The Sweet Side of BDSM – Beginners Welcome
As part of the watchword ‘diversity,’ corporate businesses everywhere put out messages that each employee should bring his, her or their ‘true self’ to work. This is likely not what they have in mind…
Korean office rom-com Love and Leashes (Netflix) launches just in time for Valentine’s Day. It centres its premise on sexual preferences outside the norm – ‘it’s not wrong, it’s different.’
The original Korean title, Moral Sense, lends a completely different vibe and is perhaps more tuned in to the real message about the masks we wear. While it’s provocative and fun, let’s be clear – this will not overly push your boundaries.
Not even glancing the ‘Fifty Shades’ realm, it does, like so many Asian dramas, take an out-of-the-ordinary topic and humanize it. And as ever, raises what’s seen as a person’s flaw and turns it into appeal – for the right partner. As my grandmother used to say, ‘A lid for every pot.’
To begin, the narrative stakes a clear line on sexual harassment, acknowledging a perpetual balance of power in all relationships. It bumps against the age-old ‘male=hunter’ and in a way, makes the mainstream look not only stale and out of touch, but not particularly complimentary to women. There’s a subtle package here about stereotypical roles and whether the people who embody them are who you want in your life.
An introductory lesson ala ‘BDSM for Dummies’ explains the dominant and submissive roles, courtesy of the internet. Added insight into the emotional side is voiced via anonymous chatrooms, where that feeling of being tagged a weirdo is perfectly conveyed. For our lead, it’s layered with copious apologies – what else can one do but apologize for weirdness?
But still, main character Jung Jihoo chooses to open himself to ridicule, ostracization and possibly even job loss as he creeps toward honesty. New to the floor Jihoo is, by day, the beloved super-star who joins from another department within the company. He’s to work with, among others, Jung Jiwoo a straight-faced detail jockey on his team.
With similar names, of course, there has to be a mis-delivered package. This is where we begin, with what could be a dog’s collar but looks a little big for a poodle. Then there’s that 15% off coupon with a helpful photo of a leather-clad couple. As Jiwoo mistakenly opens the box, it’s her absence of fluster that gets Jihoo thinking.
In fact, it’s Jiwoo’s generally stony yet composed look that makes her seem like the perfect dominant partner to Jihoo. Maybe he should find a way to ask her to be his Master? But he best apologize to her first, just in case he’s misreading.
From Jiwoo’s perspective, he’s a cute guy with dating potential. Her colleague’s advice is to brighten her look and then seduce him by crossing the line. You see where this is going, right? He asks, she accepts and then does copious research to understand her role as a good Dominatrix… While still thinking in the back of her mind that it’s a chance to get to know him.
So, with two consenting, curious adults who seem to have the right personalities for the task, what could go wrong? As any BDSMer will tell you, it’s tough to mix vertical fantasy Dom/Sub roles with a ‘real’ equal-partner relationship.
Based on the 112-chapter webtoon Moral Sense by Gyeoul (Winter), the 118-minute runtime feels snappy, cruising through a smooth ride with occasional comical roundabouts. Director Park Hyun-Jin, known for adapting/directing social media-focused ensemble film Like for Likes and romance Lovers of Six Years takes writer credits, having used the webtoon as inspiration.
Seo Ju Hyun, known professionally as Seohyun, is a South Korean singer/actress and former member of pop group Girls’ Generation. She plays novice ‘Dominant’ Jiwoo in her first leading role in a movie. You may recognise her from a number of K-dramas including Private Lives, Time (Viki) and Ruby Ruby Love.
Lee Jun Young plays ‘Submissive’ Jihoo in his first film role. If you’ve seen K-drama Let Me Be Your Knight (Viki), you will hardly spot the taciturn leader of rock band LUNA in the character of Jihoo. Lee is also known for his award-winning performance in family K-drama Goodbye to Goodbye (Viki). Before acting, Lee was a singer and member of K-pop groups U-KISS and UNB.
For an idol drama (content starring pop idols) the music went by almost completely unnoticed, which feels like a miss. Surely a well-placed theme tune sung by the pair could have had potential? The lighting, however, plays a starring role in differentiating ‘work’ and ‘play’ between the characters, shifting from scene to scene.
Helpfully, subtitles are sharp, capturing words like ‘proclivity’ and clearly describing the couple’s encounters so you can keep the pace. Along with that, you’ll discover a few choke-on-your-wine moments that feel natural and believable in line with the setup, delivering some sharp writing paired with priceless expressions.
But the ultimate question – was it good for you? It isn’t as expected from the title, but at the same time as a movie from generally conservative South Korea, it is. Certainly compelling viewing, it has the easy snap of a Korean drama, rather than a movie, but with a few extra accoutrements; it’s more a rom-com than a BDSM flick. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing once your expectations are aligned – it’s absolutely watchable.
With it’s persistent position of acceptance and gradual reveal of personal preferences, you may finish the film and wonder about the people in your own circle. How well do you know them? And peeking under the table-skirt you may also wish to consider the role you might want to play. Happy Valentine’s Day, All!
What did you think of Love and Leashes? Was it what you were expecting? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to hear your comments below.
Verdict - 9/10