Have you ever had an out of the body experience? Or a waking dream? One minute you're asleep, having this fantastic dream. Maybe you have to fly across buildings or solve a problem or any weird stuff in this dream. Then you're almost awake, but not quite. You hang on to the dream, not wanting to wake up. Don't you hate it when someone tries to rush you? Hey! Wake up! No - go away - I wanna finish my dream!
I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK reminds you of so many different movies in the first ten minutes. You try to fit it into a box. Hey! It's like so-and-so! But it's not. The vision that director Chan-wook Park presents us with is foreign, so alien to any genre, that our mind is confused. Maybe you have to give up all expectation before you can enjoy it.
Young-goon thinks she is a cyborg. A nice, normal young girl otherwise, that is her only kink. Hello mental institution. She can't eat of course - food makes her ill (really) so she licks batteries of various sorts as other inmates tuck into their dinner. She's lonely, and talks to machines. The drinks dispenser is one of her favourites. But she's not a psycho - as she will point out - "I'm not a psycho: I'm a cyborg."
As inmates go, Young-goon is fairly low maintenance. Most of the anti-social patients are weird beyond belief. But it is a young man called Il-soon who manages to reach out to her where doctors have failed. Il-soon believes all sorts of things - like believing he has the power to steal intangibles from people, such as character, attitudes or habits. His services are soon in demand among the other patients.
Young-goon has some internal conflicts. For cyborgs, there are seven deadly sins, and they give her some problems. The seven deadly sins for a cyborg are:
Sympathy. Sadness. Restlessness. Hesitating. Useless day-dreaming. Feeling guilty. Thankfulness.
Of all these sins, sympathy is the worst.
Interestingly, the inmates are like parts of the body: they compensate for each other's particular shortcomings and have very sane insights into kinds of madness not their own.
When the film becomes a love story, it is not one based on lust and idiocy. The funny farm becomes a parable for a world in which we need to believe in and accept each other's failings. Chan-wook Park has crafted perhaps the most original film of the year and one of the most moving. It comments on the nature of belief, and on a humanity that we are in danger of losing through cleverness. It features colourful characters and scenes that make us gasp. There is enough creativity in I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK for ten films, not just one. Constantly defying expectation, it even manages to treat with respect the question of mental illness (which is used largely as a metaphor or plot device). When we see the pain and suffering of real mental illness, it is clear that Chan-wook Park is not mocking.
I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK takes Chan-wook Park's reputation as a master filmmaker and builds it even further. Having established himself with films of violent realism, it may upset fans of Old Boy and Lady Vengeance. And while I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK is not about hyper-violence and the metaphysics of revenge, the dizzying array of ideas may be more than many audiences can stomach in one sitting. It may just seem so off-the-wall that you lose patience before the story gets going. Which would be a shame.
So maybe take a very deep breath. Make sure your batteries are fully charged. If it doesn't blow you out the cinema - I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK - may just blow your mind.