“Take Care of My Cat”, which is recently re-released in South Korean theaters for its 20th anniversary, is a modest but charming coming-of-age drama going around five different young women and a little cat in Inchon. Although it is 20 years old now, the movie still feels fresh and lively thanks to not only its good direction but also the game efforts from its main cast members, and it surely deserves to be remembered as one of very few notable female South Korean films during the 2000s.
After the prologue scene showing its five main characters not long before their high school graduation, the movie promptly moves forward to several months later, and we get to know the current status of each member one by one. While Hye-joo (Lee Yo-won) is now working as a new employee in some financial company in Seoul, Tae-hee (Bae Doona) is still living with her family as occasionally doing a volunteer work for a young poet with cerebral palsy, and Ji-yeong (Ok Ji-young) has been hopelessly stuck in her grandparents’ shabby home without much chance to get employed anywhere. In case of Bi-ryoo (Lee Eun-joo) and her twin sister On-jo (Lee Eun-sil), these two vivacious girls often sell accessories on streets, and there is a small funny moment when they try to sell some of their stuffs to several kids in their neighborhood.
As Hye-joo’s birthday is coming, Ji-yeong tries to have a meeting with her four friends, but that turns out to be more difficult than expected. While Hye-joo is often busy with her work, Ji-young is not particularly willing to spend some time with her friends, but the mood soon becomes joyous nonetheless when they and other three girls manage to join together for celebrating Hye-joo’s birthday at a little nightclub.
After that narrative point, the movie leisurely moves from one small episodic moment to another as its five main characters go through each own daily life. When her problematic parents come to have a divorce at last, Hye-joo and her older sister are rather relieved to say the least, and we later see Hye-joo cheerfully moving to a new place with some help from her older sister and boyfriend. Now living closer to her workplace, she is willing to do more for getting more advance for her career, and she consequently becomes distant from her friends as focusing more on her work.
Quite bored with her current status, Tae-hee begins to consider becoming a sailor at one point, but, not so surprisingly, she is instantly rejected for an understandable reason, and that adds another frustration to her seemingly aimless daily life. That accordingly makes her lean more on the remaining friendship with her friends, but she is only reminded more of the growing distance among them since their high school graduation.
Meanwhile, Ji-yeong’s situation becomes gloomier as she faces more of her harsh reality. Although she wants to be an art designer someday, that looks like a distant dream out of her reach, and there are not many other options left to her due to the poor economic status of her grandparents, which is vividly reflected by the very bad condition of their shabby residence. It seems that the roof of their home may be collapsed at any point, but they cannot do anything due to their lack of money, and we are often disturbed by the small cracking sounds coming from somewhere above the ceiling of their home.
At least, Ji-yeong gets some consolation from a small kitten she happened to find on one day. Although it was initially given to Hye-joo as her birthday present, Hye-joo subsequently gave it back to Ji-yeong without any hesitation, and the movie accordingly serves us several sweet moments as Ji-young comes to spend lots of time with this little animal, which certainly steals the show every time with its inherent cuteness.
During its second half, the movie takes a sudden unexpected plot turn, and the mood accordingly becomes a bit darker than before, but the movie steadily maintains its lightweight attitude as usual. I particularly like a humorous scene where our five main characters happen to spend a very cold night together outside Bi-ryoo and On-jo’s house, and I also appreciate the tentative optimism of the last scene where Tae-hee finally makes a big active forward step along with one of her friends.
The screenplay by director/writer Jeong Jae-eun, who recently directed “Butterfly Sleep” (2017), depicts its five main characters with a lot of care and attention, and the main cast members of the film bring lots of life and depth to their respective roles. While Bae Doona, who has steadily advanced during last 20 years, is understandably the most prominent member in the bunch now, Lee Yo-won and Ok Ji-young are also solid as two contrasting figures in the story, and Lee Eun-joo and Lee Eun-sill are always fun to watch as constantly brimming with the joy of life. In addition, Jeong did a good job of capturing a number of locations in Inchon with considerable verisimilitude on the screen, and you may find yourself becoming a bit nostalgic if you remember how Inchon looked around that period.
On the whole, “Take Care of My Cat” is still worthwhile to watch for its youthful mood and charm, and I am more touched as reflecting more on its many intimate moments. Compared to more famous South Korean films of the 2000s such as “Memories of Murder” (2003) or “Oldboy” (2003), it may look rather plain in comparison, but its sensitive heart is still beating well even at present, and I am glad that I finally watched it after hearing about it so many times.