If it breaks no new aesthetic or structural ground, 'Take Care of My Cat' is honest and tender, remarkably specific about girls' experiences.
Take Care of My Cat (Goyangileul butaghae)Director: Jae-eun Jeong
Cast: Doo-na Bae, Yo-won Lee, Ji-young Ok, Eun-shil Lee, Eun-joo Lee
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: Kino International
First date: 2002
US Release Date: 2002-10-18 (Limited release)
Cinematic depictions of girls growing up in anything like a real world tend to be few and far between. Ugly girls made over for prom night, hot surfer chicks, and horror movie scream queens may make for guilt-complex entertainment, but they rarely speak to recognizable concerns. When Ginger Snaps, a bloody, werewolf movie and metaphorical take on puberty, is the most honest depiction of girlhood in the past year's cinema, there's an obvious void waiting to be filled.
This is why Jae-eun Jeong's debut feature, Take Care of My Cat, a sensitive depiction of a close-knit group of Korean girls living in the depressed industrial sea town of Inchon, is so refreshing. If it breaks no new aesthetic or structural ground, Take Care of My Cat is honest and tender, remarkably specific about girls' experiences -- leaving high school behind, the difficulties of holding friendships past childhood, and the collapse of communication in the advent of technology. Best of all, the characters are three-dimensional and alive, their problems real: they lose friends, leave home, and feel gypped by a world that is not nearly so enticing as they were promised.
Hae-joo (Yo-won Lee) is a vain social climber who works in a brokerage firm in Seoul, carries a Louis Vuitton bag, and is oblivious to the abuses heaped upon her by her coworkers and upon her friends by herself. Ji-young (Ji-young Ok) is a sullen, ghost-eyed depressive who lives with her grandparents in a cramped, crumbling apartment, has no job, and, more than anything, wants to draw elaborate, detailed textile patterns. And Tae-hee (Doo-na Bae) works for her father's steam baths for free and dreams of sailing away, to any place that's far from her domineering family. She's painfully aware that running from your family is "so tacky" and teenager-ish, which makes her desperation all the more compelling.
Each girl seeks escape from the depressed town of her childhood, and none is exactly sure how to get away. This desire to leave home and childhood behind signals an inevitable loss of their closeness. As Take Care of My Cat begins, Tae-hee complains that it's increasingly difficult to get the group together, and their friendships only break further apart from there. The need to move on eventually dominates all of their decisions, including the choice of homes for Ti-ti, the beloved titular cat who has, by the film's end, lived with each girl.
Ti-ti's movements represent the girls' shifting identities and relations. In an interview on the film's website, Jae-eun Jeong says, "I wanted my characters to be girls who possessed nothing permanent and therefore were able to leave." More than any face to face (or, more likely, cell phone to cell phone) communication, the cat represents the girls' remaining ties to each other, illustrating how close relationships provide stability and stagnation at the same time. It's hard to watch the girls lose their connections with each other, but it's harder to watch them live unhappily in Inchon. Part of Take Care of My Cat's appeal is its refusal to provide easy answers: leaving home, losing friends, and, really, growing up, are never simple events, but they're also inevitable.
The film, however, is not wholly "realistic," as the girls' communication methods are, in a way, "anti-real." When the girls type text messages to each other on their cell phones, floating text appears in bus windows or on building walls, imbuing their environments with traces of impersonal technology, both chilling and beautiful. Intimate messages, like Tae-hee's concern for Ji-young's well-being, are reduced to electronic code; the cell phone, which supposedly keeps us more in touch with each other, here enhances distance between the girls by replacing face to face communication with sterile text. Communication by cell phone represents a dichotomy, connection and disconnection at once. It's not inherently good or bad, but both and in-between.
Although a final plot twist makes Take Care of My Cat a little melodramatic, its overall frankness is affecting. Adolescent girls, take heart: someone is paying attention to you. Best of all, Jae-eun Jeong has put you and all your frustrations, hopes, inconsistencies, and confusion on screen.