From the bloodbaths and gruesome schemes of his Vengeance trilogy to the erotically charged horror of his 2009 vampire film thirstSouth Korean director Park Chanwook is known for its disturbing, violent thrillers. His latest project debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. decision to go, tells the story of a police officer who is in love with a widow who is also the prime suspect in a murder investigation. The trailer promises a tense, suspenseful film of a kind only Park Chan-wook can make. However, he also promises something else the director isn’t exactly famous for: romance.
It’s not like Park Chan-Wook has never delved into love stories before, mind you. His previous film, a critically acclaimed period drama The maid, is a story of love, lust and betrayal in Japanese-occupied Korea. Still, the film is remembered just as much for the romance between Lady Hideko (Kim Minhee) and her servant Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri), as it is with Kozuki (Cho Jin-woong) torture chamber and that menacing octopus. To find a purer, nonviolent love story from Park Chan-wook, you’d have to look further back in his career, to his funky 2006 romantic comedy I’m a cyborg, but that’s OK.
In 2006, Park had just dropped out Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, the final installment in his Vengeance trilogy. He wanted to shake things up a bit to take a break from the gloom of his previous projects. But more than anything, he revealed during an interview at the Barbican Center in London that he wanted to make a film for his daughter. As a film director, Park couldn’t spend much time at home, and he felt bad that his young son couldn’t even enjoy one of his films. And so, I’m a cyborg, but that’s OK was born, a strip that bears much more resemblance to one Michael Gondry favorite project, like mood indigo or The Science of Sleepthan to anything Park had previously directed.
I’m a cyborg, but that’s OKs premise is anything but ordinary: Cha Young-goon (Lim Soo-jung), a young woman who firmly believes she is a cyborg is being courted by a fellow patient who believes he can steal other people’s souls. Played by a South Korean singer/actor RainAbandoned by his mother as a teenager, Park Il-sun was hospitalized by a judge for antisocial behavior and kleptomania. During his sentencing, he recalls being told by the judge that he would shrink to a point and eventually disappear – a fear that resonates throughout the film and is represented visually through imagery of Il-sun posing as a tiny person in the hospital moves.
Young-goon, on the other hand, was institutionalized after she slit her wrists and tried to insert electrical wires into the wound at the factory where she worked. What the police and their associates interpreted for them as an attempted suicide was simply a way to recharge their batteries. After all, she is a partial robot – or so she thinks. Young-goon was raised from a young age by her schizophrenic grandmother, who thought she was a mouse and refused to eat anything but radishes. When her grandmother is taken away, Young-goon finds herself alone with a family she doesn’t relate to. Her suffering is compounded by the realization that her grandmother left her dentures at home and is therefore unable to eat her precious radishes.
At the hospital, Young-goon makes it her life’s mission to get her grandmother’s dentures back and get revenge on the men and women in white who ruined her life. She also uses the play to converse with electronic devices, such as the main hall’s soda machine. Believing that her electronic interior is incapable of digesting human food, she refuses to consume anything but batteries, ultimately leaving her too weak to achieve her goals. Her sympathy for the hospital workers, who after all have their own grannies, also stands in the way of her desire for revenge.
That’s where Park Il-sun comes in. At the hospital, his kleptomania takes the form of stealing the souls and personality traits of other patients, something his peers perceive as actual power. Seeing her compassion for others as an obstacle, Young-goon asks Il-sun to take it away from her, and he agrees. The problem is that Il-sun is starting to feel things he’s never felt before, and a lot of those feelings are directed against Young-goon.
I’m a cyborg, but that’s OK is a strange, light-hearted film about finding love in the most unlikely of places. Its cooking atmosphere exudes comedy and joy. But despite its tone and colorful, trippy look – created by the art director Ryu Seong-hiewho has also worked with Park Old boy, thirstand The maid – The film never takes lightly the suffering its characters go through. Park takes the pain in Il-sun’s and Young-goon’s hearts just as seriously as they do, and as a result is able to craft a story that’s as cute and entertaining to watch as it is heartbreaking. Both Young-goon and Il-sun have traumas that run much deeper than their superficial delusions, from abandonment issues to an inability to show emotion. For example, Young-goon’s belief that she’s not fully human goes hand-in-hand with the idea that she shouldn’t feel human emotions. In one particularly revealing scene, she mentally compiles a list of the seven deadly sins. But unlike the usual gluttony and lust, her list includes things like sadness, hesitation, daydreaming, and of course, her dreaded compassion. This emotional repression appears to stem from Young-goon’s relationship with her neglectful mother, who left her in the care of another woman who, much like Young-goon, had a fairly loose connection with her own humanity. Likewise, Il-sun’s inability to relate to others and his fear of disappearing stems from being abandoned at such a young age, for who will ever love him when even his own mother abandons him?
This exploration of the trauma behind the characters’ illnesses is to ensure we don’t just see them as walking and talking hallucinations. Park has a deep respect for what drives his characters, a sentiment he extends to their absurd beliefs as well. I’m a cyborg, but that’s OK never lies to its viewers and makes us believe that Young-goon really is a cyborg or that Il-sun can actually steal souls like an inferior movie would. However, Park Chan-wook creates an atmosphere in which his characters’ delusions are confirmed, at least in the small universe they inhabit. Young-goon’s worries about food are treated as if they were real by the hospital’s patients, even though most of them understand that she needs more than just licking batteries to survive. And so, Il-sun’s greatest show of love for her is when he creates the “Rice Megatron,” a small device he installs on his lover’s body through a small door on her back that converts human food into energy. He protects her and gives her what she needs without ever weakening her worldview. If this isn’t love, then what is?
Judging by the trailer and synopsis, decision to go seems to the non-cyborg Movies of Park Chan-Wook filmography. Just the fact that it’s about a murder makes it a lot darker than that weird 2006 rom-com. Still, I’m a cyborg, but that’s OK shows a very different side of the South Korean director – a softer, muddy, love-and-let-love side that might come in handy if you want to delve into romantic territory again.
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