TAKE CARE OF MY CAT (2001)
A coming-of-age film where a group of young women see their friendship fracture amid festering economic and social anxiety
“What’s so important about the past? The present matters,” states one of Jeong Jae-eun's fivesome of high school friends transiting into womanhood and finding their once watertight bonds are starting to fissure.
Jeong’s debut feature is an understated and deeply naturalistic portrait of the prickly transition from being a carefree gang of girls to inheriting the toil and insecurities of the grown-up world.
A film very much of its time, it explores how the arrival adulthood felt at the turn of the century in a changing Korea where technology is flipping the lives of Koreans both professionally and socially, with text messages, often splashed across the screen, provide a vital means of keeping the increasingly estranged girls in touch.
The fivesome have branched in a wide range of career paths and adulthood workloads. Hae-joo (Lee Yo-won – Attack the Gas Station) has managed to escape the bleak industrial trappings of Incheon at the time, instead finding herself overworked at a brokerage firm in Seoul.
Tae-hee (Bae Doona – Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, The Host, A Girl at My Door) is an unpaid worker at her family's sauna while volunteering as a typist for a poet with cerebral palsy.
Ji-young (Ok Ji-young) struggles to find work while living in a rundown house with her elderly grandparents, while twin sisters Bi-ryu (Lee Eun-shil) and Ohn-jo (Lee Eun-jo) live on their own selling handmade jewellery on the street.
The film’s title is a reference to a cat the friends collectively adopt, or more accurately attempt to gift among each other, as their busying lives hault such pet-owning frivolities.
This is a not a film of black and white contrasts though. We see the differing pressures placed on these young woman – whether that is the stress of being overworked or the stress of not having a job – comprehending them as characters on their own difficult and differing path.
While Oldboy, Memories of Murder and A Tale of Two Sisters propelled Korean Cinema to new levels in 2003, this was the first Korean film of the new millennium that effectively time-capsuled the mood of the country and its ‘Millennial’ generation.
The local market aside, this is a film we can all comprehend. That feeling of drifting from people we felt would form the fabric of our entire lives. Of seeing an unbreakable bond loosen as an adult existence and its demands instead take priority.
However, it is also about how friendships survive such challenges. How they evolve and take new forms in adulthood. That friend you can call after months and pick up where you left off.
Only through the film’s natural vision of such relationships does this feel such a real experience for viewers, boosted by a superb array of performances, not just from future superstar Bae Doona, but the wider group too.
This is a film about a group of girls from the unfashionable Incheon, but its themes are universally human.