I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK
Lim Soo-Jung, Jung Ji-Hoon, Choi Hee-Jin, Lee Young-Nyeo, Sohn Young-Soon, Lee Kyung-Eun, Joo Hee, Lee Young-Mi, Chung Sung-hoon, Kim Choon-Gi / Fiction / Korean
A madcap fantasy from the inimitable director of Lady Vengeance and Old Boy.
Park Chan-wook’s latest commences with an image that might have come from one of Busby Berkeley’s nightmares. Ranks of colour-coordinated factory workers rhythmically follow the company tannoy’s guidelines on radio assemblage. But one rebel element, Young-goon, is tuning into a broadcast entirely her own... “Step 7: Cut left wrist. Step 8: Insert uncovered wires into wrist. Step 9: Plug into outlet.” As Young-goon lies writhing on the factory floor, smoke rising from her wounds, it becomes quite apparent that she’s not like the other girls. Young-goon is, by her own account, a cyborg. Her actions? Merely the method employed by one in need of a serious recharge...
Young-goon is subsequently admitted into a mental hospital, where she passes the time wearing her granny’s false teeth to converse with vending machines and fluorescent lighting. Upon learning that he’s stolen her undies, Young-goon becomes drawn to Il-sun, an anti-social kleptomaniac whom she implores to steal her sympathy so that she may guiltlessly realise her life’s purpose of being a cybernetic killing machine. The pair then embark on a strange yet adorable relationship – but when Young-goon nearly starves herself by giving up food in favour of licking batteries, Il-sun soon finds himself trying not only to save her, but ultimately to love and understand her.
Park’s Vengeance trilogy – Sympathy for Mr Vengeance, Old Boy, and Lady Vengeance – transformed him from South Korean cinema’s most promising visionary into an internationally revered auteur. The series also cemented his reputation as a master at exploring death, revenge and violence on screen. A Park rom-com was always going to be a slightly different proposition. However, this is no mere dalliance. Though its content feels less weighty and its tone decidedly gentler than that of his earlier works, I’m a Cyborg... is no less engaging or careful in its composition.
Here Park crafts a lighter, more playful visual and narrative style than usual – reminiscent at times of the work of Jeunet and Caro – without completely abandoning his famed brand of retributive justice. (See, for example, scenes of Young-goon in full-on Cyborg mode, bullets spraying out from her fingertips.) Korean pop star Jung Ji-hoon more than holds his own as Il-sun; but it is Lim Soo-jung as Young-goon who conjures the ability to be both endearing and emotionally resonant in her performance. Resembling a manga character come to life, and swathed in over-sized frocks that emphasise her slightness, she’s cute, but never cutesy. What is the purpose that Young-goon seeks? Is it to use her cyborg powers to destroy all humanity? Or perhaps just to be a girl in love? Even with Il-sun by her side, the answers don’t come easily. But that’s OK.
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