- “Love and Leashes,” Netflix’s new Korean “Fifty Shades of Grey” based on a popular webtoon by Gyeowool, is the kinky love story we didn’t see coming to a majority-conservative country.
- But the film has soared to the top of Netflix’s most-watched list in South Korea, with K-pop stars Seohyun (Girls Generation) and Lee Jun-young (U-Kiss) receiving widespread praise for their performances on screen.
- Beyond the story lies the 'unlocking' of expectations, traditions, and gender roles.
The BDSM-romance genre has truly come up in mainstream media ever since Christian Grey first went down on Anastasia in the seminal 2011 novel “Fifty Shades of Grey.”
Netflix’s “Love and Leashes” manages to capture the essence of BDSM relationships while still maintaining the integrity of what global audiences have come to love about Korean romance stories. Excruciatingly long build-up, innocent touching, and finally a close-up kiss scene that lasts for ages — it’s all there.
The whips and chains get tastefully weaved in between in a way that won’t leave the halmonis screaming Omona.
The best part is that the roles are taken on by familiar faces in South Korea’s thriving K-pop industry. It’s U-Kiss’ Lee Jun-young that we see as the submissive Ji-hoo and Seohyun of Girls Generation that plays his master. In South Korea, where the film has been No. 1 on Netflix’s most-watched list since its release on Feb. 11, the singers’ performances were lauded by viewers.
The move to cast these actors might come as a surprise to some, seeing as the two have upheld a sweet and innocent image to the public eye for years, something even director Park Hyun-jin has acknowledged. But the decision seems in line with one of the movie’s overarching themes surrounding the way we perceive individuals — that they often defy traditional expectations.
Beginning with the moment Ji-hoo’s online purchase of a spiked collar accidentally ends up in the hands of his co-worker Ji-woo, their relationship blossoms on screen with the signing of their three-month BDSM contract. The parcel mishap turns into an opportunity that gives the characters space to not only explore their sexuality without judgment, but also room for vulnerability regardless of societal expectations.
The film takes an additional step when it comes to gender and relationship dynamics. As the movie stems from a majority-conservative South Korea, the placement and considerations of the characters differ from traditional media representations.
Despite his personal preferences when it comes to romance, Ji-hoo struggles to remain dominant in his work life and feels a sense of shame when it comes to accepting himself. On the other hand, Ji-woo is outspoken and criticized by those in her work environment.
The film also works to break down barriers when it comes to respect, consent and insecurity. The respect that Ji-woo and Ji-hoo hold for one another in their workplace translates into their new contractual dominant and submissive relationship, bringing with it additional concerns regarding consent and power dynamics.
Thus, while investing in their pleasure roles wholeheartedly, the prevalence of communication remains critical. Yet, as we see in many instances throughout the film, the personal relationship of these characters are not accepted by many. Ji-woo is hurt by the blatant disgust of his ex-girlfriend, Hana, and the exposure of their relationship to the workplace forces him to confront his “submissive” insecurities. This makes their journey, as individuals and as a couple, morph into one that confirms their sense of identity.
As “Love and Leashes” is brought not only to a Korean platform but a global one, it gives an opportunity for its audience to experience a whirlwind romantic comedy while also breaking through our expectations — and leaves us breaking out our handcuffs.
Featured Image via Jun Hae-sun/Netflix