in a mental institution," Marcy quipped as we walked out of the Kulturbrauerei in Berlin, where Park Chan-Wooks latest played as part of the Fantasy Filmfest
. As usual, she had a point: at the center of I'm a Cyborg
is an adorable waif (Su-jeong Lim) who insists on seeing the world in her own peculiar way and is surrounded by a quirky cast of lovable supporting characters.
The filmmaking, as you'd expect from the director of Oldboy, is muscular and inventive. But unlike Jeunet's unbearably cute Amélie, Cha Young-goon has to face some all-too-real pain. The girl believes herself to be a cyborg ("You know, kind of like a robot") and is sent to the mental ward after trying to "recharge her batteries" in a way that reads to the rest of the world as a suicide attempt.
I'm a Cyborg But That's OK
From The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
, movies set in mental institutions feature a motley cast of nut cases, and there's usually some confusion as to who, exactly, is crazy. In I'm a Cyborg
, there are compulsive yodelers, ping-pong addicts, and mythomaniacs addicted to telling tall tales. When she's not licking batteries, our cyborg girl chats with neon lights and vending machines. Only the handsome thief Il-soon who can't stop brushing his teeth (played by an actor who simply goes by Rain) lends Young-goon a sympathetic ear.
Park takes great pleasure in dramatizing the disconnect between the girl's cyborg reality and the objective world of doctors and nurses. He's not above milking insanity for laughs and excitement, but there's always bitter truth mixed into even the most fantastic sequences. When Young-goon almost starves herself to death and is sent to shock therapy, the treatment turns her into a bullet-spitting killing machine -- or did it just fry her last few remaining brain cells?
The developing romance between the dental obsessive and the girl who tries to eradicate all sympathy from her system smacks of "only the insane can truly understand each other" whimsy of films like Amélie or Benny & Joon. I'm a Cyborg But That's OK indulges in the cute and silly, but Park always keeps one foot firmly planted in the horrible reality his characters are trying to escape. Like the rest of us, they never get an altogether satisfying answer to their most pressing questions: "What am I here for? What's my mission?"