Dir: Jeong Jae-eun. Korea. 2001. 112 mins.
Take Care Of My Cat is a sympathetic, modern coming-of-age movie. As such it is a Korean antidote to the make-believe and squeaky-clean Hollywood approach adopted by Britney Spears-vehicle Crossroads, which examines a similar demographic. Structured as a slightly unbalanced five-hander with a tone close to a European comedie dramatique, Take Care has modest prospects on the international commercial circuits. But as a sensitive art-house title it looks a winner. It has played at Pusan, Rotterdam and Berlin and received huge numbers of festival invitations which, going forward, include Creteil and Edinburgh. And, on the strength of a recent poll of local Korean critics, who rated Take Care as their consensus favourite of 2001, first-time woman director Jeong Jae-eun looks assured of a solid career.
Dealing with the I'm not a girl, not yet a woman generation of 20 year old females, Take Care is a rarity for being only the second female-directed film of recent years from Korea and for focusing so unwaveringly on its protagonists' characters rather than more predictable topics such as sex or drugs.
The five central characters have left school, but not being intellectual giants, are seeking to find their way in the workplace rather than university or college. For one Hae-joo (Lee Yo-won), who dominates the first half of the picture, the transition is made to look all too easy. She is pretty, has a well paid job in a Seoul investment firm and already occupies her own pad. But Jeong slowly shows that this is a wretched male-dominated place of put-downs and dead ends. With her extreme egoism and outlandish attempts to keep up appearances, relations soon become strained between Hae-joo and the previously tight-knit group.
Progressively, more light is shed on the others, who each have their own different issues with work and family. The most extreme case is Ji-young (Ok Ji-young), an orphan who lives with her grandparents in shanty town and whose impoverished circumstances make her bitter towards her pals and hard to integrate into the world of work despite her artistic talents. The most accessible character is Tae-hee (Bae Doo-na), a rebellious do-gooder who helps out a friend with cerebral palsy and is the only one to pay a visit to Ji-young. Perhaps not enough is made of the identical twins Bi-ryu and Ohn-jo (Lee Eun-sil, Lee Eun-ju) who provide the film with its best moments of gentle comic relief.
Until the last half hour, when tragedy befalls Ji-young, the film is light on story. But what story there is, is assisted by the plot device of the pet cat of the title, which is handed from character to character as first one then another find they are not yet ready for the responsibility of surrogate parenting.
Take Care's great strength is that it is so comfortably rooted in the hum-drum and everyday, unlike many Korean melodramas where life and events seem to exist in a slightly artificial bubble. Jeong's smooth camera direction sticks to the realistic, but the whole is neatly pepped up by her use of contemporary music and on-screen projection of the text messages so beloved by her mobile-phone toting protagonists.
Director Jeong seems set to become an art house favourite and is now understood to be preparing a follow-up feature which rightly puts the twins at centre stage.
Prod co: A masulpiri Production, presented by iPictures, Terasource Venture Capital in association with Korea Film Commission, Intz.com
Int sales: Cinema Service
Prod: Oh Ki-min
Cinematographer: Choi Young-hwan
Prod des: Kim Jin-chul
Editing Lee Hyun-mee
Main cast: Bae Doo-na, Lee Yo-won, Ok Ji-young, Lee Eun-shil, Lee Eun-joo