Kink Without Sex in Love and Leashes

Although not explicitly stated to be Asexual representation, the South Korean Netflix film Love and Leashes shows a fascinatingly sexless BDSM relationship that resonates with many Aces.

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Courtney: Hello everyone, welcome back. My name is Courtney, I am here with my spouse, Royce, and together we are The Ace Couple. And today we are talking about Love and Leashes. This is a movie on Netflix that we watched a long time ago. We recently watched it a second time because it is just that good. And, oddly enough, I don’t think we can consider it like asexual representation in the media, like a lot of things we talk about, but I think we heard from like three different aces, like in our friend network, “You should watch this movie.”

Royce: We got a few recommendations all at the same time.

Courtney: All around the same time. And they were all by aces that we know, we love, we work with, all that good stuff. There is a distinct sexlessness about the movie, despite the fact that it is about kink. There is a pretty sexless character and I think it may be enough that one could interpret a character in this as ace-coded. But regardless of whether or not, I’m not here to say like, “Oh, this was great ace rep,” but I think there’s something in it that can resonate with a lot of ace people, especially people on the asexual spectrum who are interested in or curious about kink.

Royce: So yeah, Love and Leashes was released in 2022. It is a South Korean movie built as a romantic comedy. When I was searching for a few reference points just a minute ago, I saw a headline or two, or a title or two, that was calling it a Korean 50 Shades of Grey, which no.

Courtney: You know, I haven’t watched 50 Shades of Grey.

Royce: I haven’t either.

Courtney: But the impression I get–

Royce: It seems like the only similarity is that they both involve kink to some degree.

Courtney: See, I have been given the impression by just general discourse– And again, I have not seen this movie, I have not watched– I haven’t watched this book, I have not read the book either.

Royce: You haven’t read the movie or watched the book.

Courtney: I have neither read the movie nor watched the book. I did join a book club when I moved to Kansas City where the very first book everyone was like, “Let’s read 50 Shades of Grey.” And I was like, “Oh, maybe this book club isn’t for me.” But general discourse has given me the impression that 50 Shades of Grey is not good kink representation. I know a lot of people in the kink community have been like, “This is toxic, this isn’t right, this isn’t how you do it.” I think Love and Leashes is the opposite. I think it actually shows a pretty good, healthy kink dynamic. So yeah, I don’t know where that comparison’s coming from.

Royce: The movie is based off of a manhwa or comic webtoon, whatever your word is for that entire genre of media. The literal translation is Moral Sense. I pretty consistently see that translated to Love and Leashes for both the written material and the movie. I flipped through the first few chapters before I realized that it was over 140 chapters long, and it did seem to not necessarily line up scene by scene, but it did seem very similar to the depictions in the movie. I assume that diverges because I’m pretty sure that movie we watched was not 140 chapters of content.

Courtney: I wouldn’t think so.

Royce: They were long chapters too. There was a lot to it. But from what I could find, the manhwa is complete, and it was completed at least by late 2018. It was hard for me to find an exact runtime.

Courtney: Well, now I’m kind of curious. If I have time, maybe I’ll read it at some point, because I want to know if it remains sexless throughout, like the movie did.

Royce: I don’t know for sure. My impression is yes, after just seeing some things in the beginning and then also flipping to the final chapter just to see if there was anything dramatically different or anything like that. But yeah, that was too much, that was too large of a research topic for an evening before recording.

Courtney: Yeah! And we were going to talk about this like a year ago, over a year ago, when we first watched the movie. But you know, things happen.

Royce: So the story revolves around our protagonists, Ji-Woo and Ji-Hoo, who are co-workers in the same office space. I think the first scene we get there is Ji-Hoo being introduced to a new area of the office by their manager.

Courtney: Yeah. He, like, just got a transfer. So Ji-Hoo is the man in this budding relationship and Ji-Woo is the woman, but they both have the same last name. They’re both Jung, Ji-Hoo and Ji-Woo, and that is like immediately called out. Like all the co-workers are like, “Oh, this is going to be confusing. Their names sound so alike.”

