I'm a Cyborg

Issue section: 

Director Park: Chan-wook; Release date: 4 April

An earlier film by Korean director Park Chan-wook, Oldboy, was widely (and foolishly) accused of inspiring the Virginia Tech massacre in the US last year. In that work brutal violence was the counterpart to a tender, but utterly doomed, love story.

Tenderness and brutality are also at work in his latest offering. As the film opens, Young-goon is seen working on a radio-set production line. She hears the voice over the factory intercom telling her to cut her skin, insert electrical cables and plug herself into a wall socket. She obeys, following her instincts as a cyborg, and is committed to a mental institution.

Her delusions grow. She talks to electrical equipment, receives instructions from a broken radio set and refuses to eat - instead charging herself with batteries.

A series of flashbacks show Young-goon's troubled childhood. Her grandmother, who raised her, was removed in an ambulance by the "white-ns" and similarly incarcerated because she believed she was a mouse and ate only radishes. Now Young-goon must kill the white-ns and return her grandmother's false teeth. If she does this she might learn from her grandmother the secret of existence - because this cyborg has no purpose and no instruction manual.

But first Young-goon must rid herself of all sympathy for the white-ns, and this leads her to Il-soon, a fellow inmate, who steals other people's character traits. Il-soon, having stolen Young-goon's sympathy, feels moved to fix his new cyborg friend, and their growing relationship becomes the central theme of the film.

If this all sounds surreal, wait until you hear Korean yodelling.

I'm a Cyborg is beautifully filmed. Unlike many Hollywood offerings, the violence and computer-generated flights of fantasy complement the plot, rather than dominating it.

The depiction of the mental institution is also well done. The assembly of odd inmates provide quirky side-stories, but the portrayal does not make light of their condition - mental illness is also, at times, disturbing. The staff at the institution, the "white-ns", seem kind on the surface, but under this veneer they emerge as manipulative, cruel and ineffectual.

Park is a delightfully ambitious director (and a subversive one - it didn't surprise me to hear that he has been outspoken in his support for the socialist movement in South Korea). He has moved effortlessly from dark revenge thrillers to what he describes as romantic comedy. There is more to come. I look forward to his next work, a "vampire love story".