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.
Ji Eun-I (Kim Ha-neul) – Ji Eun-I is a fashion magazine editor who spends most of her free time working and the rest of it being unsatisfied with loser chumps, to the point where she’s given up on dealing with men who do nothing but disappoint. But as her work life gets more hectic, her home life gets more complicated when Kang In-ho ends up living with her, and she decides to use him as a pet to make up for what is missing in her life. Kim Ha-neul is also in Too Beautiful to Lie, Dead Friend, My Tutor Friend, and My Girlfriend Is an Agent.
Kang In-ho (Jang Geun-seok) – Free spirit ballet dancer who cannot dance with a partner anymore due to guilt over the partner he injured (hmm…subtext much??) He is perpetually without money and prepping to choreograph a big show. But needing a place to live turns out to be more than he thought when he ends up at Ji Eun-I’s apartment after her brother moves him in. He agrees to be a pet in exchange for being able to stay, but their relationship soon becomes more complicated than master and pet.
Cha Woo-seong (Yoo Tae-joon) – Representing the traditional good rich guy who swoops in and Prince Charmings the girls of Korea. Cha Woo-seong is Ji Eun-I’s former crush who reenters her life to try to make her his wife, despite not seeing her for years and not talking to her when they did know each other. Cha Woo-seong is so set on trying to be the classic good guy that he ends up being just weird. And that’s weird for a film where a guy is a pet.
2009 Directed by Sin Tae-ra
Written by Cheon Seong-il
Kicking it old school TarsTarkas.NET as we go over a Korean romantic comedy, something we haven’t done in over four years. Oddly enough, there hasn’t been a lot of good Korean romantic comedies in the past four years (although there are several from back then we haven’t covered and might get to eventually.) But retro TarsTarkas.NET is where we are right now!
This is a return of the kind of quality we took for granted from Korea for a few years, but then the industry crashed and the flow of great films slowed to a trickle. Still, some great films came out, and we hope that the slow trickle will once again turn into a mighty Mississippi again.
My Girlfriend is an Agent had great use of editing. I specifically enjoyed the use of flashbacks/scene cuts to complement dialogue. I personally find that smart filmmaking, though I know there are people who don’t like it. But screw them, this is my website! There is also some nice splitscreen editing.
The Korean title 7Keup Kongmuwon means literally 7th level civil servant – in South Korea the ranking of public servants starts from 9th (lowest) on down to 1st (highest). Now you are an expert in Korean culture and should go out and eat some kimchi.
Ahn Soo-ji (Kim Ha-neul) – An agent of the Industrial Security Team NIS, which is a secret to everyone, including her long-suffering boyfriend Jae-joon who leaves in the beginning of the film and then pops up later in her life. Then the romantic comedy/spy drama happens. Kim Ha-neul was previously on TarsTarkas.NET in My Tutor Friend and Too Beautiful To Lie.
Lee Jae-joon (Kang Ji-hwan) – A mild mannered accountant. And by accountant, I mean secret agent. His ex-girlfriend Soo-ji is also a secret agent, and both are secret to each other. Wacky things happen!
Chief Kim Weon-seok (Ryoo Seung-yong) – – Chief Kim of the Harimau doesn’t take any guff, even from rookie Jae-joon.
Team leader Hong (Jang Young-nam) – – Coworker and good friend of Soo-ji. Is the best friend character, but isn’t a wacky best friend like she would be if this was an American film.
Victor (Domashchenko Vadym) – Count Victor is the Russian guy who is totally evil. How evil is he? He’s so evil he isn’t really Victor, he is secretly…
Sonya Victoria (Elizabeth Sujin Ford) – The evil mastermind! She’s so evil, she jumps bikes over the Grand Canyon.
Officer Jang (Yoo Seung-mok) – Officer Jang is the cop who is always on duty when Soo-ji and Jae-joon get into arguments. Factors into the finale of the movie. It pays to be the cop on duty during domestic situations.
