June 26, 2007

"The Vending Machine Says Hi"

The New York Asian Film Festival began this past weekend, and on Sunday night amidst the residual brouhaha of Pride weekend in the West Village, Cinecultist caught a screening of I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay at the IFC Center. We've been anticipating Park Chan-wook's newest as well as the sixth annual fest from the folks at Subway Cinema and for the most part neither parties disappointed. Complex visuals and kooky characters from Park? Check. High energy programmer Grady Hendrix acting delightfully spastic as he introduces the film and gives away free stuff? Double check.

Unfortunately I'm A Cyborg, while containing a lot of great moments (including the part where one of the characters utters that bizarre and hilarious line we used for the headline), isn't uniformly as compelling as some of Park's previous work. Set in a mental institution, the two main characters are Young-goon (Su-jeong Lim, who played one of the sisters from A Tale of Two Sisters) and Il-Sun (Rain, a HUGE Asian pop star), who fall for each other while trying to cope with their mental instability. Il-Sun believes he has the ability to steal people's character traits as well as their prized possessions while Young-goon thinks herself a cyborg and chats with inanimate objects in the hospital like the fluorescent lights and the aforementioned vending machine. Of course because she's animatronic, Young-goon believes she needs to be recharged with electricity rather than refueled with conventional food, a theory at odds with the standard practices of a hospital.

Like in his previous films, Park's movies really take off when he enters his characters' warped perspectives. The sequence where Young-goon becomes the cyborg and takes out all of the evil "white 'uns" holding her hostage with her automatic rifle fingers is spectacular. It's just that some of the internal logic of the crazy people was tough to parse. Psychosis isn't really the most light topic, nor the stuff of obvious romantic comedy, so there are times where the craziness seems tacked on and solvable. There seems to be something disingenuous about creating characters with debilitating phobias and then implying they could just "make themselves better" if they really wanted. While we'd never try to expect a Park Chan-wook to be "realistic," it's usually at least believable and consistently compelling. In that respect, I'm a Cyborg isn't as powerful as you'd hope.

The rest of our screening schedule for the fest: on Thursday Takashi Miike's Big Bang Love, Juvenile A which stars jail-bait handsome Ryuhei Matsuda and includes a Mayan pyramid, a Chinese movie (tangentially) recommended by Grady, Getting Home next Sunday, and then Hula Girls, which is always a crowd favorite according to our friend William, the following Monday.

We've also been toying with the idea of finally buying a DVD copy of The Taste of Tea, which CC saw at NYAFF a few years ago. However our poor, belabored credit card isn't quite buying our rationale about the importance of supporting good Asian cinema with our American dollars.

Posted by karen at June 26, 2007 2:14 PM
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