TL;DR – Korean rom-com with a masochistic twist.
Review (warning: spoilers)
The opening line of Love and Leashes is “no relationship in the world is perfectly equal”.
Ji-hoo (Jun) has moved over from the business team to the PR team where he meets Ji-woo (Seohyun). Immediately, a fellow colleague remarks that their names are very similar and could get confused. The pair are teamed up by their boss after Ji-woo takes issue with a YouTuber who displays homophobic tendencies but works on an educational program, so their boss (who often puts his foot in his mouth with sexist remarks) asks them to work together to come up with a casting list. The friction between Ji-woo and her boss is obvious as he passive aggressively leaves his empty takeaway coffee on her desk and walks away. Ji-woo proceeds to crush the plastic cup in one curled fist with Ji-hoo noticing and looking on curiously.
Ji-woo is attractive but her colleague comments that she has a look in her eyes that is stand-offish and puts men off. However, this doesn’t stop Ji-hoo (who attracts a bit of a fan club from the women) coming up to Ji-woo and expressing that he’s looking forward to working with her.
The next day, Ji-hoo stops by the mailroom to pick up a package but discovers, to his horror, that the package has been accidentally given to Ji-woo (because their names are so similar). In a panic, he rushes to the elevator and frantically races to Ji-woo before she opens the package. It’s a funny sequence as Ji-woo opens the box to discover a spiked dog collar. Ji-hoo grabs the collar and tries to convince Ji-woo that it’s for his dog, but it becomes obvious that’s not the case when Ji-hoo tries to grab the box from Ji-woo causing it to fly up in the air, raining down foam packaging and a pamphlet that shows the purchase was from an S&M shop.
Ji-hoo freaks out on the inside that Ji-woo now thinks he’s a pervert. When he’s back at home, he talks in an online group chat with others who are into S&M and they say he needs to be careful otherwise he could lose his job.
Later in the evening, Ji-woo is going for a jog and stops at a shop displaying S&M gear. She imagines Ji-hoo confronting her and trying to put the spiked collar on her, which she refuses. Her day-dreaming is caught by her mother, who amusingly says she should go into the shop and even offers to buy her something (her mother is obviously much more up with the times than the bosses working at the PR company).
As things develop, there are humorous exchanges and misunderstandings, which reach the point where Ji-hoo asks Ji-woo to be his master (she would be the dom to his sub). What is interesting is that Ji-hoo asks this in a manner that is a contract rather than some romantic attraction, and Ji-woo initially reacts against the idea but becomes curious by it.
The cultural stigma of BDSM in a country like Korea is examined to some degree, and while the two leads capture the comic moments quite well, it is actually their deeper exchanges that are engaging. For example, Ji-woo asks Ji-hoo why he wants her to be his master, and he expresses an inner awkwardness that he has to pretend to be someone that he’s not so people will like him (which is ironic given he is very popular), yet he thinks Ji-woo is authentic and speaks her mind rather than being pigeon holed into an idea of how women should be in Korea. Likewise, Ji-woo is surprised at Ji-hoo’s own anxieties and is moved by his honesty.
The sexual tension that you would think exists in a film about BDSM is actually far more touching and poignant than expected simply because it is clear that Ji-woo is attracted to Ji-hoo in a romantic, falling-in-love kind of way when Ji-hoo believes Ji-woo could never feel that way towards him (due to his proclivities) and thus views their relationship as a business contract.
This is not “Fifty Shades of Grey”. This is a film that is surprisingly more moving and insightful about the connection between two people, and examines what is the basis of love. It also makes you ponder about the opening line of the film, and the idea of ‘power’. It’s the moments in-between the actual acts of S&M that elevates this film. The fact Ji-woo is confused about how she feels after she inflicts pain willingly received by Ji-hoo demonstrates how ‘power’ confuses the desire for loving kindness.
Great chemistry between to the two leads, and a story that is both funny and touching in equal measure.
8.5 out of 10