Royce: And that name similarity is what really sparks their meeting, because not long thereafter Ji-Hoo realizes that a package that has been delivered to work for him has gone to the wrong person and rushes off in a panic to go find it.

Courtney: Which is so good. It’s so very good. Because I want to know how often people are having personal packages delivered to their workplace. But also it’s a dog collar. [chuckles] He literally ordered a collar for himself, had it delivered to the office he works at, for some reason, and it accidentally gets delivered to Jung Ji-Woo and not him, Jung Ji-Hoo.

Royce: And this was not really called attention to in the movie, in the first couple chapters of the webcomic that I read through, it did have a little scene of him searching for it and then, right before purchase, there was a line about, “I can’t have this delivered to my apartment,” or to my house. It wasn’t explained. I don’t know if that was a like–

Courtney: He’s still living with family, maybe?

Courtney: I got more of the impression of deliveries either couldn’t be made to his apartment or couldn’t be made as reliably.

Courtney: Gotcha.

Royce: And he thinks on it and is like, “Well, just this one time. It’ll be fine if I send it to work, just this once.”

Courtney: Yeah, it’ll be fine. This doesn’t have all the trappings of a kink romcom setup. What are you talking about? I just love– So, obviously, she opens this package. It’s like a dog collar. He comes running in and is like, “Oh, that’s for my dog.” And he’s trying to make all these flustered excuses. And I think ultimately lands on like, “Oh, I have a poodle.” Or he says a dog that’s much smaller than the size of, like, a grown man’s neck. And she’s like, “That looks too big for that dog.”

Royce: “My dog has a really thick neck.”

Courtney: Really thick neck dog. But the funny thing is– So she has already been established to be someone who maybe doesn’t emote or communicate in the way that a lot of people in the office expect. It’s a very sexist environment. Also, the manager is just awful to all the women in the office, and because she actually calls him out on his shit and tries to assert herself, she’s sort of gotten this reputation for being a little cold or a little aloof or not being like the dainty woman that everyone sort of wants her to be. And so her reactions are very just like neutral. She doesn’t seem repulsed or put off by this, but she’s definitely like, “I’m gonna call you out on that because that story doesn’t line up.” But this, like, coupon falls out of it, that’s clearly a picture of a person wearing one of these collars, maybe, like, lightly tied up, like in definite kink fetish gear.

Royce: It’s a flier for a sex shop.

Courtney: Yeah, but it’s like 15% off your next purchase or something. And he gets so panicked and he goes to, like, throw it away. And she just very nonchalantly goes, “Why would you throw away a coupon?” Oh, it’s so good!

Royce: But Ji-Hoo comes out of that situation embarrassed and concerned. He’s shown one evening talking to some friends online who are also into kink. This is like his support group, basically, of friends who are, I believe, the only people aside from an ex of his that is– are actually aware of this inclination.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: He doesn’t know what to do. He thinks he’s been found out and that could be damaging to his employment. But he sort of comes out of this conversation convinced that Ji-Hoo not only understood the situation but approves of it and is into kink herself.

Courtney: Yeah, it’s obviously a big taboo. So they’re like, “Well, if she didn’t react negatively, if you aren’t about to lose your job, if she isn’t telling everyone, then one of us!” And he doesn’t buy it completely right off the bat, but a later conversation with her, he manages to convince himself. But I want to talk a little bit about Ji-Woo, and her office dynamic and the way she’s speaking about this. Because she clearly– You know, she gets the comments like, “You should smile more,” kind of a thing, because she doesn’t make a lot of facial expressions, she doesn’t sugarcoat things for anybody, but she also is very much– She’s getting these comments from managers that are like, “Oh, why don’t you try to make yourself prettier?” And like, “It’s not just your lovers you should try to be attractive for, you should try to be attractive in the office,” which she’s wildly offended too, every time. And even though the couple here obviously form a kink relationship, there are still a lot of elements of queerness here.

