Universally regarded as one of the greatest Korean directors, Chan-Wook Park has solidified his throne as my favorite. A filmmaker with critic roots, his love of the craft is apparent in all of his films. When I first watched Oldboy, his most celebrated work, I fell in love with his masterful characterization and his precise storytelling. Oldboy moved me so much that I was obliged to co-author a Screenshot Saturday detailing its greatness. As mentioned in the Screenshot Saturday, Oldboy ranked 93rd among the IMDb Top 250, and was the second film in what is now known as the Vengeance Trilogy, which includes Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and Lady Vengeance. After completing Park’s oeuvre, I now feel that our Screenshot Saturday was constructed prematurely, for it seemed that every Park film that I finished surpassed the former. Through each film, he develops a unique style of bodily horror, vengeful sentiment, and disturbing imagery. Perhaps the selection I love the most is his film I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Ok.
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s Ok presents a quirky tale of unlikely love quite outside of Park’s usual formula. But this is no When Harry Met Sally, or any other typical rom-com. No, Park portrays the relationship between his schizophrenic protagonist and a personality thief. Our protagonist, Cha Young-Goon, convinced that she is in fact a Cyborg, causes controversy when she attempts to attach an electrical cord from her wrist to the wall outlet in order to “recharge.” Predictably, she lands herself in a psychiatric facility along with other patients with intriguing delusions and obsessions. While an inpatient, Cha eschews human food, certain that she can garnish energy from batteries instead. She also engages in lengthy conversations with vending machines because the fluorescent lights are far too snobbish and refuse to speak to her.
Park-Il Soon is among the patients that Young-Goon encounters in the facility. He presents with schizophrenia and anti-social personality disorder and quickly begins to fall for Cha Young-Goon. Through extravagant ceremonies, Il-Soon “steals” other patient’s personality traits, including one patient’s politeness and Young-Goon’s sympathy. While the psychiatrists prove unable to convince Young-Goon to eat, Il-Soon manages to “insert” a device into her inner-workings that converts rice into electrical power. After losing her sympathy and gaining her energy, Young-Goon realizes her potential as a Cyborg: to gun down humanity.
Though I’m a Cyborg does not conform to Park’s usual style, it still contains his signatures of the craft, including magnificent and honest characterization, skillful cinematography, and an imaginative story. And despite its’ quirkiness and frivolity, it still is rather violent and holds Park’s essence. Perhaps the most amazing feat Park possesses is his ability to cradle his characters while simultaneously torturing them. It creates an odd dichotomy of sympathy and disinterest, reminiscent of a Kantian perspective of aesthetics: disinterested-interest. Each of his protagonists, including Young-Goon, carry this complexity. Park disregards the conventional view of good and evil and creates a fully formed character, complete with good, evil, and neutral desires, as if his characters act in a paradigm devoid of moral awareness.
None is more apparent than Young-Goon. At one point Young-Goon details her Ten Commandments of being a Cyborg; these commandments detail how the most moral thing to do is to destroy the humans with as little hesitancy as possible. But her delicate and delusional nature renders her completely harmless, and thus preserves her innocence. This dichotomy seems to demonstrate similar concepts as the Vengeance Trilogy does, or even Park’s vampire film Thirst. In the Vengeance Trilogy, the violence that our protagonists perpetrate seem justified by their trauma, while Thirst, the tale of a Catholic vampire priest and his lover, presents a unique moral dilemma of survival contingent on the drinking of another human’s blood.
Through his oeuvre, Park presents a world with as ambiguous a morality as our own. When we realize this, the world becomes more frightening than Park’s horrors, even the horrors contained within the mind of a 20 year old girl, who thinks she is a Cyborg.
Guy Stridsigne 12/21/11