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Memorial Day Weekend, Part I

May 26th, 2007 (09:08 pm)
happy

current mood: enjoying it

Got some viewing planned, and some posting to do.

© 2007 D. Gordon

Watched I'm A Cyborg, But That's Okay, the latest offering from Park Chan-wook (he of the Vengeance Trilogy: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance). I've really only seen one of his movies - Sympathy for Lady Vengeance - but it was one of the two best movies I saw last year. (And I'm really surprised I didn't write a proper review for it.) Fresh off the trilogy, Park switched gears and went for a lighthearted story - a romance. However, this being Park, the story's got some serious twists along the way - it takes place in an insane asylum, and the characters clearly belong nowhere else. There may be humor, but there are some sad events underlying it.


Young-goon has been recently admitted to the facility. She believes herself to be a cyborg (thus the title); one day, in order to 'recharge' herself, she inserts some wires into her wrist and plugs herself into the wall. Not good. Because she's a cyborg, she doesn't eat food - and that's the main problem, that she's slowly starving herself to death.

Il-soon is already at the asylum. His background is a little unclear, but he's definitely a kleptomaniac. His thieving isn't quite what you'd expect, however; he lifts personality traits. He steals one patient's patented ping-pong serve, another's modesty, a third's appetite. He's intrigued by Young-goon, enough to steal Thursday1 and enough to not want her to starve to death.

Young-goon starts speaking to Il-soon because she figures he can help her with one thing. Young-goon's grandmother (she believes she's a mouse) was taken to another facility, without her dentures so she can't eat her beloved but smelly pickled radishes. Young-goon figures that Il-soon can steal enough of her feelings so she can kill the staff who took her grandmother away and give the woman her dentures back.

See? This isn't your average everyday film.

Cyborg was nominated for the Golden Bear and won the Alfred Bauer Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival2. While I wouldn't say it's as good as Lady Vengeance, it's still got a lot going for it. First thing is how Park depicts the world of the asylum. The action playing out on the screen is often in the minds of the patients, their own confused interpretations - but it's their reality and that's how it's treated. (It also makes for a much more interesting, empathetic story.) There's also no artifice that they'll be magically cured by the end, either; these are the cards these folks have been dealt and that isn't going to change. It would have been too easy to write the patients off as loonies (which, admittedly, they are), but this treatment gives them a certain amount of dignity and respect - some sympathy, which seems to be a major theme in many of Park's works: just see me.

There are some wonderful visuals in the film as well. All sorts of vivid colors, cheery designs, and novel shapes define the asylum, giving it a look almost like a primary school. Incongruous, unexpected things turn up, such as the rainbow pipes in the basement, the flying socks, and Young-goon's cyborg powers. Everything's crafted to serve in creating the world as the patients see it.

Both stars give quite notable performances, especially Jung Ji-hoon (aka Bi, aka Rain, a huge pop star in Korea) as Il-soon. I'd never heard of nor seen him before this film, but he definitely has a certain charisma which brings Il-soon's earnestness across. (And he can sing.) It's hard to explain, it's just there on the screen - and it convinces you that Il-soon's decision to help Young-goon is 100% real and 100% helps him stabilize some of his own behavior. And in the end, he and Young-goon are looking for the same basic things that the rest of us are.

So - maybe it's not as good as Lady Vengeance, but Cyborg is solid, with the clear stamp of Park Chan-wook on it. Now I need to do some catch-up with the rest of the Vengeance Trilogy. Heck, I can't wait for his next movie, Evil Live, about modern-day vampires (heh heh heh)...

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1 - see the movie to find out what that's about!

2 - the Alfred Bauer Award, one of the eight main awards at the Berlinale, is given to the film which best "takes the art of film in a new direction." Yep, I think that about fits.