Courtney: Like the first main conflict in the office is that this manager wants to hire a YouTuber. They do like marketing and PR for a children’s TV show, I think. And this YouTuber has, like, made homophobic comments. So Ji-Hoo is over here saying like, “We shouldn’t hire this guy. He said homophobic comments. This is unacceptable.” And then there’s kind of the element of coming out. Like he’s coming out as a kinkster. He shares a story of his ex-girlfriend that he came out to that didn’t go over very well. But even before Ji-Woo finds this collar and starts talking to him more in depth, he’s kind of like he’s the new guy in the office. He– he’s attractive to a lot of the women, so he’s kind of– I don’t know, a lot of the women are flirting with him in the office and so they think he’s kind of quite the ladies man.

Courtney: And we get this conversation with Ji-Woo with another coworker, who seems to be like her best work friends, like this is the one she tends to talk to in the office. And her work friend doesn’t just ask, “Oh, are you interested in him?” She phrases it as if she’s certain she won’t be interested, because she says something like, “Oh, even a guy like that doesn’t interest you, right?” And just sort of gives– gives the impression that, like, you’re never interested in anyone, and I know this about you. But this guy’s also been kind of the first guy in the office to stand up for her when something, like, really sexist is happening. Like he talks back to the manager. And so she says like, “Yeah, he does. I’m interested.” And this friend is shocked, flabbergasted, like, “Really?! You’re interested?” But then she’s also saying, like, “Well, you say you’re interested, but you don’t even blush, you don’t show it at all, you don’t go talk to him.” And she just says like, “Well, why would I? Because it’s not like I’m going to do anything about it anyway.” And her friend pushes back and is like, “Do what? What do you mean? How far were you thinking?”

Courtney: And so it’s very suggestive, like, “What do you mean that? Like you’re not going to do anything, like what is anything here?” And she would just sort of look back at her very coy, is like, “Nothing like that, at all.”

Courtney: And so my read on that was like, “Yeah, I am interested in him, but I can’t really give a guy something that guys would traditionally want in a relationship, so I kind of just don’t bother.” Like that– that is my ace reading on it.

Courtney: And it’s her just general sort of, I guess, disinterest, aloofness, blunt and directness when she does call someone out in the office, that they’re discussing after he comes to her, like, the next day. He texts her, it is like, “I’m so sorry.” After she finds this collar. And she’s like, “Well, what are you apologizing for?” And I guess she’s just sort of trying to connect. Like, “I kind of get what it’s like to be the weird one, because I have a tendency too.” And she starts talking about how people think she’s cold or rude because of the way she talks or the way that she doesn’t smile. And as soon as she says, like, “Yeah, I’m also– You know, I know what it’s like to be the outsider, I have a tendency.” Then in his head he starts having, like, this internal monologue and he’s like, “A tendency? [gasps] Then my friends on the chat room were correct! She is just like us.” So he’s having this entire different conversation in his head and gets really, really excited and it’s like, “You are one of us!”

Royce: Oh yeah, and then he comes out with all of this with no subtlety.

Courtney: None at all! He, straight up, is like, “Will you be my master?” And she’s like, “I’m what? Pardon me? That was not what I was talking about, actually.” But she’s also– she’s still pretty cool about it. She’s like, “It’s none of my business, like, I’m not going to tell anyone, that’s your deal.” But she sits and thinks on it for a while, and she gets sort of, I guess, curious about it. Like she’s– She’s on a walk at night and she passes a sex shop and she sees some things like whips and and starts, like, “Hmm, what would that be like actually?”

Royce: Yeah, we see her sitting on that thought process for a little bit, having not, like, definitively said yes or no to that prior conversation, mostly just being surprised and confused and trying to navigate that. The next conversation they have, I believe, happens after their coworkers had all gone out for dinner and drinks. She finds Ji-Hoo crying in the parking lot by himself.

Courtney: Can I just say he is such a precious baby darling? I love him so much. [laughs]

Royce: But in this scene, this is where he mentions to Ji-Woo that his past, his most recent relationship, ended very poorly, and it ended because he told her that he was into kink.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. Now refresh my memory, Royce, because I remember the dialogue, but I’m trying to– Like I can hear it in my head, but I’m trying to remember how it was pictured visually. Because he is crying about this past relationship, but also because he now thinks that Ji-Woo is disgusted by him, that he came out. And I can hear the line in my head, but did she actually say, like, “I’m disgusted by him,” but she was talking about the manager and he misinterpreted, and thought it was about him? Or did he just hear that in his mind and she didn’t actually say that aloud? Because it’s one of those two things.

