Screened as part of NZIFF 2002
This truly remarkable first feature, like the much higher-profile Ghost World, deals with the difficulty of maintaining the momentum of friendships forged in the enforced proximity of high school. The young women in both films are expertly drawn and expertly realised and their quandaries are perfectly plausible. Jeong Jae-eun is working on a much broader canvas than her trans-Pacific counterparts, and her triumph is that much more surprising and satisfying.
The differing backgrounds and wavering priorities of upwardly-mobile Haejoo, loyal Taehee, troubled Jiyoung and the twins Biryu and Ohnjo are economically outlined in a series of organic, beautifully observed vignettes, and their personalities become the driving force of the plot’s mechanism. Minimal input to this dynamic system (a peripatetic boyfriend, a stray kitten) turns out an extraordinarily rich fiction. Relationships are strained by circumstance and casual neglect, crises mount, intimacy ebbs and flows. Take Care of My Cat is extremely perceptive about the forces that drive friends apart, but at the same time holds out the hope that interpersonal entropy might be reversed. The characters’ individual journeys are so expertly handled that the momentous decision of the film’s final moments catches us off-guard and we don’t know whether to feel exhilarated or devastated.
Director Jeong and her cinematographer Choi Young-hwan are never at a loss for a telling camera angle, constantly varying their composition and placement without a trace of hyperactivity. Take Care of My Cat features perhaps the most discreet and apposite visual effects you’ll see all year (thoroughly modern – and sure to be emulated – integrations of text; very cute split screens), and this début effort, with its restraint and calm wisdom, feels uncannily like the work of an old master subtly refining her art as she quietly advances the medium. — Andrew Langridge