For those of you not keeping score, South Korea has an amazing track record for making not just good movies, but excellent ones. Actually, they might have the strongest output of any other country in the world right now, including the USA. Directors like Bong Joon-ho (The Host, Memories Of Murder, Mother), Kim Ji-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, A Bittersweet Life, I Saw the Devil) and Park Chan-wook (The Vengeance Trilogy, Thirst, I’m A Cyborg…) are making films on a level that hasn’t been achieved since filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppala and Martin Scorcese ran Hollywood in the 1970’s.
My initiation into Korean cinema was Park Chan-wook’s 2003 release Oldboy, one of the finest revenge tales ever committed to film (so good that Will Smith is attempting to remake it as we speak). After Oldboy, I went back and watched the first part of his Vengeance Trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance and then found the third part, Lady Vengeance. These three films combined make for some of the finest filmmaking I’ve ever seen in my life. His newest film, Thirst, is the second greatest vampire film of my generation (after Let the Right One In). Park is consistently working on the same level as Hitchcock, early DePalma and Polanski, but without any missteps in his filmography.
I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK is his film between Lady Vengeance and Thirst and the first “light” film of his career. “Light” meaning that it’s not about revenge or self- hating vampires, but instead it follows a mentally ill girl during her stay in a mental hospital. Young-goon believes she is a cyborg and, after she slices open her wrist and connects it to a power cord, her mother has her institutionalized. The film follows her experiences meeting the eclectic patients, while also chronicling her refusal to eat because she’s afraid it will destroy her circuitry and kill her. The subject matter is incredibly serious, but Park shoots the film as if it’s a light-hearted fable, creating this dreamlike quality that sweeps the viewer right into her world.
Bouncing between handheld, crane, and dolly shots like it was the most natural thing in the world, Park once again proves that he isn’t just a great Korean director, but one of the finest filmmakers working today. I’m A Cyborg isn’t as showy as Oldboy or as devastating as Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, but the film can stand proudly by them as an example of Park Chan-wook’s effortless versatility as a filmmaker. If you’re looking to start getting into Korean films, I wouldn’t start here (I’d start with The Host or Oldboy), but once you have a good handle on the rhythms and themes of Korean filmmaking, it’s very much worth your time.