Sunday, December 18, 2011

Park Chan-wook’s I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK

Schizophrenia, violent flights of fancy, and the occasional spot of bloodshed: this is how Park Chan-wook does young innocent love. Set in a mental institution, it is decidedly lighter fare from the Oldboy helmer, but it could still eat Benny & Joon for breakfast. That is a good thing. For fans of Korean cinema in all its varieties, Park offers both edgy genre elements and sentimental romance in I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK (trailer here), now available on DVD from Pathfinder Entertainment.

Both Cha Young-goon and Park Il-sun had horrible mothers. Largely raised by a loving but slightly unbalanced grandmother (who thought she was a mouse), Cha is convinced she is a cyborg. After Park’s mother abandoned him, he became a kleptomaniac. Exhibiting a host of anti-social tendencies, Park periodically admits himself when he realizes he needs reigning in. In contrast, Cha has been committed against her will, after an attempt to recharge her batteries nearly killed her.

Quite the troublemaker, Park specializes in stealing the powers (i.e. the craziness) of his fellow patients. He has trouble with basic human emotions, like sympathy, but when the distressed Cha arrives, it kindles something inside him. He has trouble applying these new feelings though, which is understandable given the circumstances. One of his most pressing challenges will be figuring out a way to get her to start eating again without fear the food will blow her circuitry.

Aside from the transcendently satisfying Underwater Love, Cyborg is about the sweetest film you can see without jeopardizing your hipster Asian cineaste street cred. This asylum is basically bedlam, allowing its patients to run amok largely unsupervised. Fortunately, they are not violent, though Cha would like to be. Part of her psychosis involves revenge fantasies against the “white ‘uns” (the be-smocked medical staff) for what their brethren did to her grandmother. Yet, the relationship that slowly evolves between her and Park is quite touching.

The waifish Lim Su-jeong is the picture of vulnerability as Cha, conveying her feverish delusions and self-destructive instincts in a way that pulls the audience in towards her, rather than pushing us away. Korean pop-star Rain is also solid enough as Park, credibly portraying his increasing affection for Cha.

There is nothing cheap about Cha and Park’s relationship. In fact, Cyborg has unexpected heft, depicting a troubled young man at a time when love demands he finally grow-up and start emotionally engaging with the world around him. That is some pretty heavy territory, but the genre trappings allow Park Chan-wook to lightly scamper about, while honestly earning his genuinely rewarding payoff. Underappreciated by fans of his relatively darker (as compared to nearly any film) Vengeance Trilogy and Thirst, Cyborg is a finely-tuned, deceptively deep film, highly recommended as your next DVD pick.