Some Call It Puppy Love: Review of Love and Leashes

Love and Leashes (2022) is a cute, funny and well-written Korean romantic comedy starring Seo Ju-hyun as Jung Ji-woo, a serious office worker who is constantly being told to smile, be cute, and defer to others less, both by her boss and office staff, and by well-meaning women in her life such as her mother and best friend, who fear she will never find a man if she doesn’t conform. Because it debuted on Netflix (last month on February 11, just in time for Valentine’s rom-com season), a lot of people mistakenly believe it’s a series. It’s not – it’s an approximately two-hour long motion picture.

Her love interest, a similarly named Jung Ji-hoo (portrayed by actor, rapper and singer Lee Jun-young) is a new hire at her marketing firm. Although he is new, and a bit younger than she is, due to the sexist culture in their workplace, he is her senior in the office (although not a supervisor). A coworker jokes that they’ll be confused for each other. Their abrasive and sexist boss (played by Seo Hyun-woo) immediately points out that, aside from their gender difference, Ji-hoo is the kind of pleasant, polite, and frankly, cute behavior he’s been hoping for from Ji-woo. Although she is smart and hard-working, her refusal to conform to gender norms is causing friction in the office place.

Ji-woo and Ji-hoo’s name confusion invariably leads to a case of mistaken identity, and a series of hysterical slapstick comedy scenes later, Ji-woo discovers Ji-hoo’s secret. He is kinky. Since she already has her eye on, him, she decides to do a little research to see what she might be getting herself into if she pursues this.

Ji-hoo also has his eye on Ji-woo. Her assertive, non-nonsense manner and sober bearing are what he finds attractive – things she is constantly being criticized for. He defends her, and beyond simply accepting her for herself, thoroughly enjoys who she is. One of the delightful things about this film is how, over the course of their relationship, she starts to perform better at work. When they eventually get into a contractual kink relationships, one of the terms of the contract is that Ji-woo will continue to bear herself in an empowered way. Although it is sad that it takes her being involved for her mother, best friend, and female coworkers to stop asking her to smile more and be more demure, it is also pretty real. This happens a lot.

As a kinky person, I would like to say that Love and Leashes gets a lot of things right.  Ji-hoo is a part of an online kink community, and has a lot of knowledge on the subject, even though he has not yet had a dominant. It deals with his break-up with a previous partner (who was disturbed by his kinks) well. Other subjects it touches on are difficulties that can come up in negotiating romantic and sexual relationships when in a D/s relationship.

The relationship starts out with simple pet play – a kind of D/s play where the Dominant roleplays a pet owner, and the submissive, often but not necessarily on a leash, roleplays an animal. That is where the movie gets its name, Love and Leashes. In this case, Ji-hoo is being a puppy – and a specifically female puppy at that, named Miho. Although the initial play scenes are cute, awkward and comical, the actors have good sexual chemistry in all of the kinky scenes, which adds both intimacy and hotness to them that only levels up as the movie goes on. Actor Lee Jun-young’s cute puppy dog faces at a lot to the convincingness of the puppy play, for anyone who has actually played with a human pupper.

In a lot of ways, Seo Ju-hyun’s character Ji-woo is what you’d call “the straight man” in this comedy – a term used to describe a serious character that the others bounce off of in a comedy. Because Ji-woo is intelligent, hard-working and studious, they are able to convincingly have her do a lot of research on kink without breaking character. This creates a lot of “teaching moments” for those newly acquainted with kink in the audience.

Although combining romance, sex, and BDSM are more common than the online article Ji-woo consults might suggest, it correctly asserts that there are issues when those come into play in a power dynamic relationship where one partner is Dominant and the other submissive. It does a very good job of showing what can go wrong, as well as how do to do it right when it comes to pairing D/s dynamics with sex and/or romance. It also gets into difficulties that can arise in office romances, without ever becoming preachy or losing the romantic comedy vibe.

In the end, it is a sweet movie that is not overly saccharine or sentimental. It is also a rare film that shows a female dominant character in a way that is humanizing. While Ji-woo becomes cooler, more confident, and sexier as she goes further down the rabbit hole with Ji-hoo, he remains the main eye candy as the clothed Dominant/half-naked submissive trope gets a little feminist here. But both of the characters remain very human. It was a fun film with sexy kink scenes and a playful romance and I say check it out.

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My book Happiness and Other Diseases is coming out on March 30 on Mocha Memoirs Press. It’s a kinky paranormal romance that teeters on the bleeding edge of horror. The Book Release Party is on Saturday, April 16 from 7pm to 9m at the Folsom Street Community Center in San Francisco’s Leather Cultural District. Drinks and appetizers will be served. My online class Love & Monsters: On Paranormal Romance makes its debut on March 15 at the Speculative Fiction Academy.

~ by Sumiko Saulson on March 3, 2022.

One Response to “Some Call It Puppy Love: Review of Love and Leashes”

  1. Definitely one I would love to see. I love Korean cinema, and this looks so, so good! Thanks for the intro via your review!

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