Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Film Review: I'm A Cyborg But That's OK

A friend of mine recently nagged me into watching this movie. I was hesitant because I'm wary of subtitles, I'm not sure why. I think I assume I'm lazy. But I usually love movies with subtitles, once I watch them. This is one of them.

When I was in India in 2007/8, I met a guy with the most awesome taste in world film. He told me back then that Korea was producing the most conceptually advanced film in the world. This movie is, shamefully, my first real taste of this.

The title of the film is: I'm A Cyborg But That's OK. The plot centres around a girl, Young-goon, who is admitted to an insane asylum because she believes that she is a cyborg.

The opening scenes are masterfully crafted and the line between reality and insanity is never clear; for the whole film you're left guessing. I was left enthralled from the beginning to the end.

It is so interesting to view life and the world through a totally different cultural, historical and philosophical lens. It's something only creativity can do: give you a glimpse into the soul of a mind you will never know.

Anyway, there are many other characters but the other main character is Il-Sun — played by the Korean pop-heartthrob Rain.

He plays the role of the antagonist. He is a thief, and he steals the thing that is most dear to you. But he is also The Saviour, the character who brings relief to the storyline, but I won't give away what he does.

I am purposefully not going to speak about the storyline. I may have my own interpretation that is skewed and I think it would be boring to hear my rendition of it. However, let me briefly explain what intrigued me about some of the messages in the film.

The first is that a cyborg was used to explore human emotion and existentialism. There is a beautiful scene where Young-goon is meditating via her radio and speaks to the Machine God or whatever it is. She says that all machines are created with their unique purpose of existence, and she wishes she knew hers.

The film is largely about this seeking but without being directly about it. It's not an entirely philosophical movie, it's also fantastical, odd and funny.

The second is the key to her finding her purpose, the rule-book, the formula. It's the seven deadly sins for cyborgs.

The 7 Deadly Sins are:
1. Sympathy
2. Being Sad
3. Restlessness
4. Hesitating about anything
5. Useless Daydreaming
6. Feeling Guilty
7. Thankfulness (shown in the picture above)

I can agree with most of these, when it comes to creativity, except for thankfulness and sympathy. But that could be my euro-centric socialization at play, perhaps there is great wisdom behind this, I don't know. In any case, I liked having my moral assumptions tested. But the result of her finally losing her sympathy kind of makes me feel sure that I'd like to keep mine. I won't give away what happens but it's pretty crazy.

Lastly, the film also addressed the idea of energy. Machines use electricity as energy, but it doesn't work for humans. So a large part of the film is about trying to get Young-goon to eat - food, instead of licking batteries...I think this applies to a larger theme of where we draw energy and inspiration from and the need to remain cognizant of whether our energy source is in fact giving you energy or if it's all in your head...That aside, I find it cute the way her toes light up when she gets energy.


Artistically, this is a beautifully crafted film. Philosophically, it's very interesting and mind-opening. It's not for everyone's taste and people with a better knowledge of Asian films might know better films. However, as an introduction to the breadth to which film can take us, this was a fresh experience for me.

Philosophically, I found one thing stuck in my mind. It's very Foucaultian but reality is such a fluid thing. The line between sanity and insanity is subjective and relative.

What you believe to be true is equally as important to what is actually true. Belief creates reality, or at least the two an inextricably linked. This begs the question of the meaning of truth: is it what we believe to be true or what is truly true and how can we ever know other than what we believe? But that is a whole other debate for another day, or perhaps another lifetime, if you believe in shit like that.

Here's an interesting music video/trailer that gives you a good idea of the artistic feel of the film, but none of the content, you have to watch it for that:

Finally, I actually have a point.

In South Africa, we're suffocated by American pop film and music because of the massive power of the American entertainment corporations, the four major distribution labels.

But this shouldn't kill our creativity. What is up with us?

Nigeria has a hustling, bustling film industry. What about us?

Okay, we have Tsotsi and District 9 and White Wedding, but can we claim that these have a uniquely South African film aesthetic? Or are they just South African stories done according to some international (American) standard? Or am I just ignorant to volumes of monumental South African films lying in the dusty corners of the SABC?

When you see a Nollywood movie, you know it. When you see a Bollywood movie, you know it. When you see a South African movie, you see...Hollywood?

I believe there is space and a need for a uniquely South African narrative style, philosophical lens, political message and aesthetic approach.

Other than Leon Schuster.