I'm a Cyborg (UK - BD)
Chris Gould takes a look at the latest feature from director Park Chan-wook
Young-goon (Lim Soo-jung) is a pretty young woman who is convinced that she is, in fact, a cyborg. Refusing to eat, Young-goon instead 'charges' herself by licking batteries and spends an awful lot of her time 'talking' to her transistor radio. After slashing her wrist and wiring herself directly to the mains supply, Young-goon is admitted to a mental institution. It is here that she meets Il-soon (portrayed by Korean pop sensation Rain, credited here as Jung Ji-hoon), a fellow patient who believes he has the ability to steal the traits of those around him (but then he also believes he's slowly turning into a dot). When Young-goon refuses to eat, Il-soon makes it his mission to help her and they soon embark on an odd romantic affair.
I’m a Cyborg is about as far removed from Park Chan-wook’s previous films as you could hope for. If I had to compare it to another Korean film I think I’d have to go for Jang Joon-hwan’s Save the Green Planet, which is another feature where the characters’ perceptions are largely different from reality (and the audience’s). Even with the slightly disturbing subject matter—after all, Young-goon and Il-soon are schizophrenics— I’m a Cyborg is a much lighter film than Park’s previous work. Apparently the director had enough of the darkness of his vengeance-themed movies and decided to make something his young daughter could enjoy. The result is just about the strangest romantic comedy I’ve ever seen.
There are some real ‘laugh out loud’ moments contained within the 107-minute running time, many of which are the result of some quite broad physical comedy, something you wouldn’t really associate with the director of dark films like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Still, there are plenty of the surreal sequences that punctuated Park’s previous works, although here they’re ramped up to hitherto unseen levels. This ranges from pretty innocuous stuff like Young-goon’s toes glowing when she ‘charges’ herself, to her transformation into gun-slinging cyborg killer, and even a strange little sequence where she shrinks and goes on a magical ride with a ladybird.
I can’t move on without a quick word about the actors. I’m not too familiar with Lim Soo-jung, but she does a fantastic job with the character and according to the interview on the disc Park rates her as his favourite actress (which surprised me given his use of Lee Young-ae in previous films). I was also pleasantly surprised by Jung Ji-hoon (aka Rain), mostly because I’d heard negative things about him prior to watching the film. Obviously I don’t get the subtle nuances of Korean-language performances, but I thought he did a pretty good job with his character. He shares some genuinely touching moments Lim Soo-jung.
I'm a Cyborg arrives with a 1.78:1, 1080p/AVC widescreen transfer, and looks pretty damn good. The film is packed with many bold images featuring lots of bright, primary colours, which are very well-rendered by the Blu-ray. Much of the film takes place in the brightly lit fluorescent environment of the mental institution, but the few darker scenes there are feature pleasing shadow detail and black levels are decent enough. I didn't notice any issues with edge halos, bleeding or compression, which were all problems reported with the Thai DVD release recently reviewed by our own Gabe Powers. According to the IMDb the film was apparently shot in HD, which would account for the apparent lack of grain.
It’s genuinely a lot harder to critique Blu-ray transfers than DVD, because the standards seem to be a lot higher than they were in the early days of that format. Almost every Blu-ray release I’ve seen looks good, if not great, with only one or two falling below the standards I’d expect from a next-gen platform (and then only because of poor source material). I’m a Cyborg is a visually pleasing film with a good transfer, but it’s not right up there with the very best the format has to offer in either artistic or technical terms, which I hope explains the final score.
The disc, one of Tartan's latest batch of Blu-ray releases, includes not only standard Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, but also Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Including two lossless tracks might seem like overkill, but I for one am glad that they did. My player will decode the Dolby TrueHD track to PCM just fine, but with the DTS-HD track I only get the legacy Core (1.5Mbps) track. This was a problem I encountered with Tartan's release of Oldboy. Both tracks are lossless, so theoretically neither should have an edge over the other...
However, while the TrueHD track provides a solid aural experience, I did find that the overall volume was somewhat lower than the DTS-HD track. It's long been known that DTS tracks a bit louder than the Dolby equivalents, but I thought we'd seen the last of that with supposed 'lossless' audio. I guess it could be down to the fact that I'm only hearing the Core track, but I have no way of confirming that. Either way, the DTS track only really sounded louder, not ‘better’ (if that makes sense). Maybe Tartan should just have provided PCM instead of two lossless tracks? Who knows?
In any event, I'm a Cyborg features an impressive soundtrack that is quite similar in tone to the director's last film, Lady Vengeance. There's plenty of 'ornate', even upbeat string music; in fact, Jo Yeong-wook’s score is probably the standout element of the entire mix. The audio is generally more front-orientated than Park's previous films, with lots of clear and centred dialogue and less aggressive utilisation of the rears and LFE channel. However, one of the more aurally impressive moments occurs when Young-goon undergoes a startling metamorphosis into a machine-gun fingered killing machine and starts spraying the hospital wards with bullets, which can be heard from all angles. I wouldn’t say that either track (TrueHD or DTS-HD) is up there with the best, but they do provide an enjoyable listening experience.
First up is an exclusive interview with director Park Chan-wook, filmed at London's Barbican Centre. The interview is conducted in Korean with a translator communicating the moderator's questions to the director, which means that the hour-long runtime is actually slightly misleading. With that said, it's still a pretty decent length for an interview, and if you can get past the slightly odd set-up Park reveals some interesting snippets of info. In addition to answering questions from the moderator, Park also fields some from the audience, which is a nice touch.
A 'Making of' documentary comes next, following a similar path to that of the in-depth Oldboy documentary found in the Vengeance Trilogy boxed set. By this I mean that we're shown the cast and crew hard at work on the set in a documentary fashion, rather than lots of talking heads interviews complete with voice-over (as is customary in most Hollywood promotional featurettes). Unfortunately the documentary is nowhere near as comprehensive as the one featured in the aforementioned boxed set, but it does provide some insight into the creative process.
A music video for Rain's 'With U' follows. The music video is great if you like cheesy Korean pop, but unfortunately I don't. I'm not familiar with Rain as a artist, but I am reliably informed his popularity extends far beyond his native Korea. Apparently he's massive in Thailand, at least according to a relative who just returned from a year-long teaching post. I’ll have to take her word for it...
The film's theatrical and teaser trailers round things off, again presented in standard definition and looking more than a little ropey. It's nice that the trailers are included, but couldn't a better source be found? Actually, come to think of it, couldn't we have them in high-definition?
I'm a Cyborg is about as far removed from director Park's previous body of work as you can imagine, but it's still a great little film in that quirky, Korean way. This Blu-ray Disc is a little light on bonus features, but the solid A/V presentation goes some way towards redressing the balance. After all, most of us buy these discs to watch the films, not hours of additional material (well at least I do). At any rate this is currently the only Blu-ray release of the film that I know of, so if you're after another next-gen slice of Park Chan-wook magic, look no further. Bring on the Blu-ray release of Lady Vengeance!
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 26th May 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Korean, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Korean, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Korean
Extras: Tartan UK Exclusive Interview with Park Chan-wook, Making of' Documentary, Music Video, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Park Chan-wook
Cast: Lim Soo-Jung, Jung Ji-hoon, Kim Byeong-ok, Oh Dal-su
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Fantasy
Length: 107 minutes
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