I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK (Original Korean title: Ssaibogeujiman gwaenchanha) (2006)
Director: Park Chan-wook
Writers: Park Chan-wook & Seo-Gyeong Jeong
I’m abandoning my robotic format of analyzing movies on a film review about a girl who thinks she’s a cyborg. I believe the right hemisphere of the brain is just as important as the left. At least I know I’m human. Before I start, I should mention that I absolutely loathe romantic comedies because they are often the least creative genre to be had. Having said this you should definitely know that romantic comedies are far from this particular director’s track record.
Not vengeful anymore good sir?
Park Chan-wook sure loves his revenge, as much as making up a justifiable excuse for his protagonists to exact the sickest and bloodiest kind. You would know this if you were aware of his 3 revenge movies that are regarded as a trilogy. His most famous of the three is Oldboy, which starts off like the story of The count of Monty Cristo, by imprisoning a man for 15 years. It was the middle film of the trilogy which featured a startling ending plot twist much like the The Empire Strikes Back, but way more sick and deranged. I’m a cyborg, but that’s OK is the director’s first departure from years of focusing on nastily unforgiving revenge. He looks to obscure and then construe romantic comedies. You should of course expect something creatively deranged from him with his brand of a “romantic comedy.”
I hope you enjoy nonsensical farces because I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK is nothing but. In fact, if you do not, I strongly suggest you stop reading this review and never see this movie ever. This movie resembles films like Big Fish, Dogtooth, or perhaps Lars and the real girl. This Park Chan-Wook picture is the only one I don’t feel lukewarm about out of any of those. I didn’t care for Lars and the real girl because as sweet a film it is, it was basically the same joke over and over again. Look! She’s a doll! Isn’t that funny the ninth time!? Nor did that movie make much of an attempt to explain the logic behind the poor man’s emotions. It passed up a chance for us to understand him.
Unlike that film or the ones I mentioned, I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK is more complex, and the absurd logic it imposes can be infectious. Oddly, it even somehow seems to make sense at times. Lastly, I would say that this particular love story towards the end has a familiar ring to it as Benny and Joon.
One thing explains another
I know a kid, who when he was younger, sometimes would randomly hit his head. When I asked him why he did it, he explained, “I’m not hungry. If I hit my head, I might get a headache. When I get a headache, I grow tired. If I’m tired, I get hungry. I want to eat.” Most of us don’t become hungry when we get headaches, but with this particularly lovable person it was the truth. This is precisely the eccentric line of logic that I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK wishes to understand, except that the explanations are from people in a mental institution. So no doubt, their desired results as well as the methods to achieve them are much more creative. This film is completely out there as my next explanation shall reveal this very sentence as a total understatement.
The complicated life of a Cyborg
Cha Young-goon (played by Su-jeong Lim) has ended up in a psychiatric ward. She believes she is a cyborg, doesn’t eat, and recharges using batteries. She talks to various machines, electronics and inanimate objects. This includes the vending machine, a public phone, a clock that hiccups, and fluorescent lights in the ceiling. She explains her life story to a particular set of lights. I’ll explain it in her words and terms. She was raised by her grandmother. Her grandmother thinks she’s a mouse who only eats radishes or pickled radishes, but she needs her dentures to eat. It’s not hard to see why she’s been taken to a psych ward, however for a cyborg like Cha Young-goon it’s complicated. As crazy as this girl is, her grandmother is also mentally deranged, so everything she says about her is true, except that she actually believes her grandmother really is a mouse.
While the ambulance took her grandmother away to the looney bin, Cha Young-goon chased the ambulance because her grandmother forgot her dentures which, of course, she needs to eat radishes. Suddenly a bike “picked her up and took” Cha Young-goon to help her chase the ambulance, “but a bike can’t beat an ambulance. Even a kid in knickers knows that.” So she bawled and her bike spoke to her, “A cyborg can beat anything. How come you don’t know that when you’re a cyborg yourself?” This is the first time the girl discovered that she was a robot. So to avoid embarrassment, she had to pretend that she had always known. She responds, “Confounded fool. I’m all out of battery you moron.”
