When you say Teacher's Pet is a Korean film about the affair between a teacher and student, the knee jerk reaction is that it is probably a ho-hum, tabloidish story. Fairly well-worn, salacious subject matter, older teacher, young student, a secret dalliance hinging on an abuse of authority. Luckily the film eschews any melodrama and is instead a lightly comic charmer with some touches of magic realism.
Joh In-yeong (Kim Jeong-eun) is a math teacher who takes a liking to a sullen young student Lee Seok (Lee Tae-seong) in part because he reminds her of her first love, who coincidentally(?) was also named- you guessed it- Lee Seok. Meanwhile, another Joh In-yeong, we'll call her Joh In-yeong II (Jeong Yu-mi), a schoolgirl, is also in love with a Lee Seok doppelganger in both appearance and name.
Initially, I thought that the film was mixing up flashbacks between the current and past Joh In-yeong and her Lee Seok's. Then, fairly early, Joh In-yeong II's Lee Seok dies and she discovers that he had a twin who went to school elsewhere. Now we have two Joh In-yeong's who have eyes for Lee Seok, only he isn't not the first Lee Seok they initially fell in love with. Got it?
Director/writer Chung Ji Woo is obviously playing around with ideas of love by way of destiny. There is not really a strong case for why Lee Seok would be attractive to either one. Not that he's a bad kid, but he is just a kid and a bit of a dim kid at that. For teacher Joh In-yeong, just entering her thirties and no turning back as a responsible adult and woman, there is obviously the aspect of this new Lee Seok recapturing her youth. For the schoolgirl Joh In-yeong, it is about hanging onto her first idealized crush.
It is a cute film and there are some wonderful little moments, like the opening playful domestic scene between Joh In-yeong and her longtime live-in boyfriend where she admits, under the veil of joking, that she is attracted to and would like to have an affair with her student. There are some good jokes and observations about the generation gap in the love affair, like an exchange that amounts to "Being older doesn't mean you can force me to do what you want" countered by "Just because you are young doesn't mean you can lie to me." The films highlight, which I will not spoil, may be when Joh In-yeong's first Lee Seok comes back to Korea and they reunite for the first time since their teens.
Where the film falters a bit are where the lines between cinematic whimsy and ethical reality blur and you have to put on those suspension of disbelief blinders and roll with it. Like, Joh In-yeong II considers her first Lee Seok her first love, yet she knew him so little she was unaware he had a twin brother. Teach Joh In-yeong's blind, obsessive passion comes across as a tad crazy in some scenes, yet the intent, I believe, was to play it as cute. When discussing the affair with a colleague she says, paraphrasing, with a straight face, "Is it so wrong to kiss someone you love?" Well, I don't know how it is in Korea, but when you are 31, he is 17, and you are a teacher and he your student, hell yes it is. Its downright criminal. But, again, that is not the films territory.
The DVD: Pathfinder.
First of all, the Korean title apparently roughly translates as Close To You and I guess Burt Bacharach and Hal David have something to say about that title in the US, so its first alternate English title was Blossom Again. Now, apparently Pathfinder decided to water it down again and go with the generic Teacher's Pet. I think this sort of does disservice to the film and, along with the cursory description, makes it seem a bit more tv movie racy than it actually is.
Ugh. The film is presented with a Non-Anamorphic Widescreen transfer that is spotty and plagued with all the defects one would expect in say, a 1999 low key, Asian import. It's a weak print, a tad dirty, a bit too bright, just lacking in the general details. Then, on the technical side, it is also noisy and unpleasant. Seen worse, but not in a long time.
Nothing much to speak of other than a very standard 2.0 Stereo Korean language track with default, non-removable English subtitles. The subs do a good job of translating the younger characters teenspeak. Audio is acceptable, decent dialogue, minimal atmospherics, and sparse scoring that sticks to plunky piano themes.
A trailer and that is all.
Teachers Pet is one of those films I thought I would have to endure but ended up surprised by its low key charms, assured performances, and capable direction. It is more the the basics of the premise or promo material would lead one to believe. Pathfinder doesn't really do the film any favors and presents it with a below minimum standards transfer, making this one purely the stuff of a rental.