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Psychokinesis in Park Chan-wook’s I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK (2006) October 27, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinemanila.

Korean Title: Saibogujiman kwenchana
Directed by Park Chan-wook
Cast: Lim Soo-jung, Jung Ji-hoon, Choi Hee-jin

No, it’s far from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, not even a mile close to it, far from Kesey’s humor, far from the wards of stubborn America whose boundless paranoia remains its distinctive trait. No Big Nurse, no therapist junkies, no doctors of pain – – but everyone, as you see their faces, everyone is McMurphy, not Billy Bibbit, not Harding, not Sefelt, not Chief Bromden, not the acutes, but McMurphy, the lunatic of all lunatics! Park Chan-wook, after the massive success of his vengeance trilogy, scores another out-of-control indulgence but with a more whimsical tone to it.

Consider this: if Tarantino likes Old Boy, raves about it so much that he tried to convince other jury members to award it the Palme d’Or, only to be turned down in favor of Moore’s quasi-anti-America slockumentary, then everyone in the world who thinks like him or pretends to think like him likes it too, so you get the idea that sometimes film viewing isn’t anymore a matter of taste but fanaticism, or idiocy, that may well qualify you to say that I’m generalizing. It sounds like South Korea’s grandest festival recognition, considering Im Kwon-taek taking home the Best Director prize in 2002 and Jeon Do-yeon the Best Actress in 2007, and a boost to its vigorous national cinema that proves to be unstoppable in both critical and box-office regard. In our case, Brocka and Mendoza went home empty-handed – – a perfect circle, yeah, zero – – that raises the question, is it a tradition of not winning anything? Reserve your “It’s OK, the nomination is more than enough” retort because still, winning something is winning, beating everyone else – – it absolutely matters in this material world, no matter how fabricated our realities may be, no matter how immature. A Cannes prize is such a huge balloon that never runs out of air, it gives an immeasurable amount of pride to look back, or maybe in a trip abroad when someone learns that you’re from the Philippines, you’d pick up from his remark, “Oh, I’ve seen Lav Diaz’s opus from Cannes and it was really worth the entire week of sitting through, it was the most justified pick from the jury in years” with “Yeah, impressive for you to have seen it but I didn’t like it that much, I thought it was the indulgence of a remorseless fiend,” and you’d go on and on talking about cinema until you have squeezed each other’s life over a cup of coffee. If that flow of reasoning is concerned, if winning awards is all that matters, is Park a better director than Mike de Leon? he whose brand of violence and horror is only known to thousands (imagine only thousands, but who knows?) while Park enjoys millions of audience just because of that palm leaf or certificate or whatever that he received from the Parisians? Imagine what a simple attachment to a name can do. C’est la vie, c’est la mort, Sarkozy would say.

This is a few parallels away from Nuclear Korea, away from King Jong-il’s fried brain, away from the invisible corpses of the war sponsored by America – – America, the Palin America. Is America the common denominator of every country in the world? Oh, I mean it in a bad way. Is America the shameless expatriates who killed our identity until we remained cultureless? I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK is too self-absorbed to think of that, it is an exaggerated vision of madness that only succeeds at random, a crazed film that avoids sedation, which may somehow do the film a lot of good, with careful focus and thrift. That world, that universe of escape that these patients share resembles our own, the colors, the stories, the running away from pain and loss – – are we really far from them? Park’s brand of violence is still there, in case fans are thinking twice about watching the film after seeing Rain in the poster, refreshing gore galore of deft humor, dream sequences that escape from their own dreams only to wake up in trifles. An uneven film with a skyful of promise, not to mention the quirky title and the demiurgic opening credits wonderfully sewn in the first sequence, I’m A Cyborg But That’s OK is like looking at endless rows of mirrors, seeing only one proof of sanity and purposeful existence – – that of caricature, pitiful sketches and surface cartoons of coolness that smudge easily in a drizzle.


1. 1minutefilmreview - October 28, 2008

Nice review, we’re Park fans too.

2. bittergrace - October 28, 2008

OT but Re: Palin America–it’s funny how they’re spouting off ideals about freedom and stuff but when you don’t agree with them or their opinions you’re not a “real American.” sadder, all my relatives are voting for McCain-Palin because they’re religious conservatives. whatever happened to separation of church and state? Anyway…wanted to watch this but i’ll probably just look for the dvd.

3. Richard Bolisay - October 29, 2008

Haha somehow it’s healthier to listen to their blabbering ironies than to our politicians here who don’t know the difference between their own money and our nation’s money. All eyes are now on America, no wonder it will affect each and every one of us whatever the turnout of their Elections will be. Sad to hear that from your relatives though.

Yeah, better to watch this on DVD. P151 is too hefty for such razzledazzle, but I admit there are a few hilarious moments that I enjoyed.

4. Ash - October 29, 2008

I like Lim-Soo Jung in this film. Well, I like her in all the films I saw her in, especially Lump Sugar where she played a jockey.

5. Richard Bolisay - October 29, 2008

she’s great, actually. i like that scene when she is “recharging” herself with batteries for lunch. i laughed really hard. anyway, is she as popular as jeon ji-hyun in korea?

6. thecanary - July 29, 2009

what does the majority of this review have to do with this movie? after slogging through I don’t even know what (brain vomit?) we get to two actually good points: the “white uns” aren’t part of the real world either and sometimes people need to be sedated. well, actually, I think they were sedated, but they dreamed. having never been knocked out (much less knocked out in a korean psychiatric hospital) I don’t know if you can dream in such a state, but maybe. an idealized mental hospital where the patients aren’t fucked up and the doctors haven’t given up. there have been a lot of movies set in american mental institutions besides “one flew over the cuckoo’s nest” not all movies are trying to be that. I don’t find it too difficult to believe that a modern mental institution in korea might be a lot different. gap in space and time, fictional constructs. just start all reviews with: the u.s. is ruining all my fun! and spare whatever the that was. (I am an american. we have our own problems that you do not even know about. but they are very, very, very bad. be glad you get to watch and judge from the outside. there’s my brain vomit. not pretty, is it?) p.s. not the greatest movie ever made, if you think about real life you won’t like it (real mental patients in love = not so charming) but if you take it for what it is, it’s entertaining.

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