2011 was a good year for the noona romance, with You’re My Pet standing as a highly-anticipated film based on the Japanese manga Kimi wa petto, later adapted into a Japanese drama series of the same name. Most of the anticipation rested on the shoulders of its two A-list stars, Jang Geun-seok and Kim Haneul. Expectations were high, halfway due to the fact that it’s an adaptation of a well-beloved series, and halfway due to that inevitable bit of expectation we get when anything comes out whole from a production limbo.
Since I was a movie buff before I stumbled upon dramas, I was happy to sink my teeth into a movie review – and I’d been cautiously optimistic since hearing about You’re My Pet. Here’s the thing: there isn’t really a whole lot to explore if you look too deep, and if there is a moral question to be raised about whether one person keeping another person as a “pet” is correct, well – it’s a valid question. It’s not one that this movie takes it upon itself to answer, though, because we’d be getting way too dark of a film.
That being said, this is the sort of premise that you have to buy out right in order to enjoy. Getting hung up on the schematics (like I did) is likely to cause unnecessary headaches.
SONG OF THE DAY
You’re My Pet OST – Hey Girl (Andrew Nelson) [ Download ]
You’re My Pet doesn’t aspire to be anything more than fluff and has a basic premise – a stoic career woman who’s great at her job but terrible at love decides to adopt and train a human boy to be a pet and companion.
It’s a cohabitation drama, with the twist that the female is the one in charge and is the “master”, while a younger man is considered as a “pet” and treated as such. This doesn’t present as much conflict as you’d think, leaving the plot and its characters floating at surface-level most of the time. There are some cute moments, but overall it ends up feeling like a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive whole, since the story tries to be all-encompassing by including a host of side characters that don’t ever manage to steal the focus, but who manage to take up time I’d rather have spent exploring our leads.
At first, I found the sharp-and-quick editing to be a breath of fresh air. Scenes lasted no longer than a minute or two, and we were soon off to the next technicolor, sunny-day scene. And while quick editing in comedies is a virtual necessity, it’s rare that I come across a film where the editing is too quick, so much so that scenes aren’t allowed to breathe and we aren’t given a chance to get to know who these characters really are. And if we don’t know that, it’s hard to care. In this instance, the directing hand seemed to be working against the story – and then I remembered that this was the first feature film project for director Kim Byung-gon, which might explain it.
Meet our heroine, JI EUN-YI (Kim Haneul), a successful fashion magazine editor who looks like the classic city woman on the outside – snazzy outfits, cool demeanor – but suffers from normal insecurities. She’s the kind of woman who goes into the bathroom to eat ice cream during a bad day, while unfortunately also being the kind of woman who has her coworkers talking about her in that same bathroom. Girl can’t catch a break.
Her mother calls that she wants a divorce, her dad calls that her mom wants a divorce. To Eun-yi, this is rinse, lather, repeat. To boot, she’s always had bad luck with men, so much so that she makes a declaration at the beginning of the film, “I can only approve of someone that is taller than me, smarter than me, and one that earns more.” Her friends know that the chances are slim, so they suggest she just try a pet instead.
Eun-yi lives in a swank apartment befitting her job, and uses her younger brother, JI EUN-SOO (Choi Jong-hoon) as a maid. His unwillingness to continue folding his sister’s underwear becomes the catalyst for our two leads to meet.
Her brother’s friend, KANG IN-HO (Jang Geun-seok), is a ballet dancer who finds himself homeless after a fight with his previous female caretaker. He seems decently carefree, but he’s got a dark past – a ballerina became unable to dance due to him accidentally dropping her once, and it’s enough for him to avoid dancing with women. He’s got enough talent for his boss to keep him around, though he still tries to persuade In-ho to sing a duet with a girl during an upcoming musical.
In-ho is either secretly wealthy or slightly delusional, as he wonders how much it would cost to live in a five-star hotel every month now that he has no home. He likes the idea of being taken care of, and it’s here where Eun-soo comes up with the perfect solution to solve In-ho’s homeless problem along with his own servitude to his sister. He’ll just have In-ho live with her and do all the chores.