Royce: There was a scene in the office before this one where their manager was making some sexist comments and she did say, “So disgusting,” to him. And that may have been picked up incorrectly. Or that may have been picked up incorrectly by Ji-Hoo. Because I think there’s a couple of scenes where Ji-Hoo is just going around the office and feeling like there is a lot of visibility or pressure on him, because he doesn’t know if Ji-Woo has gone around and told everyone. And so there are a lot of innocuous things being said that he’s thinking like, “Is that about me?”

Courtney: Right, yeah. So he now has, due to a misunderstanding, an impression that Ji-Woo was actually disgusted by him. So he’s like sobbing behind a car in a parking lot, and he’s also drunk because they had gone out as an office after work to some kind of restaurant. And when he shares the story with her, that he had this girlfriend and when he confided in her that he’s interested in kink, she was horribly repulsed, called him a pervert, left him, was like, “You should have never told me that, you shouldn’t tell anybody that. That’s disgusting.” And Ji-Woo, pretty nonchalantly, just was sort of like, “Well, that’s not very nice of her.” I don’t remember what the exact line is, but she definitely condemns that, like, “What a terrible thing to do. She shouldn’t make you feel that way.”

Royce: She also pretty bluntly calls him a crybaby and also–

Courtney: Oh, my gosh. He is, and I love that about him!

Royce: And also in this discussion, is like, “I don’t really think you’re a pervert. Well, maybe you are a pervert, but why does that matter?”

Courtney: Yeah, and like, “Aren’t we all a little bit?” or something.

Royce: At the end of that, Ji-Hoo again asks Ji-Woo if she will be his master, and in this case she overtly says no, and the two of them separate for the night. Ji-Hoo walks home drunk.

Courtney: Yes. [laughs]

Royce: But the next day at the office, Ji-Woo pulls him aside–

Courtney: Well, she’s been googling over the course of the night. Or whatever the South Korean version of googling is.

Royce: She’s been looking some things up, yes. She pulls him aside at work, which– not a great idea, but sits him down in a locked office room and sets expectations.

Courtney: Yeah, she just pulls out a blindfold and just, like, “Put this on.” Which I do think is really interesting, because she is learning about what these dynamics are. Like, we see the internet search where she’s searching like BDSM and what that means, and what these dynamics could look like. So as she is learning, we, the audience, can also learn.

Royce: Yeah, those sequences come up just after this scene. In this scene she’s saying she doesn’t know much about this, but she’s willing to try and learn. And then they agree to try something together. Then we see a series of these searches and the information coming from these searches, which is a little overview of BDSM and the things that go into it.

Courtney: Do you remember the line? Because I liked the way they explained how– because I think it can apply to when we’re discussing kink in the context of asexuality. Because a lot of people on the surface think, like, kink is inherently sexual and so how could an asexual person be interested in kink? But throughout her searches it explains that the dynamic between a dominant and submissive relationship is more psychological, it’s about the psychological power balance, whereas then when it talks about, like, sadomasochism, it talks more about physical sensations. But it never once even says that any of these relationships are sexual or inherently sexual.

Royce: Yeah, the only time sex is mentioned is near the end of this rundown, which goes back and forth between showing the two of them together, starting to talk to each other and navigate some of these things and sort of reading through this guide. And they get to a point where, after setting up a schedule where they’re going to meet once a week to have a session together, they’re establishing a safe word, they get to a line that is, “Sex is permitted upon consent of both the Dom and Sub,” and they both look at each other like, [both] “Uh…” And Ji-Woo says, “Well, I just found a generic contract online.”

