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“Cyborg She” sees Korean director Kwak Jae Yong of “My Sassy Girl” fame switching to Japanese for a genre blending romantic comedy that adds a science fiction, time travelling twist to his usual formula. Also known as “My Girlfriend is a Cyborg”, the film is not to be confused with “Oldboy” director Park Chan Wook’s “I’m a Cyborg but that’s OK”, with which it shares a vaguely similar premise. If anything, Kwak’s film is even wackier and more oddball, managing to throw in pretty much everything imaginable, whilst still remaining not only highly enjoyable, but also surprisingly moving. Having been a popular hit in Asia, the film finally arrives on region 2 DVD via 4Digital Asia, coming with a host of features including a making of documentary, various interviews and press spots, plus featurettes on its special effects.
The film begins with a lonely Tokyo student called Jiro (Keisuke Koide, also in “Gokusen: The Movie”), who spends his birthday every year by himself at the same restaurant. One year, he spots a strange girl (the gorgeous Haruka Ayase, recently in “Ichi” and “Hero”) stealing clothes from a department store, who later shows up at his dinner table. The two spend a crazy night together, only for her to disappear under strange circumstances. She shows up on the same day the next year, saving him from a crazed gunman, and revealing to him that she is in fact an android from the future, built by his future self and sent back to save him. This time she sticks around to move in and take care of him, and inevitably the two begin to form a relationship of sorts. Unfortunately, as she is only too aware, the future holds unpleasant revelations, and the road to robot romance is by no means an easy one.
Unsurprisingly, “Cyborg She” is very similar to “My Sassy Girl” – in fact, “My Sassy Cyborg” would have been a fitting title. Certainly, Haruka Ayase’s character basically behaves in a very similar manner to Jeon Ji Hyun, acting kooky and aggressive, beating Jiro up, doing amusingly inappropriate things, and getting drunk. Jiro himself is exactly the kind of protagonist favoured by Kwak, being a very familiar loser nerd type. As such, his meeting an impossibly beautiful woman who quite literally has to fall for him smacks of male wish-fulfilment, though in a sweetly innocent rather than dishonest or sleazy fashion – despite the fact that his reaction upon finding out that she is a robot is to ask her whether her breasts are real and if she is able to have sex. Her android powers do make for a few twists on the formula, or at least see the director having an excuse to take things to a new level of super female protagonist, with her moving at incredible speeds, and throwing people through the air or zapping them with electricity. Thankfully, Ayase is note perfect in the lead role, not only being incredibly cute, even when acting violent, but also adding a real sense of fun, and even a touch of emotional depth.
Kwak is one of the few directors to show a talent for balancing comedy, characters and romance in this fashion and the film is genuinely quite moving, if in a rather manipulative fashion. As such, although things do get overly melodramatic towards the end, with some obvious yanks at the heartstrings and gratuitous montage scenes, the film never crosses the line into cheap sentiment. This having been said, he does tend to use the time travel element to wallow in nostalgia, for example during a laughably tangential trip to Jiro’s old home town, complete with misty streets, bizarrely friendly people and of course, sappy music.
Wisely, Kwak never seems to take things too seriously, and for every moment of emotional high camp he throws in some fun special effects. The last act of the film is actually quite spectacular, as it shifts gears and heads into disaster movie territory. The film contains a surprising amount of action, and is quite violent at times, as a gunman opens fire in restaurant and tries to burn people to death, and a knife maniac goes on a rampage at a girls’ school. There is also a fair amount of comedy, and though most of it comes in the form of basic slapstick, it works well enough, with a few standout gags including a great scene involving Ayase robot dancing. Kwak’s scattershot approach proves a good fit for the material, distracting from the inherent predictability of the plot, which frequently and in heavy handed style signposts events and motifs which will be revisited later for ironic reasons and in a vaguely annoying manner. This having been said, the last 15 minutes or so are pretty off the wall, and whilst it is debatable whether or not they are really needed, do help to end the film on an odd, if saccharine note.
Still, this is only to be expected from Kwak, and on the whole “Cyborg She” is one of his better and more charming efforts. Successfully combining science fiction, comedy, romance and more is no mean feat in itself, and the film makes for entertaining viewing throughout, in no small part thanks to Haruka Ayase’s wonderful turn in the titular role.
Jae-young Kwak (director) / Jae-young Kwak (screenplay)
CAST: Haruka Ayase … Cyborg
Keisuke Koide … Jiro Kitamura