in an attempt to give herself electric charges. She allows robust fellow patient Gop-dahn the right to eat her meals. It is revealed that Young-goon's grandmother (Yu Ho-jeong) also suffered from delusions, in her case it was that of being a mouse. This traumatic event made quite an impact on Young-goon, and while institutionalized, she frequently imagines herself getting revenge on the "white-uns" (a.k.a. staff members dressed in white) who took her grandmother away. Also a patient, but voluntarily, is Il-Soon (Rain), who is not only anti-social but also a kleptomaniac. He develops a fascination with Young-goon, and as he tries to help her, they build a bizarre kind of relationship together.
A significant portion of the running time is devoted to introducing the various oddball patients, many of whom are hilariously inventive. Before Young-goon can even get comfortable, she meets Sul-mi, who suffers from mythomania and therefore lies all the time. She pretends to be a doctor to an unsuspecting Young-goon. There is also a man who is overly humble and who always assumes that he is at fault when something goes wrong. Another woman thinks she is an Edelweiss yodeler, while yet another thinks his body was made with an elastic band around the waist. All of these personalities contribute to the whimsical nature of I'm a Cyborg, and That's Ok. The supporting cast possesses a deft mix of conviction and playfulness, and it goes a long way to the viewer becoming invested in these weird people and their zany everyday existence.
What it looks like when Young-goon is fully charged.
The bond between Il-Soon and Young-goon is about as sweet as a romance can get without stumbling into syrupy or schmaltzy territory. Lim Su-jeong was previously known as one of the sisters in A Tale of Two Sisters but she is wonderfully committed, straight-faced, and amusing as Young-goon. She had to lose a lot of weight for the role, but Chan-wook never uses that as a gross-out tactic. Su-jeong radiates content and child-like qualities as a girl who thinks she's a cyborg, which causes us to understand why Il-Soon is drawn to her. Their first interaction occurs when she is trying to communicate with a snack machine. Il-Soon sees this, and as she verbally requests a tea, he drops the money in for her. She grabs it and walks away, oblivious to his presence. Another funny scene has Young-goon explaining her 7 Deadly Sins: 1) Sympathy, 2) Being Sad, 3) Restlessness, 4) Hesitating About Anything, 5) Useless Daydreaming, 6) Feeling Guilty, and 7) Thankfulness. It's not easy being a cyborg.
Il-Soon is played by Rain (Ninja Assassin, Speed Racer), who is a model, actor, singer, and just about anything else you can think of. His talent is boundless, and here he establishes innate chemistry with Lim Su-jeong and has effortless comic timing. Most of the laugh out loud scenes feature Il-Soon "stealing" the delusions and illnesses of other patients. One in particular has Il-Soon absorbing the voice of the yodeler, and this gives Rain an excuse to sing. He has a nice voice, so it's fine. Young-goon is the center of the plot, so her background is given more detail, but the reason for Il-Soon's schizophrenic tendencies are also covered. What makes I'm a Cyborg so rewarding is that the humor and the drama are balanced effectively. Chan-wook says a great deal about where these delusions stem from, and even the minor characters are not left out in the dark.
This is a brilliant example of a director incorporating CGI, but using the technology sparsely. Other filmmakers would have transformed this in a special effects extravaganza, but Chan-wook is cognizant of the fact that doing so would have undermined the importance of the primary relationship and the atmosphere in the asylum. The transparent views through Young-goon, revealing her internal gears and lights are visually arresting and amusing. The sequences involving Young-goon using her fingers as guns on the staff are also striking. The image of a romance including a scene of violence with fingers as guns might not make sense, but it will if you watch the film. The balletic camera movement is trademark Chan-wook action, and is superlatively staged.
One of the Asian posters.
This is hardly the first story set in an insane asylum or mental ward. You have the more popular entries like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Girl Interrupted; so the setting is certainly popular. Park Chan-wook conveys his intelligence by integrating enough distinctiveness that when one sees this again, there will be no doubt of what you're watching. The color scheming is memorable, bright, and vivid. The costumes are piercing white, and even the hair and makeup work deserves mention, as these facets are what separate many characters from the others and helps them stand out from the pack. Evidence of the refined, yet casual approach of Chan-wook's direction is displayed in almost every scene. Every aspect of I'm a Cyborg is outlined and unspooled with appropriate care. Even the music from Jo yeong-wook is exquisite, and shifts at the proper instances.
In perusing some other reviews, many seem to be confused by the fantasy sequences, questioning whether or not they are intended to be real. I can see why some would scratch their head upon a first viewing, but I've seen I'm a Cyborg a few times now, and I can safely say those scenes are not debatable. What Chan-wook is aiming for is clear. Young-goon's mental stability is not supposed to be cloudy, unlike say Natalie Portman in Black Swan. For those who cherish Chan-wook's darker, more aggressive pictures, this might not be what you expect (or prefer). I adored how different it was from his famed trilogy. It is delightful, but not overly saccharine, and silly but not ridiculous. The biggest flaw is the length, which could have been trimmed, but the majority of the complaints are saved by the charming and captivating conclusion.
This film was #1 in South Korea in its opening week, but tanked at the box office after that, which is the only available reason for its absence on DVD in the US. I'm guessing most companies are worried there won't be an audience for it. Too bad. You can find bootlegs, or if you're lucky enough to have a region-free DVD player, tracking down DVDs from other countries should not be too difficult. That's what I got, and it suits me fine. In some areas, it has been released on Blu-Ray with the title I'm a Cyborg.
- It was a big weekend. I went to MSG for LCD Soundsystem's final show, which I plan on writing about soon. And Sunday was WrestleMania 27, which was not very good. I wanted it to be. I tried to build up my anticipation, but ultimately it was quite mediocre. Most of the matches were that way, ranging from mediocre to just "ok." Obviously Taker/HHH was the best match, but I will say I disliked its ending. HHH beats him with a chair for what felt like 5 minutes only to watch him get back up? Austin did that against the Rock at WM 17 and pinned him immediately because umm, that's the point. Some have called this WM the worst ever. I wouldn't go that far, but I would say it had the worst main event of any WM. It was terrible. And here's a side question: What did The Rock host exactly? Aside from his opening bit and few standard Rock segments backstage, he didn't host shit.
- I'm finally caught up (for the most part) on new film releases. I saw a bunch over the past couple weeks. I loved Source Code, Rango, and most recently Win Win. Mars Needs Moms was disappointing, The Lincoln Lawyer was ok, and Sucker Punch was pretty craptastic. I also dug Limitless. I'd like to do some mini-reviews of these on my blog, so stay-tuned.
- In the music department, I listened to The Strokes' new one Angles, which was very satisfactory. R.E.M.'s Collapse Into Now however, had only one good track ("Uberlin"). Other than that, I've been listening to older stuff like Gamma Ray, Symphony X, and watching some Frank Sinatra concerts. That will be the only time you see those three names mentioned in the same sentence.
- Just about finished with Lewis Black's most recent book I'm Dreaming of Black Christmas, which is pretty funny. His bitching about the holiday season are rants I can relate to, and in this case, he opens up about not having a family, which was interesting. Of the comics I've read, I caught up on 28 Days Later and checked out all the new ...Of the Living Dead issues out there. Those artists are like horny teenagers, showing nudity in the oddest of spots. I am also reading Let Me In: Crossover, which is much better than the remake itself.