In-ho’s happy to take Eun-soo’s proposition even though he claims that he’s incapable of doing housework, and even pays him six months worth of rent to stay in Eun-yi’s house. Naturally, bringing a new roommate into his sister’s home isn’t something Eun-soo thought to tell her, so she suffers a shock when she mistakes In-ho for her brother and pats his bottom, only to come face to face with her new live-in guest.
Eun-soo gets on his knees to beg his noona so that In-ho can stay, and finally wins her over with the declaration that he’ll fix their parents’ marital problems if she takes her friend in. This is one of the many side stories introduced only to have no conclusion or payoff later in the film.
There are a lot of instances where the audience is required to fill in the blanks – when this device is used well, it normally flies under the radar. This is the only movie I’ve seen recently where it seems as though whole chunks of scenes were edited out – not in a way that seems made to move the plot along, but in a way that makes it seem as though they filmed a ten-hour movie and suddenly found that they needed to edit it down to ninety minutes. The side effect is that many possibly-good scenes stay in ‘possibly’ territory because they end up feeling rushed.
For some scenes it works, like one early-on where In-ho defends a woman’s honor and gets chased down by the men who were with her, resulting in him hiding in a box near Eun-yi’s front door like a little puppy waiting to be rescued. This scene would have been better served had it been their first meeting (not to draw too many comparisons, but in the original drama series this was their initial meeting) but coming on the heels of his already open-invitation to her home, it’s a bit out of place.
Eun-yi ends up patching up bruises from In-ho’s invisible fight, and In-ho’s the first one to pick up on the fact that Eun-yi wants a pet but doesn’t have one – and thus suggests himself as a pet replacement. After all, he won’t do annoying things pets do like make noise or poop in auspicious places. Seemingly going along with the idea, she starts naming off all the things he’ll have to do, so that he’ll be a pet with “no human rights”. She’s attempting to make the situation sound so unfavorable that In-ho will leave, but she gets the opposite reaction.
When she finds that In-ho is more than willing to give up basic human rights to become her living human pet, Eun-yi realizes what she’s doing and hastily tries to kick him out. She doesn’t succeed, and though she seems as though she tries to be in control of her life, it seems pretty easy for In-ho to wiggle his way back into her house and into her good graces.
So she decides to roll with it, and declares that In-ho’s name will now be Momo. She’ll feed him and take care of him, and in return he has to always be there for her. She sets her parameters clearly: a pet is just a pet. It is neither a husband or a lover. He isn’t to bother her when she’s working and above all else, he cannot even give her ice cream a passing glance. Eating it would be asking for death.
In-ho takes the premise and runs with it, happily settling into his new life as a pet that absolutely owns his owner. No matter her tough-ish exterior, In-ho is usually able to whine his way into getting whatever he wants – whether it’s food, or for Eun-yi to wash his hair.
Eun-yi’s the kind of girl who does puzzles in her free time, and though the basis of the relationship seems pretty unhealthy, having a roommate in In-ho seems to be doing her well. If he truly was the submissive pet she ideally wanted him to be (although finding out what she wants is difficult as we’re given only a cursory peek at her thoughts), the relationship would be decently doomed. But because he’s constantly seeking her attention, the awkwardness of being strangers soon melts into a workable cohabitation. Sort of.
For instance, he doesn’t bother speaking in honorifics (because pets don’t use honorifics) and has no shame. Since she’s becomes embarrassed even in her own home, In-ho’s carefree personality is a useful dichotomy to Eun-yi’s inner insecurities.
We follow Eun-yi to and from work throughout the movie, and it’s here that we’re introduced to female rival and character-paint-by-numbers specialist LEE YOUNG-EUN (Jung Yoo-mi), but more on her later. The long and short of it is that Eun-yi is having her own having problems at work with the chief editor, and Young-eun only helps to exacerbate the problem.
