Now for a film I was not even going to bother watching, with the posters seeming to show something god-awful. The reviews I have read have been pretty much universally scathing. But as it stars one of my utter favourite Korean actresses, and because I have a masochistic streak, I thought I would give it a go. Could I possibly find something to enjoy in this one?
“You Are My Pet” tells the tale of Magazine Editor Ji Eun-yi (Kim Ha-neul) who is having a bad time at work (she recently has lost her job due to hitting her boss, and is now at a much lower class of magazine), her love life is non-existent, and her parents are constantly on the phone to her threatening divorce. Amidst all this she declares to her friends that she is swearing off of men, and is going to get a pet instead. However, when Kang In-ho (Jang Geun-seok) appears in her life, things take an unusual turn. A world renowned Ballet dancer, he is suffering with a crisis of confidence all of his own – he accidentally crippled a Prima Donna and now finds himself unable to dance with women, trying to focus on a dream of being a Choreographer instead. Kicked out of home, he ends up in Eun-yi’s apartment (as he is a friend of her Brother), and she agrees to let him stay, if he indeed, becomes her pet. She gets someone to look after and care for, he just has to greet her with a smile when she comes home and be generally affectionate, without all that messy love and sex stuff. So he becomes her “Pet”, and she names him Momo. Not for everyone I agree, but it seems to harm no-one. Problem is that Eun-yi’s old sweetheart is back in the picture, and is now wealthy, handsome and very successful, with plans to make her his wife. Problem is – how can she hide Momo from him (it is rather hard to explain away), and whilst she is attracted to her old boyfriend (and he ticks all her boxes), she finds herself constantly drawn towards In-ho. How can this messed up ménage-a-trois possibly resolve itself?
This one has an interesting pedigree, being based on a very popular Manga (Kimi wa petto), and there is an equally well thought of Japanese Drama as well. So capturing all the details in a 2 hour film was always going to be a struggle. Not only that, but the high concept idea is something rather uniquely Japanese – this isn’t something that Korean comedy romance films tend to play around with. I think these two factors are part of the problem – Korean and Japanese people may look similar to us Westerners, but they are culturally very different, and I am not sure the ideas at play are a terrific fit.
Wikipedia and Google are my friends, and whilst looking up about the source material for this review it became clear that there are a couple of themes that the Eun-yi and Momo relationship are trying to explore. Firstly we have that mild S&M idea of Mater and Servant, with both parties gaining control and love from having a strict set of rules governing their behaviour. Being the sort of film this is, this is not explored in terrific detail. Secondly, and to me more interestingly, I think that what it is really about is a cultural shift in Gender politics, specifically men. Her boyfriend represents the status quo – he is all about money and success – she is to be little more than another attractive possession. Momo represents a new kind of man – one who is caring and attentive, has real open feelings and emotions. I think this is explored much more successfully, and is something potentially pan-asian.
The problem is, for all the interesting themes going on, the film is centrally flawed by its running time. By trying to fit in all the story points from the Manga, it struggles to show a consistent and balanced story. What we get are a number of amusing moments, that are not terribly well tied together. Not only that but whole elements are bought up (such as the brother saying he will work on keeping their parents together, the back-story of In-ho) and never dealt with or mentioned again. It also makes a classic mistake of attempting to over-explain something – in the original, In-ho just appears in a blue box on her doorstep. Here they already have met, he has already sort of moved in, and 10 minutes have been wasted in creating an utterly irrelevant situation which would have actually been better served by just letting the odd occurrence happen.
The closest thing I can compare watching it to is reading a “Calvin and Hobbes” treasury collection. The 3-6 panel cartoons are amusing in their own right, and sometimes work when a joke is being carried over a number of pages. But reading the whole thing is exhausting as it doesn’t quite hang together as a proper story. Not only that, but the film is just too fast paced – it doesn’t ever sit and enjoy the joke that has just been told. This is the exact opposite of some of the problems I have in Hong Kong comedies, where they just don’t know WHEN to stop milking a joke.
It is as slickly produced as you might expect from anything from Korea, and no-one is actually annoying. Kim Ha-neul does her best with a character that is slightly underwritten (I can’t really work out if she is an utter bitch who mellows over time, or she is just misunderstood), and I swear she has never looked lovelier. Jan Geun-eok however is a revelation – I was ready to detest him on the grounds of his ridiculous haircut – but he is charming and witty and holds the whole thing together,
So as someone who went in expecting to hate the film, and having no knowledge of the source material, I actually rather enjoyed it. There is one really good (and unexpected) performance. It is funny at times, and has a backbone of an interesting sociological phenomenon. Sadly though, it is executed rather badly, meaning it is nothing more than an amusing curiosity, rather than a really good and affecting Korean romantic comedy. For my money? Mildly Recommended.