A girl, who thinks she is a combat cyborg, checks into a mental hospital where she encounters other psychotics. Daring, surrealistic but funny feature from assured South Korean director Chan-wook Park.
After his rip-roaring revenge trilogy - Sympathy for Mr Vengenace, Oldboy and Lady Vengeance - Korean auteur Park Chan-Wook loses his marbles in I'm A Cyborg, a deliriously demented rom-com. Bug-eyed waif Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong) is the cyborg of the title, a mentally deranged girl who refuses to eat because she thinks her insides are made of electrical circuits. Banged up in an asylum Young-goon meets schizophrenic kleptomaniac Il-sun (Jeong Ji-hun, aka Asian pop star Rain). Love (and hallucinatory psychosis) soon blossom.
Whatever you make of this oddball rom-com, it's nothing if not inventive. Opening in a Metropolis-style factory populated by red-robed women assembling transistor radios, it quickly spirals into padded cell madness as Young-goon is sent to an asylum after slashing her wrists and hooking herself up to the electrical mains. There she meets the biggest collection of freaks and geeks this side of One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. Convinced she's a cyborg who can talk to vending machines using her granny's dentures (!), Young-goon spends her time recharging her power cells by licking batteries. She also piques the interest of mask-wearing nutter Il-sun, an inmate who tries to steal his fellow patients' psychoses.
"INSANE INTENSITY AND RAMBLING DULLNESS"
Park directs with admirable verve, building his story into a touching tale about two damaged souls who connect through insanity. Shot in brightly unreal colours, it verges on becoming a mental musical (there's only one tune, but since it's a yodelling number that transports Young-goon to the Alps on the back of a giant CGI insect, who's complaining?). The fantasy sequences climax with a bizarre moment when Young-goon transforms herself into a battle bot - fingers firing bullets, metal mouth dispensing shell cases - and mows down doctors and nurses. Like all psychotic ramblings, I'm A Cyborg flits between insane intensity and rambling dullness - but there's a human heart pumping beneath its mad, metallic surface.
Jamie Russell, BBC, 29 March 2008.
The reigning king of Asian extreme cinema - the South Korean director Park Chan-wook - has elected to show us his softer, caring side. What a sugary, snuggly, giggly and silly side it turns out to be. Like Takeshi Kitano, it seems Park has a weakness for a certain sort of kiddified whimsy, which might be, worryingly, an integral flipside of his talent for violence and mayhem. Discovering this flipside is an unsettling experience. The movie admittedly has an inspired opening: Young-goon (Lim Soo-young) is a profoundly depressed worker at some soul-deadening production line, making transistor radios. She has a delusional episode, jabs the aerial of one radio into her vein and apparently ingests its mechanical-electronic quality, turning herself, as she imagines, into a "cyborg". The Frankensteinian bravura of this sequence (complete with crashes of thunder and lightning) is unfortunately followed by a long, long stretch in a psychiatric institution, whose inmates are condescendingly imagined. She fantasises about shooting up the building from fingers that turn into gun-barrels. But with this softcore fantasy, Park appears to be taking very lightly the anger and alienation of people genuinely suffering from mental illness, and the origins of Young-goon's depression are not treated with any great dramatic depth. There are bizarre reveries, including a yodelling musical interlude, but this is a frustrating and unsatisfying piece of work.
Peter Bradshaw, the Guardian, 4 April 2008.
Total Number of Responses: 38
Film Score (0-5): 2.87
88 members and guests attended this screening with 30 responding, either on the night or through emails and the website. A hit rate of 43%.
While the overall score has moved this into the least popular film of the season category, many of you found the film “riveting to watch if very disturbing with an extreme view of psychotic behaviour. Exceptional film”.
One member wrote “Wow! Another film about the fragility of the human mind! Whilst I thought the film might have done with some editing it created a fully illustrated mosaic of people incarcerated due to mental breakdown. I would have liked more clarity as to what exactly led to Young-goon’s total breakdown but it certainly illustrated the tortuous, fractured and frightening experience of those suffering from mental ill health. I appreciated that the fractured and bizarre life inside the hospital became more ordered as Young-goon began her long journey back to health. Sometimes I did not find the film very empathetic to those with mental ill health, almost voyeuristic at some points, yet at others showing very warm human qualities of very ill people. I thought the two young actors Lim Su-jeong & Jeong Ji-hun were very good”.
Another told us “Well, the pictures and sound were of a high quality, but they were sadly wasted on a film full of self-indulgence, with very little point or direction or story, and certainly with nothing to say (to me) about mental health issues. This was a poor curtain raiser for World Mental Health Day” and “I nearly left before the mass exodus but then I started to see it from the inside rather than the outside. Then my empathy returned and my “itchy butt” left. Very well filmed /acted and somewhat disturbing which I guess was the point”.
