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TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (Goyangileul butaghae) (director/writer: Jae-eun Jeong; cinematographer: Young-hwan Choi; editor: Hyun-mee Lee; music: M&F; cast: Doo-na Bae (Tae-hee), Yo-won Lee (Hae-joo), Ji-young Ok (Ji-young), Eun-shil Lee (Bi-ryu), Eun-joo Lee (Ohn-jo); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gi-min Oh; Kino International; 2001-South Korea, in Korean with English subtitles)
“The film wasn’t preachy, but it was feminism by the book.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Writer/director Jae-eun Jeong makes her feature debut with “Take Care of My Cat,” which plays as a serious coming-of-age teen flick–no sex or raunchy sight gags here. It’s about five female who are on or near 20, and who bonded during their vocational high school days in Inchon (an industrial port city 25 miles away from Seoul). The film picks them up during the year after their graduation, as their friendships and dreams are put to the test as they venture out on their own in the adult world. Their happy and carefree school days have suddenly ended and they each are challenged to find their niche in the cold world.

The film aims to take potshots at contemporary South Korean society and uses the economic and cultural divides to expose the country’s penchant for consumerism and for being so status conscience. The girls have drifted off and remain in contact by cell phone and frequent gatherings, which becomes more difficult as their lives become more complicated. Cell phones become the easiest way for the girls to communicate with each other, they even use them when they are together. In a novel way, the text messages from the cell phones are flashed on the screen. Unfortunately, the film had one big message after another delivered rather than feeling free flowing.

The pretty Hae-joo (Yo-won Lee) gets a low-wage entry job as an office assistant in a Seoul brokerage firm and slowly realizes that she’s at a dead-end position even though she’s an efficient worker and has a winning personalty and gets along in a pleasing way with everyone at the firm. It slowly sinks in that she can’t advance without a degree. Hae-joo has become self-absorbed and proud that she escaped from her Inchon roots to be among such upwardly mobile types, but feels so insecure that she is challenged to feel-good about herself by constantly changing her appearance, buying lots of expensive clothes and getting laser surgery to correct her vision so that she won’t have to wear glasses. When away from the office Hae-joo acts bitchy with those whom she has the upperhand, as she tries to compensate for having to kowtow to her superiors in the workplace. Hae-joo mistreats an Inchon boy who really loves her by using him in a cruel manner. Hae-joo feels ashamed of her inferior past and tries to distance herself further from the four other girls by moving to Seoul. Hae-joo’s best friend is the arty Ji-young (Ji-young Ok), a brooding orphan unhappily living with her hard-working but poverty stricken grandparents in a dumpy flat in shantytown that has a sagging ceiling. Ji-young is the most emotionally troubled of the girls and despairs because she can’t find work, and dreams only of being a textile designer as she constantly doodles in textile patterns. She finds a stray kitty who is more helpless than she is and she names her Teetee, as the kitty becomes symbolic for how dependent the girls (the Koreans?) are on others (Americans?) to support them. The most sensitive of the bunch is Tae-hee (Doo-na Bae), who receives no salary when she works for her crude and Scrooge-like father in the family bathhouse business. She tries to be kind to everyone she meets, and in her spare time she’s typing a book of verses as a favor for a young poet with cerebral palsy who has a crush on her. When approached by three Burmese factory workers who want to meet Korean girls, she is willing to go out with them but her girlfriends run away laughing. Because she’s so sympathetic to the utterly dejected Ji-young, whose grandparents recently died in a fire, she gains her trust. As a close bond forms, they hope to change their lives by escaping from Korea together and studying abroad. In school Tae-hee was always the odd girl out, or the one who had to call the others because no one called her unless they needed something. The other two girls are happy-go-lucky Chinese twins, Bi-ryu (Eun-shil Lee) and Ohn-jo (Eun-joo Lee). They survive by selling trinkets in the streets of the Chinatown section, and presumably are the best adjusted of the group. As a reward they in the end get to take care of the kitty. The kitty had been given as a gift to Hae-joo on her 20th birthday celebration, but she had no time and returned it to Ji-young who in turn asked Tae-hee to take care of it. The twins are the last of the friends to possess the kitten and they are viewed as the last hope to give the kitty the nurturing and love it deserves. The director already has told us what she thinks of the animal shelter, as a breaking news story tells about a poor cat attacked in the shelter and eaten by a bunch of starving wild cats. The symbolism plays heavy on the fate of Korean orphans and those too sick or too poor or too vulnerable to take care of themselves.

As a film with a feminist theme, Jeong depicts the women’s concerns but interestingly enough she never gets around to exploring the girl’s sexual feelings and only half-heartedly touches on dating or their role in the workplace. She is more interested in showing how the girls just have trouble existing in such a competitive culture and how much more difficult it is for the artist or the sensitive types to fit in. The theme is well-and-good, but the story is filled with far too many contrivances to make it credible. The girls felt more like symbolic messages than real people. The slight plot line was too sketchy to hold my interest throughout. The meandering story of the aimless girls drinking and smoking too much at their meetings was hardly exciting and the obviousness of the plot became apparent too soon. They were all stuck and the film also got stuck with all its messages. It was just too predictable. The film wasn’t preachy, but it was feminism by the book.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”