Kwon Sang-woo as Kim Kyu-shik
Ha Ji-won as Yang Bong-hie
Kim In-kwon as Shin Son-dal
Kim In-mun as Father Nam
Kim Seon-hwa as Sister Kim
Ha Ji-won from Sex is Zero and Kwon Sang-woo from My Tutor Friend come together for a romantic comedy where Jesus is the third wheel in the love triangle! Unlike Ha Jiwon’s previous film we saw here, there are no abortions, thank goodness. For once the Catholic Church being against them comes to an advantage, as it doesn’t turn this comedy into a huge tearfest out of the blue. No one gets knocked up regardless. The film deals with Catholicism and priests, yet does so in a respectful way that is neither controversial nor offensive. The light-hearted tone of the movie makes the story flow better, as it wouldn’t be well received if it was set up as a depressing melodrama or a creepy “Priest becomes obsessed with some girl” movie. Ha Jiwon seems to be cranking out the Romantic Comedies lately, hopefully I can get my hands on some more of them. This movie will make you say Deo Gratias about the Korean Romantic Comedy industry, even if I didn’t like it as much as some of the others, I just wanted to work in a phrase from the movie. So, Deo Gratias you crazy diamond!
Kim Ha-neul as Su-wan
Kwon Sang-woo as Kim Ji-hoon
Baek Il-seob as Ji-hoon’s Father
Kim Ji-woo as Ho-kyeong
Yu Kong/Gong yoo as Jong-soo
Ever had your tutor and you develop and attraction to each other? No? Not even once? What, are you being tutored by ugly guys or something? Oh, that’s understandable. They can’t all be Mary Kay Laturno. Nor can they all be Kim Ha-neul! Another movie full of wonderfully expressive faces, be they goofy, smug, smirking, frightening, humorous, or just plain cute, this girl is fun to watch. (Previous films of hers here are Too Beautiful to Lie and Dead Friend.) Kwon Sang-woo also stars as tough guy Kim Ji-hoon. Kwon Sang-woo is a Korean heartthrob, he goes on to star in Love So Divine which will show up here in a week or two. Yu Kong from Spygirl also appears, as a completely different character than his romantic lead in Spygirl, instead playing a lame gang leader who’s sole function seems to injuring Ji-hoon’s fist by repeatedly slamming his face into it over and over. This also brings up another point that makes this film good, when the film gets too sappy or boring, we get a fight sequence, and not a boring fight, either. The chemistry between Kim Ha-neul and Kwon Sang-woo is wonderful, nothing is forced and you can easily lose yourself in the story. The minor characters are finely crafted as well, this is one of the better romantic comedies to come out of any country.
Kim Ha-Neul as Joo Young-ju
Kang Dong-won as Choi Hee-chu
Nam Sang-mi as Jae-eun
Joo Young-ju is behind bars, living the life of a female prisoner in South Korea. She spends her time making a wooden goose for her sister’s upcoming wedding, and is now up for parole. She tells the parole board her father is dead, her mother works constantly, and her sister missed a year of school to pay for her education, all while tearing up. The Parole Board buys it and she’s granted a release, but back in the holding area she is teaching the other prisoners how to lie convincingly and cry correctly. Young-ju leaves the prison and calls her sister, who is embarrassed by Young-ju and doesn’t want her future in-laws to know Young-ju is an ex-con.
Young-ju goes on a train ride, where a parade of passengers of varying degrees of annoyance sit by her. Finally a young man named Choi Hee-chul sits by her, though she is asleep at this point. Hee-chul pulls out an engagement ring from his coat and begins fondling it, given shades of Gollum. One bump of the train later, and the ring has fallen to the ground, and rolled underneath Young-ju. To get his ring back, Hee-chul has to reach past Young-ju, which he tries to do as she sleeps, but she awakens to him on the floor with his hand beneath her legs and freaks out, hitting him repeatedly.