I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (TH - DVD)
Gabe the cyborg computes a thorough evaluation of Park Chan-wook's latest...
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Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong) is a pretty and deranged young woman who is convinced that she is not a human, but a human-like cyborg. She refuses to eat, instead she ‘charges’ herself by licking and touching batteries and she spends most of her time talking to her transistor radio. Understandably, Young-goon has been admitted into a mental institution. In the sanitarium she meets Il-soon (pop star Rain), a mask-wearing patient who believes he has the ability to steal memories and character traits from the other inmates.
Park Chan-wook’s post- J.S.A. work has been so uniformly fantastic that he’s become more or less the quality barometer for Western World interest in South Korean filmmaking. The only South Korean pictures I can think of that have any kind of recognition outside of specific film fans are Bong Joon-ho’s The Host, Kim Ji-woon’s A Tale of Two Sisters (maybe Bittersweet Life), Jang Jun-hwan’s Save the Green Planet, and unfortunately, Shim Hyung-rae’s Dragon War. As time goes by I’m positive that South Korea will find a larger place in popular world cinema, but for the time being they’re still the underdogs.
My point being that when Chan-wook sets out to make a new film, people take notice. And when he finally begins to sidestepping his four-year obsession with vengeance (even his part of Three…Extremes was basically about revenge), we take special notice. Old dog, new tricks, and all that.
Well, Park doesn’t entirely avoid vengeance, his lead in I’m a Cyborg is still interested in a mad sort of revenge, but he’s growing. Here the notoriously hard-edged director proves he can deal with happier subjects like romance and physical comedy, and he proves he can create strong female leads even without the help of Lee Young-ae. Of course Captain Gloomy isn’t capable of entirely letting himself over to the light side, the whole film throbs with melancholy, but no film with a climactic, slow-clap eating scene can be all serious.
I’m a Cyborg isn’t as much a statement on genre as J.S.A. or any of the films found in the Vengeance Trilogy, it actually quotes other films in homage rather than deconstruction. The most obvious, and not so shocking homage is Milos Foreman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. The madhouse environment is hard to maintain without quoting Foreman at least a little bit. I said in my Lady Vengeance review that Park has a bit of Wes Anderson in him, and by proxy Anderson’s inspirations, chiefly Stanley Kubrick. For I’m a Cyborg Park again utilizes bright, garish colours and floaty camera tricks at every turn. The ornate visual style and use of the tighter 1.85:1 framing also often recalls Terry Gilliam, who of course dealt with similar issues for 12 Monkeys.
Chan-wook’s film contrasts Jang Jun-hwan’s equally zany and colourful look at madness, Save the Green Planet, by allowing his audience to identify most with Il-soon, who is likely not insane, but rather extremely eccentric. From his point of view we know that Young-goon is not actually a cyborg, and he acts accordingly to help her, as he seems to be somewhat the guardian angel of the psych ward (just like R.P. McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest). Had Park only provided the hospital’s doctors (the ‘antagonists’) as a counter point to Young-goon’s madness, the reality of the film’s world would’ve been in question, just like that of Save the Green Planet, where audience expectations are flipped just about every fifteen minutes. Fans of Park should have also come to expect baroque hallucinations out of his characters by now, as seen in all three Vengeance Trilogy films and Cut. Though we are meant to care about these characters, we are meant to view their world objectively.
I’ve been burned by early release Thai DVDs before, but this one looks rather decent. Almost the entire film is brightly lit, either taking place in the white painted and fluorescently highlighted corridors of the hospital, or the perpetually sunny outdoors. This brightness helps the transfer avoid issues with low-level noise and general compression. The candy-coated colour schemes are vibrant and poppy, but warm colours exhibit a lot of jagged edges. Il-soon’s baby-blue masks are particularly bold, and cleaner than other strong colours. Black levels are decent (it took me a while to realize that Young-goon’s hair was actually died deep blue), but they tend to suffer a bit of lightening due to the consistent brightness. The transfer is also interlaced, but I noticed very few combing effects during viewing, though the screen grabs proved a bit difficult.
Park may be over his gloom and doom phase, but apparently he and composer Jo Yeong-wook haven’t gotten over their love of Vivaldi and Bach. Though slightly more upbeat, I’m a Cyborg utilizes even more string accompanied Baroque music. The 5.1 Dolby Digital Korean track (also available with a 5.1 Thai dub) isn’t particularly impressive, but there isn’t much to complain about either. The whole film is generally more audibly subtle then other Park films, depending mostly on the (well centred and crystal clear) dialogue, and floaty music to tell its whimsical story. There are a few moments of aggressive surround and LFE work, specifically scenes where Young-goon makes believe she’s transformed into a weapon and shoots up the hospital staff, but the majority of surround work is subtle electronic hums and such.
It’s a cheap disc, and it’s region free (despite the box art's claim of R3), but you’ll have to go without extras I’m afraid.
Decidedly different from Park Chan-wook’s previous and more popular work, I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK is still a luscious and heart warming little slice of weird that should keep fans satiated. 2007 was a really great year for skewed romantic comedy between this, Stardust, and Wristcutters: A Love Story. The disc is affordable and ready to play in the USA, so those not willing to wait any longer for Tartan USA to crawl out of their funk might want to give it a go.
You can find and many other cult Asian films at Xploitedcinema.com. Check them out and support my sponsor.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 1st January 1995
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, Dolby Digital 5.1 Thai
Subtitles: English, Thai
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-Wook
Cast: Jung Ji-Hoon (Rain), Kim Byeong-Ok, Lim Su-Jeong, Oh Dal-Su
Length: 107 minutes