REVIEW: Love and Leashes (2022)

By: Penny Rae Hawkins

Leave it to South Korea to make the movie kinksters have been waiting for. 

Ever since the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey came and went, BDSM has become somewhat prevalent in the public consciousness. From other fanfic adaptations like the Gabriel’s Inferno and After series to knockoffs like Bound and 365 Days, E.L James has certainly made her mark for better or worse. While these properties show varying levels of kink, they all have three things in common: explicit sex scenes, abusive relationships dressed up as romance and a poor/demonizing view of kink.

The 2022 Netflix film Love and Leashes, a Korean romcom about coworkers who engage in BDSM play, contains none of this and is all the better for it. While leads Seohyun and Lee Joon-young never explicitly have sex on screen, their dom-sub dynamic is proof enough that it isn’t needed for the film to be both honest and titillating. 

If you ask me, the first thing this film does right is Jihoo (Lee) being into kink from the very beginning. He doesn’t need to be pressured or manipulated into being Jiwoo’s (Seohyun) submissive; in fact, he’s the one who asks her to be his “master” after she accidentally opens a private package of his at work. Jiwoo, who has never engaged in any kind of power play, becomes intrigued and begins extensive research about being a good dominant that lasts throughout the entire film. It’s this research that inspires her to draft a short-term contract, take good care of her gear and practice on her own so she doesn’t hurt Jihoo by being unprepared. This same research also leads her to providing excellent aftercare to her submissive, something rarely seen in films with similar subject matter. 

Not only does Love and Leashes do this right, but it explores the very reason some people engage in kink in the first place in a very nuanced way. While it’s a natural proclivity for Jihoo, Jiwoo not only discovers she’s into it, but she can also use it as a way to process and unleash her frustrations related to working at a sexist workplace that doesn’t appreciate her. This comes to fruition in a scene where Jihoo tells Jiwoo to curse at and hit him, only for her to start screaming at and berating him as if he were her dumb, sexist boss…and Jihoo loves every second of it. It’s refreshing to see a kinky couple onscreen where both participants are enthusiastic about the scenes they’re engaging in, and very very sexy.

While the sex isn’t explicit like in properties such as 365 or Fifty Shades, the kink feels much less threatening in nature. Whether Jihoo’s simply being stepped on or being treated like a literal dog, the explosive tension between the two leads makes it clear both parties are genuinely into it. This not only helps Jiwoo find confidence at work, but Jihoo heal from a traumatic rejection. The couple communicate, play and even err in ways that feel authentic. In short, their play is safe, sane and consensual. The one scene where a character finds herself in a nonconsensual situation, she not only saves herself but makes it clear that her taboo interests make her no less deserving of basic respect. Even if it’s not intentional, this feels like a direct and well-deserved jab at “fake doms” like Christian Grey.

All this in mind, the best part of the film is watching the emotional relationship develop between the two. Without admitting it at first, Jihoo and Jiwoo are attracted to one another within minutes of being introduced. Even though their arrangement as dom and sub is free of emotional attachments at first, the leads do a fantastic job showing how this casual kink brings them closer together through mutual trust, pleasure and communication. The ending of the film is funny without being mocking and romantic without being saccharine. In short, it was sweet in a way films of this kind don’t tend to be while maintaining the kinky aspects. 

Overall, Love and Leashes is a film that explores kink in a way that was well-educated and sincere, showing that one does not have to give up their more singular tastes in order to find true love. Whether the couple are fated soulmates or not, the true companionship and respect the pair shows for one another is one writers and directors all over should take notes from. 

Photo credit: Netflix Junkie

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