By Lee Hyo-won
Director kwak Jae-Yong
has been giving less than stellar performances ever since the South Korean megahit "My Sassy Girl
" (2001) and the mellow romance "The Classic"
(2003) ― and he makes an effort to redeem himself, rather fruitlessly, in "Cyborg She
The Korea-Japan joint production nevertheless held a top spot in the Japanese box office for five weeks and sold over 110,000 DVDs. The movie translates into real action akin to Japanese sci-fi anime, and is not without its charms, particularly with some striking visuals and top stars Haruka Ayase
and Keisuke Koide
giving endearing performances.
But this reporter ― having loved Kwak's "Sassy" and "The Classic"
(2003), despised "Sassy's" prequel "Windstruck
" (2004) and felt pity for "My Mighty Princess
" (2008) ― was not at all convinced by "Cyborg's" perverse pursuit of an older man's self-gratifying fantasy. "This movie is like a gift to myself, to my lonely days as a young man without a girlfriend", Kwak told reporters following the press preview in Seoul, Wednesday.
The 49-year-old filmmaker emphasized that the movie, despite its recurring theme of a quirky young woman shaking up and ultimately saving the life of a lonely, spineless man, should not be seen as part of a trilogy with "Sassy" and "Windstruck
". But the director relies too much on the premise of the emotional hinge of unrequited love beneath the surface of some pretty bad slapstick.
Lonely geek Jiro (Koide) is no longer so lonely when a femme cyborg (Ayase) crashes his birthday party. She has traveled back in time from the year 2133, to help him and all of humanity, and as an added bonus, has his ex-girlfriend's pretty looks. She tries to blend into the local scene by shopping for clothes, even though it inevitably involves giving electric shocks to the cashier, and developing a taste for fried chicken, though eating them whole. Such third rate jokes set up the slapstick for the next few reels and are completed by her efforts to rescue Jiro and other humans like an anime Supergirl.
The story does pull at the heartstrings, however, when the cyborg arranges a time warp for them to visit Jiro's hometown, which has been destroyed by an earthquake. The big budget franchise recreates a beautiful and nostalgic, storybook-like traditional Japanese town and conjures up childhood wonders. It's quite ironic though that the most "fake" (is it a time warp or a staged hypnosis? We don't know) moment is the most compelling in the whole story.
Back in reality in Tokyo, our protagonist starts falling for the lovely robot. Jiro agonizes over whether, beneath her fixed smile, the cyborg can ever feel his growing attachment to her. When an earthquake hits the city, however, it's a question Jiro, rather than she, has to deal with. This is where the film's 10 billion won is mostly poured into, and is indeed spectacular, but the climactic drama between the two characters is necessary to cover up some of the artifice.
Koide assumes the most expressive role, but it's Ayase who engages your attention as the always smiling, lovely cyborg who may have a blooming sense of human emotion. Kwak strongly emphasized that "Cyborg" is a sci-fi movie and it was indeed featured as the closing film for the 2008 Pucheon (Bucheon) International Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan). Given the plotline, one might have expected the cyborg to experience some kind of existential struggle like "Bicentennial Man". Instead, it's about a young science major, who, frustrated about not having a girlfriend, creates a pretty robot that can stay by his side.
In theaters May 14. 100 minutes. 12 and over. Distributed by NEW.