aka 너는 펫 aka Neo-neun Pet
Directed by Kim Byeong-gon
It’s time once again to dip our toes into the water that is Korean romantic comedies. You Pet has a slight twist, in that it is a Korean film but is based on a Japanese manga (Yayoi Ogawa’s Kimi wa Petto, which was also the basis for the Japanese tv series of the same name.) The translation into a distinctly Korean film is handled pretty well, you definitely will know the country of origin. Playing the lead is TarsTarkas.NET favorite Kim Ha-neul, who somehow always manages to be in entertaining romantic comedies. It’s like she was created in a lab after decades of testing, sort of how Disney produces their child stars. Playing opposite is Jang Geun-seok, who is one of the biggest studmuffins in all of Asia. You’ve probably heard of him, and his whole Prince of Asia designation, so I won’t go into much detail. Their individual charisma and chemistry together help elevate You Pet into a great piece of film. And that’s the most important thing, because the concept behind You Pet requires the leads work well together to keep it from becoming very disturbing.
It is important to note that like all romantic comedies, You Pet and Korean romantic comedies in general exist in an idealized world, where relationships fall into more easily defined categories and people don’t carry baggage associated with just living a life. Very attractive people will be alone for years and years because of the tiniest of flaws making the repellant to everyone of the opposite sex, and unattractive people just don’t exist (except for the occasional wacky character). Heck, even the extras in You Pet are almost all young professionals who look straight out of a talent agency. Even Eun-I’s parents look younger than they are, and appear ever-fleeting, less they age up the film.
You Pet does buck a bit of the trends by taking the established order of things and bending it on its ear. Instead of presenting the traditional want of landing a rich man and living happily ever after, You Pet‘s master/pet relationship between Eun-I and In-ho subverts things, but in a family-friendly way. Now, Korea may be modern and filled with people rapidly keeping up with today’s fast movie world, but it is also a land full of traditions. And these start to collide with the modern thinking when it comes to two people of the opposite sex living together while not in a relationship. Just having a male-female relationship that isn’t lovers and isn’t best friends can muddy the waters, and things get very cloudy very quickly, but a good cloudy. And while a safe outside the box approach to old traditions vs. modern life isn’t the most risky thing in the world, it does help reflect times changing, and I applaud films that try to do interesting things as opposed to playing it safe and boring. While many of Korea’s romantic comedies are sugar-coated fluff, some of them do confront relationship expectations in their own friendly-faced way, you just won’t get things like Happy End.
Work-focused career woman Ji Eun-I is a double threat, not only does she spend most of her time working, but she is very demanding that her boyfriends treat her right and won’t put up with the slightest amount of crap. This has the unfortunate side effect of driving away all guys so she’s eternally alone. Her ordered life is thrown for a loop when free-spirit dancer Kang In-ho moves in thanks to some trickery via Ji Eun-I’s brother to collect a bunch of money for six months of rent from Kang In-ho before bouncing. This throws a loop in the order of things, Eun-I is used to bossing her brother around and living her ordered life, now she has some strange guy living at her place!
Things get thrown from a loop into a whole box of Fruit Loops when Ji Eun-I and Kang In-ho concoct a plan for In-ho to act as Eun-I’s “pet”, in so much that he’ll do whatever she says. Now, I know this sounds like some sort of creepy kinky film, but it is most certainly not. Instead, it becomes more of a relationship where the Eun-I is the master but also takes care of In-ho in regards to food and shelter, in return for affection and platonic love. It doesn’t hurt that In-ho comes off as a helpless puppy, as he’s without lodging and a stable income as he prepares to choreograph a big ballet show. In-ho also no longer dances himself, as he injured his female partner and has been unwilling to put anyone at risk again.
At first, things are a bit awkward as the two learn to adjust to the relationship. Eun-I even names In-ho “Momo” after her dog growing up, an animal she was fond of and would tell secrets to at night. In-ho has fun trying to test the boundaries of their relationship, while Eun-I will fight right back by returning with dog collars and puppy chow. The two begin to form a bond closer than friendship, but not a romantic relationship.
The box of Fruit Loops then falls on the floor and scatters everywhere when Eun-I’s old school crush Cha Woo-seong reappears as the older, traditional career oriented man who has now set his eyes on Eun-I for reasons the film never explains beyond a throwaway line that seems to indicate he never pursued her because he didn’t think he was successful enough. Cha Woo-seong’s ultimate plan is to get Eun-I to marry him and then she’ll never have to worry about keeping up her career again. Of course, if Woo-seong found out that the girl he had the hots for had a young onion butt living in her apartment, he’d freak out. And if he found out what kind of relationship they had, poor Woo-seong’s head would explode attempting to figure out just what was going on.
Thus a delicate balancing act begins, further complicated by In-ho seeing Woo-seong as a rival for his master’s attention, and secondly as a rival in love. But he can’t go too far in competing with Woo-seong, as that would ruin everything and make Eun-I mad at him.
Not all secrets can stay secret forever, and the cat (or dog!) gets out of the bag eventually. As things come to a head and feelings fly around, complicated modern relationships aren’t going to get any simpler. But it is enjoyable watching the whole thing play out.
The push and tug between classical notions of relationships vs. the modern lifestyle gets extra emphasis through Eun-I’s childhood girlfriends, who run the gambit of woman roles. One is married with a kid, another so desperate to get married she probably shows up on first dates in a bridal gown. At first they have mixed reactions to the situations, but by the time it’s obvious Eun-I has feelings for him, they get very excited about the situation. It’s an acceptance of the modern life, how things aren’t always going to turn out how they had for decades, and that’s okay.
Rated 8/10 (taxi animation, conniving bro, dog display, the real Momo, dogtags, special guest star, these plants represent the passage of time, let’s build the music video into the film!)
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