I'M A CYBORG BUT THAT'S OK (2006)
Sweet teen Young-Goon is just your average girl, except for that fact that she has "discovered" that she is a cyborg. Not only does she refuse to eat, for fear that the food will damage her inner electronics, but while working at her job she slices her wrist open and sticks an electrical cord in to re-charge. This gets her an express trip to the local mental institution, where she finds deep conversations with the fluorescent light fixtures and the coffee vending machine. Her doctors try to figure out just why she won't eat, but Young-Goon made a promise not to tell anyone that she was a cyborg.
Among the various and colorful patients in the institution is Il-Sun, a young man who is a habitual thief and has self-committed himself in order to escape jail time. Il-Sun is not just content with stealing material objects, but also steals everything from ping-pong skills to yodeling abilities and even the emotion of sympathy! When Il-Sun, who perpetually wears cardboard robot masks and bunny suit pajamas, becomes curiously infatuated with Young-Goon, he discovers the secret to why she does not eat. And while the doctors try their clinical procedures including shock therapy and even trying to force feed Young-Goon through her nose, Il-Sun comes up with an ingenious plan to finally get her to eat, knowing full well she only has days to live before she starves herself to death.
I've been looking forward to seeing this movie ever since the first rumors started leaking out of Korea shortly after the completion of SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE. The name Park Chan-Wook has become synonymous with violent revenge films with his nigh-perfect trilogy, and could have easily stayed within this genre for the rest of his career. However, he chose to challenge himself and his fans with a romantic-comedy that is truly one of a kind, which he co-wrote with SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE writer Jeong Se-Gyeong.
The result is one that will surely divide his "built in" audience, and probably annoy the hell out of K-Pop fans who want to see heartthrob Rain, who plays Il-Sun, in a movie. The style of the opening title sequence and introduction to Young-Goon, is the immediate make-or-break point for the audience. Park goes straight for sensory overload as he pushes the quirky pedal to the metal. Along with the musical overture, this is as close to replicating a combination of Tim Burton and Danny Elfman to be found in cinema as you're likely to get, and in some ways even out does these kings of strange.
From this opening, Park dumps us right into the boiling pot of his mental institution, where it appears the inmates are definitely running the asylum. While the exhausted staff tries to keep the patients corralled and in some manner of treatment, mostly they just wander the halls and the grounds, free to perpetually run amok with their odd behaviors that have landed them there in the first place. These scenes are quite reminiscent of the asylum scenes of 12 MONKEYS, if they were shown through an anime prism. The huge assortment of secondary characters offer some of the greatest laughs throughout the movie, and help to keep the tone light even as Young-Goon's fate becomes more dire.
Of course the center piece of the film is the odd relationship that builds between Young-Goon (Lim Su-Jeong of A TALE OF TWO SISTERS) and Il-Sun. Park runs through an exhausting array of emotions between these two, as they each become the others stalker for entirely different reasons, Il-Sun's desperate attempts to break through Young-Goon's "cyborg" shell as she nears death, and finally a romantic love that is often ignored in cinema which climaxes with the oddest scene ever to wretch a single-tear from the eye. Both actors completely loose themselves in the freedom of being mentally unhinged, but avoid going completely manic leaving this to the other actors.
Park Chan-Wook injects his bizarre dark-humor into scene after scene and coats everything with colors that only exist in Japanese candy. Much of the movie takes place within Young-Goon's skewed perspective on the world she lives in, which segues into some truly odd fantasies that even some of the other characters get sucked into. For those demanding blood, Park lets Young-Goon obliterate the entire staff of the hospital with her fully-automatic weapons system with limitless ammunition, which finishes with an uninterrupted shot of mayhem that comes close to rivaling his hallway sequence in OLDBOY. Even in sequences that supposedly take place in reality, Park twists them just enough to the point where it could very well just be the fantasy interpretation of one of the characters.
Park has said that he "wanted to make a film that my daughter could watch and take friends to see and laugh out loud." He has certainly accomplished the laughs with the rat-a-tat pacing, physical comedy that occupies every available space, and the love story that would connect with the younger female crowd who still thinks of romance as holding hands and getting into a bit of mischief. There is a darker side to the film, that I think might resonate specifically with the older crowd, who can catch the absurd and rather cruel things that humans can turn to in order to solve problems they don't understand. However, there is also a very bright center that is focused on the older crowd, which shows the journey and pure joy of finally finding the purpose of your life.