Ambitious and well-executed, Love and Leashes will certainly satisfy some viewers and may awaken some revelations in others
This review of the Netflix Korean film Love and Leashes does not contain spoilers.
There’s a lot to say about Love and Leashes. Not in the sense that it’s a thought-provoking masterclass in eroticism (it isn’t), but more so that it’s a strangely gripping, curious look at the BDSM community which balances stereotypes and fantasies in a cringe-worthy yet even-minded way.
Central to proceedings is Jung Ji-hoo (Lee Jun-young), an office worker with a particular interest: serving someone. Not in the sense that he’d grab them a tea, or pick up a parcel, but more along the lines of being entirely submissive to a “master” type. Sensitive, charismatic and hardworking, he’s a tender character, one who is smartly more than just his “out there” fetishes, but at the same time someone who finds his own life thrown into confusion when he encounters the similarly named Jung Ji-woo (Seohyun).
You see, Jung Ji-woo is new to the BDSM way of life, if you could call it that, yet finds herself fascinated by the dog collar delivery she mistakenly collects in place of her kinky co-worker. As such, but not before a bit of hesitation, the two sign a three-month contract to enable a “dom-sub” partnership, the kind of which changes both parties’ viewpoint on intimacy.
Now, this may all seem silly, and truthfully some of it is, but there is more to Love and Leashes than scenes of barking, dog treats and candle wax burning. Hidden amongst the novelty is a genuine message of accepting oneself no matter what others may think, as well as a reasonably fair statement that if you find the right person, it may be worth “flipping your life upside down.” There’s also some office politics and gender role comments made, but truthfully they’re not as strong as the ones about self-acceptance, and fall into mildly humorous hyperbole more often than not.
With all that in mind, it does help that the two leads, Lee Jun-young and Seohyun, both invest themselves in their roles wholeheartedly. Without the buy-in from the pairing, it’s conceivable that their chemistry wouldn’t have been as sharp as it was, nor the film as well executed as it ended up being. The former deserves praise for his anxious, nervy depiction of the self-admittedly childlike Ji-hoo, a man who wants to break out of his shell but finds himself becoming the biggest barrier in doing so. Similarly, Seohyun will rightly gain plaudits for her seamless display of uncertainty and intrigue, two things that could be said to be reflections of what much of the audience feel themselves.
Complete with tightly shot moments of romance and well-painted distinction, Love and Leashes is a release that is bound to satisfy an underrepresented niche in the cinematic world. As Netflix continues to venture deeper into the Korean market, continuing their expansion with a keen eye for webtoon adaptations, it’s refreshing to see such an ambitious commission. It certainly isn’t for everyone, but as the film itself drives home in its own unique way, how would we know if we don’t at least try?
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