Reviewer: Jeffrey M. Anderson
Rating (out of five): ***
It was quite a surprise to learn that, between Park Chan-wook's extraordinarily lithe, punchy Lady Vengeance (2005) -- the final entry in his equally extraordinary "vengeance" trilogy -- and the bizarre, acid vampire movie Thirst (2009), Park made this very broad, very odd comedy.
It looks as if I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK never saw an American theatrical release, or if it did, it was so small and localized that no critics knew of its existence. It apparently did middling box office in its native Korea as well. It's somewhat similar to Sion Sono's Love Exposure, from Japan, which was released in San Francisco this past summer. It features singularly love-struck characters with peculiar fates. It focuses on three or four specific, off-kilter jokes and runs with these jokes over and over until they connect and make some kind of sense.
On the one hand, this kind of humor doesn't exactly result in gut-busting laughs, but at the same time, it's extremely earnest, and the characters have a tendency to grow on you.
Lim Su-jeong (also in A Tale of Two Sisters) stars as Cha Young-goon, a hapless factory worker who starts the film by slicing open her wrist and inserting some wires, as she believes that she's a cyborg. Likewise, her grandmother also went nuts, doing nothing but eating pickled radish all the time. Grandmother was taken away, leaving Young-goon in charge of her dentures.
Now Young-goon is checked into an asylum, and begins talking to the machines and lights. Her "batteries" are drained, and there's no real way to charge them. She refuses to eat because what's food to a cyborg? Another inmate is Park Il-sun (pop star Rain, also in Ninja Assassin). He's a thief, who not only has the ability to steal objects but also intangible things like someone's skill at ping pong, or someone's humility. He befriends Young-goon, tries to help her "recharge her batteries," as well as solving the mystery of her grandmother's final words.
As with most insane asylum movies, Park spends a lot of time setting up quirky supporting characters, each of whom are defined by a single trait. One character apologizes constantly and is so humble that he walks backward. Another character is a fat lady that eats all the time, etc. But as the movie goes on, its sphere of awareness closes in on just Young-goon and Il-sun, and their sweetness begins to save the day.
Fans of director Park will find very little the dark, noir-ish sensibility that made Lady Vengeance and Oldboy (2003) so unique. It's almost as if the peculiar I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK was lurking beneath the surface of his psyche and needed to come out before Park could continue down his chosen path. It's not exactly brilliant or hilarious, but at least it's honest.
The DVD release from Pathfinder comes with a short behind-the-scenes featurette, a music video, and trailers.
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