Nobody Can Speak For You, Understand?: Take Care Of My Cat (2001)

The continuation of my study of Korean cinema has led me to a rather unusual discover in relation the considerably dark and violent films I have previously encountered.  A clear counter to Attack the Gas Station! is what comes to mind after viewing Jeong Jae-eun’s Take Care of My Cat.  It is starkly different in the fact that not only is the film centered entirely on the experiences of five young twenty-somethings in Korea, but that it was also directed by a woman.  The technological savvy and excellent use of title cards within the film are only the most obvious of brilliant offerings throughout the film, as a whole it is a stellar film about coming to age and realizing the complexities of adulthood, yet also noting the necessity of clinging to certain aspects of youthful bliss.  While the film could have certainly been flashy and only preoccupied with pleasing its audience, Jeong’s film instead promotes a grander narrative about the state of Korean youth that is both straight forward and multifaceted.  It is careful to show the various diverse narratives that can exist amongst the closest of friends and raises the eternal question about the possibility of actions existing that do indeed benefit everyone involved.  Between the sweet sugar pop soundtrack and the nearly neon color of the palette, Take Care of My Cat delivers a reflective and provocative image of Korean youth that is tragically under viewed and more tragically overlooked in academic discourses on the emerging Korean cinema. 

Take Care of My Cat follows a group of young Korean women as they find themselves thrusted into an adult world, which demands their instantaneous success and acceptance of a whole new slew of social norms.  Despite their best efforts to contradict the expectations, each girl is forced to face their role in the grander clockwork of a very industrialized South Korea, or accept instant and incredibly negative failure.  The group consists of five girls, the first being the vain, if disillusioned Hae-joo (Lee Yo-won) who finds work as an intern for a brokerage firm.  She finds her access to money rewarding, although it becomes clear rather quickly that she has trouble attaining happiness at her current pay rate.  The group also consists of Tae-hee (Bae Doona) who aspires to be a writer, despite being stuck working for her parents for no income whatsoever.  There are also the two twins Bi-ryu (Lee Eun-shil) and Ohn-jo (Lee Eun-jo) who despite making profits from their small jewelry stand clearly are lost in a childlike mentality that allows them to make irrational small purchases which add up to large sums of money.  Finally, there is Seo Ji-young (Ok Ji-young) who is stuck watching over her ailing grandparents and is thus unable to gain a paying job, much to her own dismay and the condescending glances of her companions, particularly Hae-joo, who sees her every action as futile, particularly her desire to be a textile designer.  It is clear that despite her disadvantage, Ji-young is the most mature, particularly given her thoughtful present of a kitten to Hae-joo for her birthday, one she returns immediately claiming its dependent nature to be bothersome.  The groups unity ebbs and flows as they are left taking turns being successful, with the exception of Ji-young whose vow of silence after the discovery of her grandparents death leads her to being jailed, thus leaving the cat to move between the other friends in the group.  Ultimately, the film closes with the various girls reconsidering their friendship, realizing that it will never be as tightly bound as their final days of school.  Hae-joo continues her upward mobility, while Tae-hee and Ji-young run from their stalled lives to something promising in the city of Seoul.  The twins remain reliant on each other to remain stagnant.  Ultimately, the whole group does not evolve together, and it actually appears as though most of the girl’s regress, but to be honest is that not the way life goes for most people?  Take Care of My Cat would say yes, and for its frank reality check it deserves to be praised.

The social criticism available within Take Care of My Cat is vast and clearly accessible.  I desperately wanted to touch upon the various themes of the film, but there is a far more pressing thing to discuss when concerned with this film.  Although the film received great praise both natively and on a global scale, Take Care of My Cat continues to fall under the radar of popular film discourse and academic rhetoric.  Despite having a clear cult following, most film festivals and studies on Korean film, manage to overlook this seminal work.  While it may seem a bit obvious or confrontational, I cannot help but feel that its lack of success is due almost entirely to its female-centered themes and the fact that a woman directs the work.  I certainly understand that as a male of considerably well to do upbringing that I am not privileged to understand every detail of a film like Take Care of My Cat.   However, I am advanced enough intellectually to realize how pertinent the discourse of the film is on a global scale and, more importantly, how well executed the discussing is within this particular work.  A popular medium and academic world that is still ruled by older white males is likely to blame for this occurrence.  What popular discourse likely called “inaccessible” is code for something that viewers either do not care or do not desire to understand.  If anything, films like Take Care of My Cat should be celebrated, because more so than any other films, they actually cause viewers to acknowledge the world around them from new and important perspectives, and, God forbid, we actually change our belief system at its deepest foundations.  Ramblings aside, I strongly urge you to watch this and show it to your friends, it is criminal that it is so under viewed.

Part of spreading the popularity of this film comes with obtaining a copy, something that can be easily done on multiple websites on the interwebs.

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