I've been feeling cinematically blue since I found out Park Chan-wook's latest film is not being shown with subtitles, but it reminded me that I never got round to seeing his last film 싸이보그지만 괜찬아 (I'm a Cyborg, But That's Ok). I'm a huge fan of JSA, Monster, the Vengance trilogy and even Park's short film 심판 (Judgement) which is well worth a look if you ever get your hands on the metal box limited edition Oldboy dvd set....
However, when I'm a Cyborg came out I got a little worried by the audience's negative reaction and the lack of box office success, I bought the dvd, but somehow couldn't bring myself to watch it. Occasionally I'd pick the box up, pluck up a little courage, yet I never quite got the dvd into the player. I didn't want to be disappointed by the film - what if it was terrible? The cover art did nothing to boost my confidence and bad reviews on the web (like this one) dispirited me even more. It has languished on my shelf until today.
The rest of the Korean blogosphere may have been partying it up today at Tomatillos, but I decided to sit down and face my fears. I stuck I'm a Cyborg into my player and waited; nervous, anxious, worried I would be watching the slow death of one of my cinematic heroes...
As the film began and I was bombarded with a ridiculously complex credit sequence intermingled with disturbing scenes of a young woman plugging herself into a radio, I found myself back in the hands of a master director and I fell in love with everything this movie has to offer.
It is a ridiculously dark love story set within the confines of a mental hospital and manages to speak volumes about bereavement, loss of innocence, mental illness, anorexia and compassion.
The plot itself is relatively simple, but Park manages to fully develop the denizens of the asylum into rounded human beings that we come to empathize with and adore.
The main actress 임수정 (Lim Soo-jung) is magnificent as the disturbed titular cyborg coming to terms with her separation from her radish munching grandmother. She gives such a wonderful performance that is half Amelie and half Girl Interrupted. The supporting cast are all excellent and quite a few of Park Chan-wook's regulars turn up in roles of various sizes.
The real surprise for me was 정지훈 (Jung Ji-hoon) or as the kids know him 비 (Rain). I don't care much for his music and his acting turn in Speed Racer was nothing to write home about, but his performance in I'm a Cyborg is astounding. Park gets the best out of the little fellow, helping him turn in a beautifully nuanced performance that makes me want to see more of his acting work. If he chooses to stay in film and works with the right people, he could become one of the best actors of his generation.
I'm not afraid to say it.... as of today I love Rain, I don't care what Stephen Colbert may think of this turn of events. I'll bear the scorn and sneers of my peers, but I will stand up and say that Rain is a damn fine actor and is much more than just a pretty face.
So as Thirst holds its spot at the top of the box office, why not pop down to your local dvd store and pick up a copy of I'm a Cyborg, But That's Ok. Subtitled vampires may be absent from our screens, but at least we can content ourselves with Rain and a Cyborg who likes to lick batteries and refuses to eat...