Killer Imports: Cyborg She

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Killer Imports is a regular feature on Film Junk where we explore foreign-language films from around the world that haven’t yet had their chance to shine.

I wish I had made this movie. I think that’s one of the highest endorsements I can give. (If I had made it, I would have subtitled it “The Reed Farrington Story.” (Just kidding.) I’ll explain this a little during this review.) If you don’t want the movie spoiled, then I suggest you force yourself to forget the title of the movie, that is, Cyborg She. Oh, sorry about reminding you about the title. Well, I suppose it doesn’t have to be a secret, but the fact that the love interest is a robot, I mean cyborg, isn’t revealed in the movie until about a half an hour or so into the movie. But I think revealing that she is a robot in the title of this movie is meant to help this movie find its audience. I suppose if this movie was called “Love Eternal”, some female audience members expecting a straight-forward romance would be upset.

In Korean, the movie is titled Boku No Kanojo Wa Saibgu which literally translates to “My Girlfriend is a Cyborg”. Even though the literal translation is a bit too straight-forward, it makes more sense than Cyborg She. I have no idea why the movie ended up with the English title Cyborg She. I wonder if I’m missing a clever play on words. This movie is also known as “Cyborg Girl”, which makes more sense. Anyway, I found this movie while I was looking for I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK (an even more awkward, straight-forward title) by Park Chan-Wook, the director of Old Boy. There’s a suspicion that this movie was inspired by Park Chan-Wook’s film, but I don’t know if there is evidence to confirm this.

This movie has been described as The Terminator told as a love story. (I thought The Terminator was a love story between Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese, but let’s not get into that discussion.) The cyborg refers to herself as a “cybordyne model 103,” a direct reference to The Terminator. (I’m guessing “cybordyne” is a bad English sub-title translation of “Cyberdyne” although the actress does sort of pronounce the word as “cybordyne.”) The movie even chooses to use the exact visual effect to show someone coming back through time. The difference in this movie is that someone figured out how to bring your clothes back in time with you. The cyborg female arrives wearing a futuristic skin-diving suit. (I’m guessing the producers wanted to keep this movie family friendly.) Interestingly, the cyborg female doesn’t do what Arnie does to get suitable period attire. If you recall, Arnie would find someone his size and ask for his clothes in a not so polite way. Instead, she goes to a women’s fashion section of a department store!

I’ll try not to ruin the story too much for you. Basically, a dweeb with no social life (someone like me) encounters a gorgeous woman who follows him around. Now no gorgeous woman has ever followed me around, but I wish this would happen to me. His reactions to her and how he gradually begins to be comfortable around her seemed so believable. I can imagine myself behaving in the same way if a gorgeous woman ever took a fancy to me. The story spans over a century into the future, and is about how the dweeb and the gorgeous girl fall in love with each other. That’s about it.

I empathized with the dweeb quite a bit. The dweeb’s living space with books and knickknacks would be what I imagine my living space to be if I lived in a bachelor apartment. Although I don’t have a pet Gila monster, I think it would be cool to own one. There is some goofy and corny humor that I didn’t mind, reminiscent of the type of humor found in Jerry Lewis movies circa 1965. I’m not French (although I speak and write “un peu”), but I love Jerry Lewis! There’s a running gag with a university professor who throws a piece of chalk at anyone who is napping or not paying attention. I had a professor who would get upset as well, especially if he caught you reading a newspaper during class. He wouldn’t throw his chalk, but he would give us a stern lecture about wasting our tuition dollars. On several occasions, I felt like standing up and telling him that he was wasting the entire class’s tuition dollars by wasting time chastising all of us. But I was too busy napping.

I wanted to avoid ruining too many of the scenes for you in case I manage to convince you to see this film. I’ll mention an inconsequential scene only because it’s a popular movie cliché that I’m told people should not imitate. (I’ll admit I did this for a neighbor’s cat.) The dweeb gives his pet cat a dish of milk. I’ve been told that cats can’t digest milk properly.

Oh, I should warn you about a sentimental section complete with a grandmother and a children’s choir on the soundtrack. Personally, I don’t mind children’s choirs. I thought the music throughout the film was perfect, especially for tugging at the heart strings. I liked the Japanese pop music as well. (If you purchase the Malaysian DVD from Sarawak Media, you also get the soundtrack on CD!) Now I doubt the music is going to win any awards, but it serves its purpose nicely.

I loved the look of the film. There’s a wonderful looking scene on a hilltop aglow from the sun as the cyborg gives a piggy-back ride to the dweeb. From electrical energy to people being tossed around like rag-dolls to city wide destruction, the visual effects are very well done.

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The director and writer of this film is Jae-young Kwak, who is known for romantic films, none of which I’ve seen. My Sassy Girl seems to be his most popular film. He did co-write All About Women, which I reviewed. The cyborg and the guy are played by Haruka Ayase and Keisuke Koide, respectively. This is the first time I’ve seen these two actors, and I thought they were decent. The director is Korean, but the two lead actors are Japanese because a Japanese company financed the film. With Shaolin Girl coming to mind, it seems like Japanese companies are financing Asian talent.

