Mostly I'm posting this because I really did love the movie, but part of it is I can't look at that previous post where I drunkenly rambled anymore - I warn because this will be more or a free-association review than anything thought out in advance - but anyway, it really is more difficult to chat up a movie that you unabashedly adored, ain't it? That's how I feel about Park Chan-wook's new film, I'm A Cyborg But That's OK, which I saw at the New York Asian Film Festival last night.
I'm A Cyborg could be seen as a departure, at least tonally, for Park, from the violence-centered Vengeance trilogy (Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, and Lady Vengeance) which he'd done previously and brought him acclaim here in the States from fanboys and critics alike to something that, going in, had been described to me as Amelie-like - whimsical, colorful, that cringe-worthy-to-a-cynic -like-me word "sweet" - and yeah, all those words apply to it. But where Amelie's wink-wink good-nature left me feeling a little like, well, murdering a kitten when the film was over... I'm A Cyborg killed the kitties for me. Leave it to Park to make "sweet" so palatable.
"A love story set in an insane asylum" is the eight-word-summary that's been thrown onto the film in advance and while that certainly encompasses the story, what it's about is finding somebody who'll see the crazy in you, love you for it, and fix you to the point where the crazy is still crazy, still you, but a manageable sort that isn't harmful but rather celebratory and individual.
Going in I was worried that this would be such a radical departure for Park, in some bid for labeling himself something other than the guy who made those Vengeance movies, that nothing of what I'd come to love about his filmmaking would be recognizable, but it's his film through-and-through and I wonder now why I didn't realize he'd have this in him. Even in the dire morality plays of his previous films there was always an askew sense of humor about things we normally wouldn't (or shouldn't, some would argue) find funny. But Park's got such a mastery of finding the right tone for a specific scene that he never seems to break a sweat; it's all effortless, and before you even realize it you find yourself not even in the real world anymore but you've slipped into the alternate reality of the patients within this hospital, where grassy mountaintops and cavernous basements converge in what I can only describe as a lovely candy-colored squalor. He never makes things too pretty - the fluorescent bulbs burn too brightly and the paint is chipped - and I suppose you could say that allowance of ugliness is what his films are all about.
So here you have a funny suicide attempt and a heart-breaking period of grievance piled on top of each other and I never felt unjustly manipulated. You have a character starving herself to death and it plays both immeasurably sad and light-hearted. Not once, while watching the fantastical scenes of these character's imaginations lighting up the screen, does Park let you forget that these escapes are, at the same time we're being wowed, deeply troubling.
And in the end I felt once again deeply invested in the one word Park's filmography is so dependent upon: sympathy. It is once again the driving force for his film. That while we can maybe never really understand what's going on in someone else's head - if we did it would've been called Empathy for Mr. Vengeance; that someone's past may have driven them to murder or insanity or incest or squid-eating or licking batteries, but all the same Park wants us to look at these sometimes-extreme acts and not to say all is okay, but just to recognize the capability of the human mind and heart to act irresponsibly and appreciate the fact that it is human to err, so on and forgive forth.