Natural City

Director:  Min Byung-chun
Year: 2003
Rating: 5.0

Country: Korea

I recall watching this Korean DVD some 15 years ago and after about 20 minutes I stopped it and never got back to it till now. I found it unlikable on many levels, imitative, confusing and just dismal. I got through it this time but admittedly it seemed like a homework assignment. It still felt unlikeable from beginning to almost the end when it finally felt human for just a moment. And very confusing. Let me know if this reminds you of anything. It is a futuristic dystopian world where it rains a lot, people are divided into castes, technology runs everything, very human looking cyborgs have been produced to do a number of tasks - including being comfort women and dancers as well as combat soldiers who have superior strength. The cyborgs also have a three year expiration date at which time they will cease to exist and be removed. A group of the combat cyborgs who are nearing their expiration date have decided they don't want to die and are attempting to find a way to keep their lives going. Anything? Why does this seem familiar to me? It will come to me.

But that wasn't really the problem for me at all. I have no issue with it either being a homage or imitative of a great film - what bothered me is that no one in the film is particularly likeable or sympathetic and so I never felt invested in the story and the outcome. It is a problem when an expressionless cute cyborg is the only one to garner any feeling from the audience. All the character are one note with no depth - the heroic sacrificial soldier, the solider obsessively in love, the unruly street girl and the cyborg villain.  At times I wondered who was a cyborg and who was human because there was so little personality projected by anyone. Another annoyance for me was the speed of the scenes - they fly by as if the film has ADS. Just stay with the scene please. On the positive side are the good production values, solid action choreography and special effects creating a dreary miserable world that is lacking in humanity or hope. After a while it weighs you down.

R (Yu Ji-tae) is a man in love with one of the cyborgs designed to take care of men. This is Ria (Seo Rin) who is not programmed to love, just to serve. But her time is running out with only a few days left (why cyborgs are built with this death sentence is never explained and just seems like a huge waste) and R is frantically trying to find a way to keep her going. A scientist tells him that her memory card can be transplanted into a human with a similar DNA strand - or something like that - a fair amount of techo-babble in the film.

R though is also a top MP or solider and when the combat cyborgs invade Neucom, the corporation that created the cyborgs, he is sent in with his friend and commander Noma (Yun Chan). During the firefight, R intentionally screws up in order to get a preserved memory implant from one of the cyborgs and this causes the death of three others. Noma doesn't discipline him because "he is in love". A street peddler of goods and her own flesh is identified as a possible match for Ria and also by the combat cyborgs. They go looking for her. R may be in love but he is a total asshole in every way - his love for this impersonal doll that he doesn't even treat that well, his lack of guilt over causing the deaths of his fellow soldiers, his attempt to use this street girl (Lee Jae-eun) is deplorable but she is of low caste anyways. Why should I care about any of these people - very different from the film it clearly took as its inspiration.