From director Park Chan-Wook, perhaps best known for his acclaimed film (and one of my personal favorites) Oldboy; I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK is just as surreal and abnormal as its title suggests. Revolving around a budding romance between an anti-social kleptomaniac and a young woman who believes herself to be a cyborg within a mental institution, the movie manages to perfectly utilize the absurdity of its premise and of the events within the film to create a delightful movie that will make you laugh, cringe, and feel sorrow.
Cha Young-goon (Im Soo-jung) is a woman who worked in a radio constructing factory until her repressed belief of being a cyborg resurfaces and she electrocutes herself while attempting to charge her body in what is viewed as a suicide attempt. She is promptly placed in a home for the mentally unwell where she meets a variety of different distinct characters all with their own issues. These include an overweight woman who believes she’s created socks that permit flight; an overly polite man who apologizes for all misfortunes, regardless of his involvement; a pathological liar who pretends to be an orderly; and many others that provide laughs with their antics in the background. Rather than focusing on the dark or sad side of these people’s problems, their quirks and traits make for humorous moments.
Young-goon also meets Park Il-soon (Rain), who prides himself in his skills of thievery (he can even go as far as to “steal” other people’s conditions). Falling in love with Young-goon, Il-soon becomes determined to save her from starvation, as she fears that consuming food will kill her (being a cyborg and all). His dedication to Young-goon is funny at times, but always heartwarming. Il-Soon has his own set of oddities that set him apart from the rest, such as his home-made masks, aptitude for ping pong, and fear of shrinking into a dot and disappearing.
As you can probably tell, I’m a Cyborg is an original movie, but it’s not just slapstick at the expense of the crazed, there’s another layer to the film. Young-goon’s past is a heavy motivator for the events that transpire in the movie. Her grandmother was also unwell, and was taken away, inspiring Young-goon’s attempts to “charge herself” to maximum power so that she can kill the orderlies and rescue her. There are a various scenes in the movie that show the world through the perspectives of the institution’s residents, and the movie makes no attempt to blur them from reality. These scenes give us a deeper look into the characters’ psyches, and really drive home the gravity of the situation while simultaneously being funny, and even macabre.
Central to the movie though is its message that understanding one another and the importance of communication. Throughout all the silliness, this is a theme that really stands out and is executed wonderfully. When it comes to handling a topic such as mental illness, a certain level of respect should be used. I’m a Cyborg has too much fun and heart to possibly be offensive, and that’s just OK.