Synopsis: Young-goon, a young woman who believes herself to be a cyborg, and is institutionalized after a gruesome and nearly fatal attempt to recharge her batteries. Among the characters she meets in the mental hospital is Il-soon, a kleptomaniac who steals not only small items, but entire character traits from the other patients. Young-goon enlists Il-soon’s aid to help her discover and complete her purpose as a cyborg, while he finds himself coming to care about her—and seeks to find a solution to her troubles that will remain true to her delusion.
eyelights: its many unusual characters. its quirky humour. the stylishness of the piece.
eyesores: the opaqueness of the plot. the poor subtitles.
“I’m not a psycho. I’m a cyborg.”
‘Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanha’ is a 2006 comedy by South Korean director Park Chan-wook, famous for his ‘Vengeance’ trilogy (‘Boksuneun Naui Geot‘, ‘Oldeuboi‘ and ‘Chinjeolhan geumjassi‘). Set in a mental institution, the picture follows the story of Young-goon, a young woman who believes that she is a cyborg.
The movie begins by setting up our character: Young-goon, in an attempt to charge up at work, electrocutes herself and is interned in a facility filled with all manners of eccentric characters. There she meets Il-soon, a young kleptomaniac who borrows other people’s abilities and wear “bunny” masks.
Fascinated with Young-goon, he attempts to assist her in getting rid of her seven “sins” (sadness, restlessness, hesitation, daydreaming, feeling guilty, thankfulness, and sympathy), so that she may have the fortitude to “execute” the hospital staff – something she play-acts, leaving her victims bewildered by her actions.
Since she believes herself a cyborg, she doesn’t eat any food at all. Instead, she attempts to power up by licking a 9-volt battery and by holding an AA battery between her indexes. She is frail and dying of starvation, so Il-soon pretends to upgrade her body with a device that processes rice so that she may finally eat.
They become nearly inseparable.
Needless to say, this isn’t your average rom-com (a disputable tag that it’s garnered, for some reason). Sadly, unlike Park’s previous efforts, while it garnered critical acclaim, the picture was only a mild box office success. It has subsequently received far less home video exposure and can be more difficult to find.
And it’s a darned shame: ‘Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanha’ is a highly-entertaining and utterly compelling motion picture.
What makes it so appealing is the richness of the world that Park (and co-writer Jeong Seo-kyeong) created: the characters are all fascinating in their own right, the tone is quirky in a delightfully comical way, and Park keeps the sterile hospital setting engaging by constantly populating it in the most unusual manner.
So unusual, in fact, that I became distracted by the characters in the background and would sometimes miss some of the DVD’s subtitles (which were rather poor to start with), thus not get everything that was going on – and it wasn’t very coherent to start with! But if you could wrap your mind around the lunacy, it was fine.
Park always found something weird for people to do: there was the guy who always walks backwards (and rather skillfully, I must say, except for that one time), for instance. Or the guy who rolled on the floor past the characters for no reason at one point. You know, that sort of thing. It was an endless stream of odd behaviour.
Most of the picture takes place within the walls of the institution, aside for some flashbacks that delve into Young-goon’s family history (her grandmother, whom she was very close to, thought herself a mouse), but there’s this terrific long shot of her rampaging through the gardens, shooting at everyone running away in a panic.
Naturally, it’s all in her mind.
But it’s also in Il-soon’s mind. He believes in her, and he sees her as she sees herself. He believes it so much that he even tries to talk to the soda machine as she does, using her grandmother’s dentures. Theirs is a relationship of utter acceptance and touching tenderness; he truly cares for, and watches out for, Young-goon.
It’s hard to describe ‘Ssaibogeujiman Gwaenchanha’, really. It’s a character study in which none of the characters are easy to understand; their motivations are simple, but their behaviour isn’t. However, Park peppered the piece with so much wry humour that the picture is a lot fun, not at all heavy or challenging.
I suspect that it’s a quirky motion picture that I will watch many times over. It’s nutty, but well worth it; it deserves more attention, if not cult status.
Date of viewing: March 17, 2015