Courtney: Yeah, “I didn’t really change anything.” And in this conversation– And there’s some amount of translation differences here because we have watched it both in Korean with subtitles and there is an English dub as well, and so it’s a little bit different both ways. But as he’s signing the contract he sort of says like, “Got it! No touching.” Like, big smile, like all right. So I think in the subtitles on the Korean version he’s like, “Yes, I understand your concern, no touchy. I have zero naughty desire for you.” Because while she’s also, you know, doing her searches and learning about this, not only does she learn like this doesn’t have to be a sexual relationship, it’s not always a sexual relationship but she also finds like a kink educator.

Courtney: I get the impression it’s basically like a YouTuber or someone making these videos with a mask, sort of saying like it doesn’t even need to be a romantic relationship and in fact kind of recommending that it’s not a romantic relationship, because the Dom-Sub dynamic can be really difficult to navigate in a romantic relationship. Because they sort of say like in a romantic relationship you’re striving for equality, in a Dom-Sub relationship there is a specific intentional power dynamic and that can be really difficult if you’re mixing the two. Obviously that can happen and does happen all the time. There are healthy ways to do it and unhealthy ways. But that’s how she– how she’s learning all this and the fact that they actually sign the contract, I think, is very interesting. And they’re reading the terms.

Royce: Yeah, and this contract serves as the framing of the entire movie. It’s a three month contract and this is still relatively early on in the movie that this happens, and the movie ends a bit after the contract terminates.

Courtney: And it is very, very interesting too, because you see what their dynamic is while they’re in the office, because they are still working in the same office. But you also see, like, when they actually, like, book a private room and do, like, a full play session. But she shows up on this first day after the contract’s been signed and hands him a pair of glasses, and is like, “I read that a sub can feel dominated by keeping a gift from from their master.” And she says, like, “If you wear this in the office, this is a sign to me that you’re– you’re looking for an order, or you’re looking for my– my domination.” And he just gets the biggest, goofiest, happiest grin on his face. He is so happy and he’s like, “Aw! You did your homework!” Like, “You are– you are learning.” And then he, like, proceeds to now always wear the glasses constantly in the office. I don’t think he ever takes them off. In fact, someone wants him to take it off and is like, “Oh, can I try on your glasses? I need some new frames.” And he’s like, “No!”

Courtney: So you see these little subtle things where they can still have this DS dynamic while still trying to maintain an area of professionalism, and not do anything obvious to the people around them.

Courtney: But I think that the really important thing to hammer home in here is that this is the psychological component, because there isn’t even anything physical about what they’re doing in the office.

Courtney: They’ve got a dynamic they’ve agreed to. And a lot of people just assume that the only reason why someone would want this dynamic is for sexual gratification. But I think in the context of this movie, especially with Ji-Woo – the one who didn’t really come to this curiosity of her own volition, she just sort of got exposed to it and then started thinking about it – she has repeatedly expressed that she’s not in it for for touching or sexual things. But we see her in this office where people are sexist and horrible to her, and don’t listen to her even when she’s right and has these good ideas. So we’re sort of able to see how it can be very cathartic for her to now be the boss, no questions asked, you will listen to me. And she can sort of have this safe space to come into her power. So there’s a psychological component that I view– I read this particular movie as a catharsis, at least early on or in a couple of specific scenes.

Royce: Yeah, and we see her lean into, or grow into, that role a bit through a few different scenes.

Royce: The first session takes place in a hotel.

Courtney: Which is so funny, because– [laughs softly] I laughed so hard at this scene. And, mind you, I have stated many times before, I am very much sex repulsed, I’m very curious about kink. I find kink interesting, I find the dynamics fascinating, so I thought for a framing of a rom-com, this is really really up my alley. But I think the closest thing to an actual sex scene we have is the people in the next room. It’s not even them. We just hear sex noises. And we don’t see it. But she puts him in this dog collar and starts treating him like a dog, like putting him on a leash, telling him to sit. She pulls out some dog treats and feeds it to him out of her hand. And then you just hear these really loud sex noises in the next room and you start to see her get visibly uncomfortable, like her facial expression starts changing a little bit and getting– I viewed it as discomfort at least, with these sex noises happening. And the tension sort of builds.