So the cyborg from there on, learns how to recharge herself by listening to educational broadcasts on a radio she owns. She is no doubt hearing voices in her head because the broadcasts are even more preposterous than her dilemma with her grandmother. The radio broadcaster asks her why she hasn’t returned her grandmother’s dentures back and bagged the “white ‘uns (or the ward’s staff).” Cha Young-goon lies to the radio that maybe her charging methods have limitations. The radio retorts with 2001 a space odyssey style humor, “I hope it’s not because of …sympathy.” The broadcast then reminds the cyborg that sympathy is the worst of the 7 deadly sins. The seven deadly sins are: Sympathy, being sad, restlessness, hesitating about anything, useless daydreaming, feeling guilty, and thankfulness! …Therefore, useless daydreaming about whether the white ‘uns have grannies too, sympathy for their grannies if the white ‘uns died, and hesitating about killing them, she must forego these sins!
The life of a Thief isn’t easy either
Park Il-Sun (played by Rain) is a talented thief who has also ended up in the same psych ward. Later on in the movie, he believes that he may be able to steal people’s souls… or at least parts of mental illnesses. Cha Young-goon realizes that she has “sympathy,” the worst deadly sin. So naturally the cyborg asks this man, who often wears masks and tries to hide, to steal her sympathy from her.
Park Il-Sun also has his own set of “logical” explanations (which I won’t get into) to his unique behavior. He explains that it’s not really stealing if a person wants them to take it, and that she’d have to really hate him for it. Later in the film after he finally does steal her sympathy, the cyborg suddenly slaps him 3 times while expressing her hatred for him. He gets up with a charming, slightly crazed, and pleased smile. That particular camera frame certainly made me laugh.
Is it OK being a Cyborg?
I really enjoyed the first hour of I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK. The quick paced nonsensical logic from a mental patient’s perspective was in good fun, and hasn’t been put to this detail in anything I’ve seen so far. The film transforms half way however back into the PG-13 romantic comedies we’ve seen before (but not nearly as bad or sappy). I don’t mind it, but Park Chan-wook’s tone led me to expect his comedy with a less typical ending. To me it didn’t uphold the true spirit of the film. Yeah sure, it’s cute ‘n all, and as I mentioned before it reminded me of Benny and Joon a bit. Or perhaps he could have tied in the love story aspect towards the very end like in Amelie.
Personally, I think it would have been a more creative ending to turn the film into Bonnie and Clyde, so that Cha Young-goon really does execute countless staff of the ward with machine gun fire, or for them both to escape the ward, or even further into their fantasy world. Well I suppose that ending has been done too if you think about Natural Born Killers. I’m a Cyborg, but that’s OK is a lovable flick. Halfway through, I just would have rather not seen Park Il-Sun assume the complex of yet another protector rescuing his damsel in distress. I’m glad that the imaginative couple didn’t declare they were in love or something totally unbelievable. They liked each other. Besides, a cyborg is incapable of thankfulness since it’s one of the 7 deadly sins. The film spared me from going off about how love outside of movies is something you build.
I suppose this film does play it’s scenario out in a unique way, but I was prepared to give this film four stars had it given me an ending similar to the divergent thinking of these lovable mental patients. As a result it barely escaped with the extra half star I gave it. Yeah, it went from being cute and bizarre to being just cute (well not totally in a I’d prefer to throw up way)… It’s a shame really. All in all I’d recommend seeing it. It had some original laughs to be had. So I think the wording is spot on… It is ok if you’re a cyborg.
Concept: 8 Mask & helmet fashion sense: 9 Acting: 8
Sets: 7 Cyborg murderous rampage: 8 Cinematography: 7.5
Giant CGI fly: 6 Extreme yodeling: 9 Screenplay: 8 Hiccup Clock: 7 Dialog: 8
Radio broadcaster’s psychotic voice of reasoning: 10 Costumes: 7 Blonde eyebrows: 8