“One flew over the Cuckoo’s nest recalled in some ways, but at turns dysfunctional and loving, shocking and sentimental. The light-hearted and optimistic tone emerges. Is it a rom-com? Yes. Is it. Sci-fi? Maybe. Enjoyed the quirky absurdity, but also its heartfelt reality. Park knows how to create a child-like behaviour in touching relationship which both actors do a great job to convince about love in a very challenging climate. Clever framing, colourful sets and the shift from shock to equilibrium works so well that I almost felt too comfortable somewhere on this side of the rainbow. Well done on presenting this quietly real film”.
“Surrealism often involves the unexpected conjunction of unrelated things: to be successful these should be satisfying or revealing. There were lots of unexpected conjunctions in this film, but I found them neither satisfying nor revealing. Yes there was a storyline of a kind but I couldn’t get involved or interested in it. I enjoyed it by far the least of GFS films I have seen, hence the low rating”. “Challenging – excellent in places – was with the main characters all the way through – demonstrating the fragility of being. We all have voices…thank you for reminding the audience of the purpose of GFS”. All comments are on the website.
“I liked this film as I thought it gave a more sensitive view of mental illness. There was gentle humour and it was an ultimately uplifting view of how some forms of mental illness can be lived with in daily life. Chan-wook Park's absurd, colourful and inventive use of film techniques, cinematography and music kept me interested throughout the film, although I felt the plot did go back on itself a few times resulting in an overly long film”. “Really enjoyed the concept and craziness of this film. Some of the comedy probably lost in translation. Far out and fantastic”.
“This is the second time I have seen this film, first saw it in 2011 when it first got released on disk. It is one of the only films I have seen that is actually better on the small screen.... I think I found watching the film uncomfortable because I was able to sense how uncomfortable some members of the audience found the experience.... Awkward.... However, that said, challenging films definitely have a place at GFS.....Also, cinematography was amazing and acting was great, especially Rain who played Park... He was very good.... I am looking forward to seeing him in Uhm Bok-Dong next year”.
“We ended up with mixed feelings on this film. There were some great ideas presented, but it didn't do much with them. I was frustrated that good threads like the granny's message were left unresolved, but at the same time liked the hope that the ending presented of people finding some peace or equilibrium within their fantasies. The film erred more towards the Dream Team portrayal of a home for the mentally ill than Cuckoo's Nest, and as a whole probably had more in common (stylistically) with films by Jeunet like Amelie or Delicatessen. From a production perspective it was excellent though - the kinetic nature of the filming gave it a real feeling of being present for each scene, and the performances were all superb, we wanted to know more about each and every character”.
“Think we need more Korean films to put this in context”. “A bit weird”. “An interesting portrayal of psychosis”. “Truly a bizarre film. Could be anything between good and poor”. “Nuts and nuts”. “Interesting subject matter but difficult to watch”. “Totally weird”. “Well I don’t know who chose that film! Far too long but well made, clever humour. Altogether ridiculous!”
“Isolated good parts but challenging! A bit weird”. “I can’t think why this film was chosen I haven’t seen anything so strange since Derek Jarman’s “The Tempest””. “4th one in a row! Doubtless clinically realistic. Not sure if weird or just awful. How many committee members previewed it?”
“Unutterable rubbish for most of the time. On what basis did you chose such a poor film…..far too long. I would have left an hour before the end and should have left like many did”. “Could have ended an hour earlier!” “Interesting. Some people left early but they should have stayed. I loathe Tarantino for example – movies with meaningless killings – but maybe here it’s a unique - or even realistic insight to mental health”. “A bit too whimsical, but it grew on me. I found myself caring by the end of the film”. “Loved the yodelling song!” “I hoped it would get somewhere – it didn’t”. “If last week’s film was the most depressing one I’d ever seen, this one was the most bizarre! It was sweet in places and I quite enjoyed it but it was too long”. “
“Not sure what to say about this film, but thought it was not one of the Society's better offerings. Just as you were about to give up on it as dull and indecipherable there were some moments of illumination, tenderness and humour. I'm not sure it did much for mental health by portraying such an odd ball assortment of in patients, when in reality many in such an institution would be sad and deeply troubled individuals. Onwards and upwards!”
“For all its amusing and alarming oddities this surely isn't really about mental health, or at least only in the most general terms, it's about that old film favourite; the redemptive power of love. Perhaps it's using the exaggeration of the main character's psychosis to suggest that we are all a bit odd but with a partner who can balance out our problems we might be OK. Though there is a warning in the ending, when the wine bottle cork is used to save them both from a high voltage incineration, suggesting that he is going to have to pay very close attention if they're going to survive. Thus it asks more questions than it answers but that's no bad thing. It is quite uneven at times, never quite clear what is fantasy and what reality, more interesting than enjoyable. I very much enjoyed the inventive credit sequence and the opening section - which resembled some kind of dystopian ‘Amelie’ in a way”.
“I am sorry but after about an hour I could not watch the film any longer: - so left.1) It didn’t help people understand mental health problems, which are a lot deeper and time consuming and not as crazy as the film seem to forecast. 2) The picture painted was of hopelessness with no future improvement possible but maybe that was because I left too early…3)Some of the treatments in use were old fashioned and not explained fully enough for people to understand what results they may or may not achieve.Very depressing “poor film” in my opinion”.