Courtney: I get the impression that he, down on his knees, on a collar, acting like a dog, starts sensing this tension. And he just starts going crazy. Just barking like an angry dog who’s like someone just knocked at the door and this dog is a barker. He just starts barking, jumping up and down, trying to run toward the wall where he’s hearing the sound. And so now she’s panicking, and she’s pulling on the leash, and she’s like, “No! Sit!” And I don’t know. It was very funny, I liked it a lot. And then people in the next room are like, “Hey, shut your dog up!” [laughs]

Courtney: And so we see that one didn’t go over like super well, because they kind of end the night feeling very awkward and having a very quick like, “Uh… Goodbye.” And so she’s like, “Oh, I messed up, I don’t have enough experience as a Dom.” And he’s like, “Oh, she’s uncomfortable, she’s never going to want to Dom again.”

Courtney: And so he kind of says, like, “Well, let me plan the next one.” And so he gets her a pair of red high heels and it basically asks her to step on him with them. And so that was his idea, that he preplanned, and that goes a little bit better, a little bit smoother.

Courtney: And between these actual scenes that we see where they’re trying new things, they’re starting to escalate a little bit. Because from there we see her actually go into the sex shop at one point, which before she wouldn’t, she’d just look from outside the window out of curiosity. And she gets a candle to start doing, like, temperature play, to melt wax on his back.

Courtney: So we see this escalation, but we’re also getting more of their personal dynamic and he shares more about what went wrong when he came out to his girlfriend as being interested in kink.

Courtney: And the line that she says, because he explains that being submissive makes him feel alive. So that also sounds like a catharsis to him, even though we don’t necessarily get as much about his sort of place in the world, and the office, and his family, where this might lead him to be interested in that. He doesn’t even need that. There might not even be a reason. We sort of see a reason with her, like she’s being held down at work, people aren’t listening to her, so now she gets to be the boss and that’s cathartic. No one necessarily needs a reason. It could just be an interest that has happened for who knows why, and that’s totally fine. But she says to him, “I don’t get it. If it makes your partner feel more alive, why can’t you just do it for them?” So that’s very much where she is mentally. Like why would you call someone a pervert for liking this thing? If it makes them happy and you love this person, what’s the big deal? Just do it for them. They like it.

Courtney: But the more now that they do these sessions, which are at least once a week for three months, she starts to do more specific searches, because she’s kind of seeing like, “Wow, I can’t believe the things that we’re doing. But I also can’t forget about them. And the more I start to enjoy playing with him, the more I wonder what we are outside of this D and S dynamic.” And she sort of questions like, is it normal to play this rough without it leading to sex? Because by this point we’re seeing the escalation. And now she is actually whipping him on the back and he is getting like bloody lashes that she’s cleaning up after the fact. And now she’s like, “I am enjoying this, but is this normal?” Like, “I thought the natural conclusion to this would be sex and it isn’t sex. So what is this?” So she’s doing these searches and she has someone on a forum which she asks, who basically says, “I can’t tell you what’s normal and what’s not, there are many couples who do have consensual sex, but it’s totally on a case by case basis.” And then leaves her with, “What is it that you want? That’s what you should be asking.”

Royce: And does that lead into the big office scene between the two of them?

Courtney: Oh, the office scene was also great.

Royce: This was–

Courtney: Oh, it’s so good!

Royce: One of the more prominent, if not the prominent, session between the two of them, it is after hours at the office.

Courtney: Spontaneous!

Royce: They at least think no one else is there. Someone walks in right near the end and they almost get caught.

