Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Film Review - 'I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK'

Some films are just deliberately strange. They base themselves around a premise that's just so 'out there' that their very existence is likely to cause the viewer to raise an eyebrow. They tell a story so bizarre that any attempt to summarise it in a simple and straight-forward way simply wont be able to do it justice. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is one of those films. It is a romantic comedy, at heart - but, it is one set in a mental institution. The young couple whose gradually developing romantic relationship includes a young woman convinced that she is actually a highly sophisticated cyborg, and a young man convinced that he possesses the ability to steal other people's souls. It is, despite that, also a light-hearted and rather surreal sort of comedy from South Korean director, Park Chan-wook - a director better known for a much darker, and often much more violent, brand of film.

Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong), a young woman who works in a factory which produces radios, is entirely convinced that she is actually a cyborg. How, and why, she came to hold this particular delusion isn't really explored in any great detail - all we know, and all we really need to know, is that this is what she has come to believe. After a misguided attempt to 'recharge' herself is taken as an act of attempted suicide, though, Young-goon soon finds herself committed to a mental institution for her own safety. Young-goon's mother, we learn, was aware of her daughter's problems, but was largely ambivalent - encouraging her to keep her delusion a secret. Young-goon's grandmother, the person she was closest to as a child, suffered from her own mental issues, and was similarly committed years earlier.

Young-goon's stay in the institution is complicated by her belief in her own cyborg nature, though. She refuses to eat – believing that she can recharge herself in other ways. She starts out largely ignoring the other, human, patients in order to try to communicate with electrical appliances. And, she believes that it is her mission to rescue her grandmother from the 'white-coats' that took her.

There, among a cast of similarly eccentric patients, she meets Il-soon (Korean pop-star, Rain) – a young man institutionalised for anti-social behaviour who believes that he has the power to steal aspects of another person's identity (or, their souls), and who believes that he is at constant risk of shrinking away into nothing. Il-soon spends his time at the institution 'stealing' aspects of the other patients personalities for his own amusement - often giving them back later. This makes him unpopular among the other patients as, strangely enough, some there seem to share Il-soon's belief in his own ability and find themselves compelled to play along. Soon enough, though, Il-soon finds himself drawn to Young-goon – moved by sympathy to try to help her. And, the two unlikely young lover's begin to become close.

It's an odd film – I can't really stress that enough.

And, yes, it is a comedy – and it is, quite often, genuinely funny. Along with the more light-hearted and surreal humour drawn from the interaction of the patients, there are elements of the much darker humour that Park Chan-wook is probably better known for. Scenes in which Young-soon believes herself to be fully charged, which triggers hallucinations of her violent rampage through the institution, have no real business being as hilarious as they are.

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK also manages to be a surprisingly touching film, at times. While the various eccentricities of the patients (Young-goon and Il-soon in particular, of course - but, the film also features a varied supporting cast) are played for laughs, there is never really a moment where it feels like the film wants us to laugh at the patients of this institution. The film manages to strike a good balance between finding humour in its eccentric cast of characters, while still treating them with some degree of sympathy. The occasionally tragic circumstances that brought each of these patients to this point in their lives is never shied away from either - though, the film does not feel the need to dwell too much on that.

I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is one of those rare romantic comedies, for me, in which I was actually entirely on-board with the love story that formed the film's heart. It's a film that manages to be genuinely funny, but without feeling like it is mocking its cast of clearly damaged characters. And, to top it off, it also feature some truly great performances from its cast - particularly from the film's two leads. I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK is a film that is definitely worth your time.

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