There are a small wealth of comedic moments and certainly no dearth of skinship – and one of my favorite bits comes when In-ho starts dancing alone in Eun-yi’s apartment. She comes home late, he more or less ropes her into dancing with him, and he dips her romantically at the big finale…
Only we hear a crack! and realize that her back just went out. Ha. I still think that the tiny, two-second scene afterwards where she nurses her back while he undergoes school-grade punishment is my favorite. This is the only moment in the movie where the age difference between them is really laid out, and though I feel like this is a valid conflict that was never really explored past this point, we’re left to assume that the age gap makes no difference to anyone, which is valid enough. Not every noona romance needs to explore the issue of the age gap.
So, to introduce some outside conflict, we get CHA WOO-SUNG (Ryu Tae-joon), Eun-yi’s former first love. All those things she listed as her ideal type earlier? That’s him, in a dreamy nutshell. He’s tall, dark, and handsome, successful at his job – and apparently has eyes for Eun-yi. Knowing that her initial love for him was unrequited adds fuel to the fire, and it’s not long before Eun-yi is trying to convince herself this might be it for her. He might be the one.
We get some weird interludes with her friends – and I say weird not because the subject matter is weird, but because we’re never really introduced to her friends and the scenes are so short that I couldn’t get a firm grasp of the who or why of it all. Either way, they eat cake together and support each other.
Woo-sung and Eun-yi go on a successful first date, and when Woo-sung makes his way into her house with the hope of getting into her pants, In-ho is there to spoil the fun and scare him away by barking like a big, scary dog.
The idea of competition gets In-ho to step up the romantic angle, because he’s apparently come to like her during their time together. Either way, we can enjoy the cute moments they share while they go on cute dates, made even cuter by the lack of the master-pet dynamic while they’re in public.
There are some ripe comedic moments when In-ho starts to act out the moment Eun-yi’s attention wavers at home. He starts leaving various booby traps for her in the house, like filling her shoes with soil and eating all her ice cream, and leaves a polaroid of him performing the prank at every crime scene. Once again, though, I feel like I’m not given enough time to really enjoy the jokes when they’re a blink-and-you-miss-them sort of deal. The pranks and the polaroids are comedy gold – I only wish I could have seen more than a few seconds of them.
In-ho even starts going above and beyond, doing things like bringing her cold medicine at work. His good looks garner the attention of her female coworkers, which causes Eun-yi to spin a lie that he’s her younger cousin.
The differences between the way she acts with Woo-sung and In-ho become clear, both to us and to her, as she notes that she’s become very unnatural in her effort to look beautiful in front of Woo-sung. She doesn’t have to pretend in front of In-ho, who accepts her as she is.
The lack of explanation on how we get from one point to another is the exact opposite issue I experienced with the first episode of Wild Romance, where I felt we were told more than we were being shown. Here, we’re being shown too much without being told much of anything. A balance is harder to find than you’d think.
Eun-yi ends up going on a business trip when she’s supposed to have time off, and Woo-sung is quick to produce… a wedding ring. He wants to marry her. She doesn’t take the proposal seriously because she’s worried about leaving In-ho at home (the way an owner would worry about leaving a dog alone, never mind that In-ho is a grown boy), so she ends up ditching Woo-sung in order to rush home to In-ho.
Woo-sung is not to be deterred, and pays a visit to Eun-yi at her home. She even goes so far as to borrow a dog to pass off as “Momo”, but the dog pees on Woo-sung and that’s the last we see of it. Though she tries to get In-ho to stay out of the house, he’s made up his mind to compete and the two men engage in some friendly, video-game based competition to prove their manliness.
Her friends show up to crash the party, and then we cut to… the washed dishes, because her friends have already left. This is another one of those moments where I directed a “wait, what?” at the screen, unable to process why certain moments exist in this film if they’re not even onscreen long enough to impact the story, or to give insight into the characters.
In-ho takes a few unannounced days off from being a pet to focus on his dance career, and Eun-yi busies herself with work and worrying. She keeps trying to convince herself that she really likes Woo-sung, although it seems more like she doesn’t want to pass on the opportunity. It’s usually when her friend is giving her advice about how dogs act in reaction to their owners that sets Eun-yi in motion – and this time, she decides to find In-ho since she’s been worrying for days whether he’s eaten, or died.