Inevitably, some people will find time paradoxes in any time-travel movie (although some people seem to think that Primer is self-consistent). One point made in the Wikipedia entry for this movie is that in one of the times that the cyborg journeys to the past, the cyborg is wearing a futuristic skin-diving suit that is modeled after a costume on a figurine that the dweeb later gives her before she leaves the past. This apparently doesn’t make sense. I think the simple explanation is that the suit design was later created by the dweeb as a result of having been influenced by it when he had it. Giving the figurine to her was not the reason why the suit was designed in the future. Got it?

I often wonder if film-makers on purposely overlook paradoxes while they are making a time-travel movie, or if they simply don’t realize the flaws in their logic. I believe that many time paradoxes are only time paradoxes because the conception of time is flawed. People often think that time is continuous so they think of a single time-line, parallel time-lines, and even of branches on time-lines. I like to think of time as discrete. Our minds create the illusion of continuity. My conception is based on what happens at the quantum level with the notion that what we observe causes something to happen. If time-travel were possible, I would think that it’s possible to go to any possible instant at which any possible events may have taken place. So you could travel “back in time” and meet yourself and even kill yourself and that would be fine. You could even travel “back in time” to a time you remember when everything is exactly the same except that you were never born! I’ll understand if you don’t agree with me or don’t understand what I’m saying. Given my understanding of how time works, this film presents a sublime message of love within a time-travel framework.

I do admit that there seems to be an inconsistency in how people travel through time. And this whole thing about what happens to your clothes seems inconsistent unless there was an instance where she traveled and changed her clothes in between trips. Technically, she’s not a cyborg either. She’s really an android or a humanoid. (I never used to be so nit-picky until I saw the latest Star Trek movie.)

To be honest, I didn’t “get” the film after my first viewing. I had to think about it and read what others thought about the movie. I’m not even sure my understanding is the correct one, but I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, so I’m not going to discuss my understanding of the film. In fact, some of my statements in this review are misleading on purpose. (And no, that last sentence wasn’t supposed to be one of those word conundrums like “This statement is false.”) Suffice to say, for me, the ending is simply perfect.

I normally don’t like to do the “if you liked a particular movie, then you may like this movie” scenario, but I’m going to with this film. If you liked Chris Columbus’s Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams, then you may like this movie. I don’t believe Bicentennial Man was very well received because of its cloying sentimentality. Well, this film has the same predilection. This may not be much of a ringing endorsement. Oh, I did read someone comparing this movie to a more popular movie, The Notebook, which I haven’t seen, yet. (I’m not sure how many regular Film Junk readers would admit to having seen The Notebook.) Anyway, this is one of those rare films that will highly appeal to a select audience including people like me.

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  • John

    Interesting review Reed. I loved your depiction of time travel. Your perception meshes quite nicely with some of the more sober interpretations of “Prince of Darkness” on imdb.

    Keep it up and don’t let Greg bully you in podcast.

    You might get a kick out of this…kinda.

    http://vimeo.com/2317120

  • John, you’re referring to John Carpenter’s “Prince of Darkness”? Maybe I should watch that again some time.

    I only managed to watch the first 5 minutes of “B Movie.” Sorry, I have a short attention span. It looks like the type of movie that I would make, but your post-production skills are far better than I’ve ever achieved. I am sort of wondering what happens to the protagonist. I did scan forward and saw a bit of the small monster fight. Maybe I’ll catch the rest of it later.

  • John

    Thanks Reed. I can’t take credit for the production side of things since my buddy Frame did most of that but the idea and improvised form were at my insistence since I had tried shorts before and never got beyond the embryonic talking and writing stage.
    BTW the protagonist basically just ventures out into the world after having been possessed by the mask and that’s it.

    Are you going to be back on the podcast soon or is it, as the archives seem to reflect, only when someone else drops out that Jay (I’m assuming you know Jay better than Sean) asks for your participation. I know that you are not totally comfortable on the pod but with each appearance you have provided an unorthodox and unpredictable perspective that really befuddles Greg and that makes smile.

  • John, there are a lot of people who enjoy the Film Junk podcast the way it is with the triumvirate of Sean, Jay and Greg. Yes, I occasionally get invited when Greg can’t make it. Sean and Jay were gracious enough to create a separate podcast (Cantankerous) that lets me be unorthodox, as you say. I appreciate people wanting more of me, but I think I have a personality that gets tiresome with constant exposure. I should hire Tom Cruise’s sister as an image consultant. :-)

  • ioana

    Haha, you wrote:
    In Korean, the movie is titled Boku No Kanojo Wa Saibgu which literally translates to “My Girlfriend is a Cyborg”.
    I’m sure you know that’s actually Japanese:)

  • Oops, thx for the correction, ioana.

    I didn’t realize I was looking at the information for the Japanese release.

  • Megumi

    Hi.
    Interesting review. ;D

    The movie is actually a Japanese movie, written and directed by a Korean guy.

  • Rob

    I approve of this review! “Suffice to say, for me, the ending is simply perfect.” My feelings exactly.

  • Rob, thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my review.

    On my computer, the quotation marks in the review are appearing as ”, which kind of upsets the flow of reading the review because I used a lot of quotation marks. I don’t think it was like that when the review was originally posted. Anyway, sorry about that. I don’t think Sean will care about fixing this since it’s occurring a lot elsewhere, I think. Unless there’s an easy “global” fix.

  • I’m aware of the weird character problem. It happened during our last server change and it has something to do with character sets in the database but I couldn’t find an easy fix.