Welcome to the nut house. This rather loosely managed asylum is home to a bunch of oddballs such as a man who walks backwards because he is so polite, a woman who loses her memory after electroshock and so reinvents her life every time, a heavy woman who thinks she has discovered the secret of flight by rubbing her socks together and a guy who became impotent because his wife was furry like a cat. This group edges dangerously closely at times into sitcom territory, but is comically sweet anyway. There are no Nurse Ratched’s here – only an always smiling staff that has comforting names such as the “stabilization room” for the place with the padded walls.
Into this world comes a new patient, Yeong-gun (Lim Su-jeong – the older sister from A Tale of Two Sisters and wonderful here) who believes she is a cyborg and tried to re-energize her batteries by hooking herself into an electrical outlet. Being a cyborg she can of course communicate with machines like the soda vending machine and instead of eating food that will ruin her insides she licks batteries. Her grannie who thought herself a mouse was put into a hospital as well and Yeong-gun is obsessed with giving the old woman her dentures so that she can eat radishes. To do this she feels she has to kill the staff – the white ones as she calls them – but first she has to rid herself of the seven deadly sins such as sympathy, feeling guilt, hesitating and daydreaming. Only then will she be able to carry out her mission.
She turns to a master thief to steal her sympathy – another patient Il-sun (pop star Rain and very charming here) who is accused by the other patients of theft – stealing a ping pong serving style, someone’s politeness and Thursday. He develops a huge empathy for Yeong-gun who he realizes is dying because she won’t eat – and bonds with her to the degree that he can understand her unlike anyone else – he even shares her wonderful flights of fancy or her imagined fantastic machinegun fingered slaughter of the white ones - and he becomes determined to help her. In the end perhaps he is a thief after all but it is her heart that he steals. That is if a cyborg had a heart of course.
One might be inclined to view a film that takes place inside a mental institution as a likely metaphor for the real world – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and King of Hearts – but I think this story is much simpler and purer than that. It just says that in this crazy world it doesn’t matter who or what we are – we still need love and affection to survive – and of course an electro magnetic rice converter for energy. The film is richly textured with music (even a yodeling song from Rain!), imagery, movement, imagination, fantasy, color and questions about the purpose of our existence. It adds up to a rather marvelous little fable that begs for repeated viewings.
My rating for this film: 8.0