Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Bourne Cinema Filmography: Park Chan-wook, "I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK" (2006)

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK (Saibogujiman kwenchana). 2006. Directed by Park Chan-wook. Written by Chung Seo-kyung and Park Chan-wook. Produced by Lee Chun-yeong. Cinematography by Chung Chung-hoon. Edited by Kim Sang-bum and Kim Jae-bum. Music by Hong Dae-seong and Hong Yu-jin. Production design by Ryu Seong-hie. Costume design by Cho Sang-kyung. Sound by Jeong Jin-wook, Kim Suk-won and Kim Chang-sub.

Cast: Im Su-jeong (Cha Young-goon), Jeong Ji-hoon [Rain] (Park Il-soon), Choi Hee-jin (Choi Seul-gi), Oh Dal-soo (Shin Duk-cheon), Park Jun-myeon (Gop-dan), Kim Byeong-ok (Judge), Lee Yong-nyeo (Young-goon's mother), Yu Ho-jeong (Il-soon's mother).

Park Chan-wook's latest film, the vampire movie Thirst, which opened yesterday, was to me a supreme disappointment. Much better is his previous film, I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, a strange and charming romantic comedy set in a mental hospital. Perhaps Thirst will do well enough to encourage an intrepid distributor to make this film available in the U.S., on DVD at the very least. Below is what I wrote on this film when it screened at the 2007 New York Asian Film Festival.

The oeuvre of Park Chan-wook seems designed to confound auteurists looking for a consistent directorial signature. His films are almost schizophrenically diverse: he followed up his little-seen early films Moon is the Sun's Dream (1992) and Threesome (1997) with the massive blockbuster hit Joint Security Area (2000). His next film, the grim, pitch-dark revenge film Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), confused and disappointed most audiences. However, this was the beginning of a new phase in his career, the so-called “revenge trilogy,” which continued with Oldboy (2003) and Lady Vengeance (2005), which were much more successful, and brought him his current high international profile, culminating with the Grand Prix (second place) prize at Cannes for Oldboy.

Park’s next film, the sweet and delightfully oddball romance I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, once again threw audiences for a loop, having now become accustomed to the ornate style of the trilogy. The result was disappointing box office returns upon its release in Korea. While the film is not quite at the level of his previous films (especially Lady Vengeance, his best to date), it contains charms enough of its own, and a unique visual style that beautifully reflects the unhinged nature of the inhabitants of the mental asylum where practically the entire film is set.

The film’s core romance occurs between Young-goon (Im Su-jeong), a young woman convinced she is a cyborg, and consequently refusing to eat, making her alarmingly thin; and Il-soon (pop music megastar Rain), a young man who is the resident thief, stealing both physical and imaginary possessions from the other asylum inmates. Il-soon has made it his mission to cure Young-goon, and he enlists the help of the other inmates.

While I’m a Cyborg may at first seem like a radical departure for Park, it’s not as dissimilar from his previous films as one would think. Park’s regular cinematographer Jeong Jeong-hoon provides the film with a bright pop-art palette that enhances the fantastical nature of the proceedings. Young-goon’s violent revenge fantasies where she transforms herself into a literal killing machine, mowing down the “white suits” en masse, shooting them with bullets out of her index fingers, provides the sort of bloody scene we have seen before from Park (although done here with a hint of self-parody).

The film’s tone is a strange mixture of whimsicality and darker elements. Young-goon’s habits, such as talking to her fellow machines (a vending machine, lamps, and other electrical objects) and “charging” herself by licking batteries in lieu of actual nourishment, are presented as charming eccentricities. However, the scenes where she is force fed and given shock treatment are rather more disturbing. The asylum setting, much as it does in such previous films as Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (as well as Ken Kesey’s novel), and James Mangold’s Girl, Interrupted, lends itself to social commentary, the asylum being an all too apt metaphor for the world at large, especially how people are subjected to harsh societal control by those in authority. Young-goon and Il-soon’s disorders are caused by their family histories: Young-goon witnessed her grandmother forcibly committed when she was younger, and Il-goon’s parental abandonment created his desire to disappear, rendered visually in scenes where other people dwarf him as he becomes ever smaller.

Park creates a compellingly fantastic universe in I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK, confirming his status as one of cinema’s supreme stylists.


The first ten minutes:

1 comment:

1minutefilmreview said...

Nice post, we're Park fans too. :)