Viewers allergic to adorable-animal movies should know that felines barely leave a paw print in Take Care of My Cat, Korean director Jae-eun Jeong's sensitive debut about the shifting friendships among five girls. As rich in incidental detail as it is narratively diffuse, Cat faithfully registers their failures in ambition and communication as workplace ennui obliterates high school graduation giddiness, the only constant the variegated burbling of their cell phones. (In a witty, telling touch, text messages leak into the real world, gliding across windows and facades.) The film is a strange creature: a teen flick with scarcely a hint of sex, a story that refuses to crystallize until near the end, an ostensible ensemble piece that separates its players more than it unites them.
The time apart lends their meetings resonance, and the plot's gentle interlockings find a metaphor in the painstakingly braided graphic designs of Ji-young (Ji-young Ok), the group's most troubled member, an orphan who lives with her poor grandparents under an obscenely sagging ceiling. Her closest friend, the stunning Hae-joo (Yo-won Lee), takes an entry-level job in a Seoul brokerage, where her self-absorption becomes intolerable. Almost by accident, though not without friction, Ji-young finds a more sympathetic friend in Tae-hee (Doo-na Bae), a smart but circumscribed girl who toils without pay at the family business and spends her spare time transcribing the verse of a handicapped poet.
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The film's modest premise belies its wide-angle shot of contemporary Korean society, taking in everything from an American-style eatery's disorienting menu items to the trio of young Burmese factory workers who try to pick up the girls. Take Care of My Cat is a world in small, subtly acknowledging larger economic and cultural forces one moment, and in the next patiently observing the way a bowl of medicinal tea, seen turning in a microwave carousel, begins to describe its own slow epicycles.
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