[HanCinema’s Film Review] ‘Love and Leashes’ @ HanCinema

Ji-woo (played by Seohyun) is a fairly competent employee at a company that deals a lot in children’s programming. The somewhat confusingly named Ji-hoo (played by Lee Jun-young) is a new hire at that company. This similarity inspires some weird sexist comments from Team Leader Hwang (played by Seo Hyun-woo) although this is mostly ignored for the sake of a greater plot arc about dom-sub culture. Ji-hoo is into it, mainly as a sub, and Ji-woo is only just learning.

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“Love and Leashes” is a fairly wholesome primer on what exactly dom-sub culture is, with Ji-woo’s initial ignorance on the topic being used as a device to explain how it works. Basically, in a sort of pseudo-sexual excitement, the dom degrades and even punishes the sub for minor infractions. Director Park Hyeon-jin makes a big point of acknowledging how mutual consent mechanisms such as safety words are critical to preventing dom-sub eroticism from being used for nefarious purposes by perverts.

Ji-hoo is not, to be clear, one such pervert. He’s a genuinely sweet guy and Ji-woo’s a bit baffled as to how his adoring and affectionate behavior could be seen with hostility by a previous ex-girlfriend Hanna (played by Kim Bo-ra) who was not emotionally abusive in a playingful arousing way. As it turns out, a good dom has to be both incredibly cool and self-assertive yet also mature enough to appreciate that there is a difference between a personal life and a private life. Ji-woo may not get dom-sub culture, but she doesn’t judge Ji-hoo for enjoying it- making her an ideal dom.

“Love and Leashes” is almost presented in a pedagogical manner, as the story goes through the motions of showing how Ji-woo learns the proper of boundaries of being a dom, being assertive in a role-play manner while also being careful not to hurt Ji-hoo any more than he actually want to be hurt. We can see how the experience is therapeutic for both of them. Ji-woo sublimates her frustration at Team Leader Hwang’s sexism, while Ji-hoo is energized by trying to live up to Ji-woo’s standards.

Given how little actual story there is I’m still not sure how “Love and Leashes” manages to be two hours long. There’s an entire incredibly underdeveloped subplot about Ji-woo’s best friend Hye-ri (played by Lee El) flirting with the idea of ​​dom-sub culture while ignoring the eager younger guy right in front of her. The final conflict also hinges hard on a pretty extreme coincidence to thrust Ji-woo and Ji-hoo’s relationship in trouble, when the perfectly good conflict of whether dom-subs can be equal romantic partners is right there.

Ultimately, though, “Love and Leashes” is a film less about clear thematic consistency as it is an excuse to see Seohyun and Lee Jun-young in an erotically charged romance. Somewhat impressively, Seohyun actually comes off as the sexier amount despite Lee Jun-young getting straight-up shirtless scenes. Such is the emotional eroticism of an attractive, hypercompetent woman whose validation a man desperately craves- but different strokes for different folks.

Review by William Schwartz

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“Love and Leashes” is directed by Park Hyeon-jinand features Seohyun, Lee Jun-young, Lee El, Seo Hyun-woo, Kim Han-na, Ahn Sung-kyun. Release date in Korea: 02/11/2022.

William Schwartz

Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema’s travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea’s public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via william@hancinema.net. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.

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