Their relationship dynamic is one that only works with the female being aggressive (and even then, it’s debatable). But the agression-is-okay-when-it’s-female-on-male trope starts to wear thin by the halfway mark, even though Eun-yi’s beatings seem harmless. The first time she runs around beating In-ho? Funny enough. Fourth and fifth time she beats him? Not as funny.
Workplace (and love) rival Young-eun returns to the scene by ousting to Woo-sung that Eun-yi is living with a man. This causes him to stand Eun-yi up on their date, and in her worry she accidentally dials In-ho. He flies to her rescue on a bicycle, and we see a curious side of Eun-yi we haven’t seen in the previous parts of the movie – since she’s suddenly scared and unsure, too busy worrying what Woo-sung will think if he comes to find her gone to think about anything else.
This is where we see that her deep-seated fear comes from the experience of men rejecting her on the basis that she has no patience and tolerance. Instead of taking her home, In-ho takes her out on the town, where they dance in a square to live music being played and have a good time. It’s one of the poignant moments in the film that I connected with, because both characters make the moment seem completely organic.
Eun-yi’s had a good amount of champagne on their fun night out, and is properly sauced by the time she gets back to her apartment. The sexual tension that’s been building between them culminates in a scene where it’s almost assured that they’re going to get busy.
Kim Haneul and Jang Geun-seok work well together in moments like these – and the previously-lukewarm chemistry hits a natural peak here. The situation only gets awkward when Woo-sung arrives, having somehow bypassed her door so he could creep into her house unannounced. Naturally, he’s witnessed the whole foreplay/flirting situation, and that effectively puts the kibosh on their sexy times.
Eun-yi makes the mistake of attempting to explain the whole dog-master thing to Woo-sung, who doesn’t want to hear any of it. I can’t blame the guy, since that scenario sounds messed up any way you slice it. Either way, the two men end up confronting each other and have an all-out sissy fight, trading dirty punches and skittering around each other like scaredy-cats. It’s pretty funny.
Eun-yi manages to drag In-ho away, and he finally confronts her about how she really views him as a person. Eun-yi’s stress level, naturally, is high due to all the recent romancing she’s been receiving, and she becomes angry that the person she depends on to always accept her is asking her soul-searching questions. In the heat of the moment, she sends him away. She can’t take one more person trying to force a sense of guilt on her.
In-ho’s grand romantic gesture (which tries to be tongue-in-cheek, but doesn’t quite manage to get there) includes asking Eun-yi to come see his performance. Apparently he’s surmounted his fear of dancing with women, which leads to an interesting if not slightly-perplexing scene – the big musical number.
Musical numbers in romantic comedies can be fun and delightfully self-aware, so when we leave the literal stage of the number to go to an evergreen park, it’s clear that we’re being eased into a big, climactic moment. But by the time we hit the halfway mark in the musical interlude, I realized that Kim Haneul was curiously absent.
Essentially the musical number became a dream sequence when it was taken off the stage, and so seeing the same performance we would have seen on the stage – with Jang Geun-seok romancing a random musical actress instead of the heroine – left me wondering if Kim Haneul was simply too busy to film that day. And if not, what’s the purpose of seeing Jang Geun-seok do all this singing and dancing by himself? It’s certainly not that he doesn’t have the right to a musical interlude (because everyone has the right to a musical interlude), it’s just apropos of nothing without Kim Haneul present, since it happened at a time in the film that would suggest that it was the finale, or the finale lead-in. (She shows up for a few seconds at the end with single-shots only. Curiouser and curiouser.)
In this case, the musical interlude tricked my mind into believing we were at the end only to find that we weren’t – and when the actual end came, it couldn’t really compare to how outlandishly bombastic the interlude was. If the intended effect was for a quiet, poignant ending this would have worked perfectly – but there was clearly effort put into making the story resolution a grand affair. It just didn’t hit home for me.
The bottom line: A series of moments strung together by a will-they-or-won’t-they plot, without any turns along the way. Despite its lengthy production time, the entirety of the film – and especially the ending – came off feeling rushed. Couldn’t get past the premise enough to just enjoy, but my suspension of disbelief wasn’t the only thing holding this film back from greatness. Or even goodness.
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