Octopus-munching, hammer attacks, kidnapping, child killing, incest... These are just a few of the things you won’t find in the new film from Oldboy and Sympathy For Mr Vengeance director Park Chan-wook. After all, his latest work is a simple, sweet romcom about two damaged people trying to find each other and themselves. Yes, that old chestnut: he’s a kleptomaniac, she’s a cyborg and the pair of them are both completely insane. No one ever said Chan-wook was happy with the hackneyed.
Booting up with a stylish, digitised credit sequence, Cyborg locks in on Young-goon (Lim Su-jeong) as the young girl toils on a computer production line among row after row of robot-like, uniformed staff. Cue one major mental malfunction: slicing open her wrists, Yeong-gun suddenly wires herself up to the mains and passes out.
Somewhat understandably you might think, she wakes to find herself resident in an asylum. However, her reaction to this environment is clouded by her condition: she only talks to other mechanical devices, refuses food (cyborgs don’t eat, duh), and instead tries to recharge herself by licking batteries. So far, so weird. Banishing the harsh darkness of his Vengeance trilogy in favour of pastel-coloured whimsy, Chan-wook invites us into Yeong-gun’s delusion with audacious visual inventiveness. Her toes blink when her ‘batteries’ are running low. We see imaginary gears cranking and churning inside her stomach.
Having to cope with the task of juggling these endless self-conscious quirks means it takes this overlong film some time to calibrate itself. But once it does, something strange and rather wonderful emerges.
As Yeong-gun gets weaker and weaker, fellow delusional patient Il-sun (Asian pop idol Rain, acing his debut) begins a mission to enter her troubled mind and save her. And, undercut by a real sadness and confusion, the timid relationship between our crazy couple slowly blooms into a genuinely moving, tender romance. That’s not to say the shadows don’t remain just beneath the surface: Yeong-gun is, of course, not really a cyborg but an attempted suicide who is starving to death.
What’s more, Chan-wook spikes his wonder with two of the most bizarre, fabulous set-pieces of the year: Yeong-gun flying on a giant insect as Il-sun yodels her to the Swiss Alps; and a fully-charged cyborg mowing down doctors in a kill-frenzied hail of lead from machine-gun fingers. A bloody valentine.