Courtney: Yeah. Well, she has at work this new intern who is very incompetent. He is bad at his job. He is making her life so much harder. She’s constantly needing to repeat herself, he’s not learning. And Ji-Hoo gets a little bit jealous that she’s constantly bossing this other guy around in the office.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: And so at first he tries the approach of, like, “I’m going to try to make her life easier.” So he goes to the intern and is like, “You know, I can give you some extra help, you can come to me.” And the intern’s like, “No, no, no, it’s fine.” And so he’s like, “Well, if I can’t make this guy better at his job and I can’t make her life easier, she’s still just bossing him around.” So he comes to her and is basically like, “You’re acting like his master.” And it’s interesting because in this moment she does have sort of an internal narrator voice that sort of repeats things that she’s clearly read offscreen on this– on these like, ‘how to be a Dom’ tutorials. And so in that moment she can kind of tell, “Oh, he’s– he’s fishing for a scene.” And so she sort of recites, like, “Being able to improvise a scene is the duty of a good Dominant.” And so she grabs some, like, duct tape from a drawer and, like, tapes up his hands, and tells– First tells him like, “Take off your belt.” And while he’s tied up with this duct tape, she starts using the belt to whip, like, the table right next to him but not him. And he’s sort of asking, like, more. He’s like, “Hit me for real.” And he’s like, “I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have questioned you.”

Courtney: And as they’re sort of hinting at– He’s sort of hinting at what he wants. He’s sort of pushing her to go a little further. She has this sort of moment of realization where this isn’t necessarily so much he’s jealous of this intern, but he wants to roleplay being this intern. Like she– He wants to be the incompetent employee who can’t do anything right, and he wants her, as the boss, to just let loose and lay into him. And once she sort of understands this, oh, my goodness, the pure joy that you see on this guy’s face. And the pure, like, tension and relief I feel on behalf of this woman who’s constantly frustrated at work. It’s palpable. Because once she realizes this, she starts basically yelling at him for things that she would like to yell at everyone else about. She looks over at the broken coffee pot and is like, “What is wrong with you? You can’t even fix a coffee pot.” And she grabs him by the tie and pulls him over to the intern’s desk and, like, throws him down on it and is like, “Why do you keep sending everything in a group email?” Like, this is [laughs] Just– “Just learn how to send emails! How many times do I have to teach you?” And he’s like, “If you could just teach me one more time.” And she’s like, “No, I shouldn’t have to!” And so they get really into it.

Courtney: And this– this intern, it turns out, has started, like, recording everything because he cannot remember a single damn thing he is ever taught. And she kind of alludes– She’s like, “Why do you have to record everything? Why can’t you just memorize it? Why can’t you learn things the first time?” But then she– she grabs him by the tie and pulls him over to the manager’s desk, the guy who is like the biggest, sexist jerk in this entire office. And she starts insulting him, saying like, “You’ve got a small dick.” She grabs this, like, obnoxious back scratcher that he’s constantly using and she– she’s like, “Gets on the desk” And she’s pointing it at him and she ends up, like, snapping it over her knee too. She breaks it right in front of him. They get so into it.

Courtney: And they’re just– They’re, they’re wreaking havoc on this office is what they’re doing. She’s complaining about the copy machine, she’s throwing papers everywhere. And he’s just got the biggest, goofiest smile on his face the whole time. Like he is having the time of his life. And he asks her to curse at him. He’s like, “Curse at me, swear at me.” And at one point, at least in the English subtitles on the Korean version, she– she’s like at the height of her screaming and cursing at him, she’s like, “You’re such a shithead!” And he pumps his fists in the air, grinning from ear to ear,and just repeats “Shithead!” Like, he loves it. It’s so good.

Courtney: But yeah, like you said, they almost get caught. Like security comes in at the end and is like, “Hello, is someone still in here?” So they are like hiding under the desk. And then it shows them running out to the parking lot later and they’re just like giggling. Like they just had the best time of their life, and they– they get out of there real fast. And even though we’ve watched this movie twice I think I’ve watched this scene multiple times, because I think the first time we watched it we were like, “We’re gonna have to watch that scene again.”

Royce: Yeah, I think you watched it a second time to catch everything.

Courtney: It’s just so–

Royce: The first time we watched it and then–

Courtney: It’s so joyful.

Royce: This time you wanted to see the translation differences.

Courtney: Yeah.

Royce: Between the dub and the sub.

Courtney: Yeah. It’s– it’s just pure joy. And I just like the actors in this so much. They play the role so well. And there’s something about it where, in a typical romance story, the thrill of the romance itself is rarely enough for me to care or be interested in it at all. But I have to imagine people that love rom-coms or love reading romance novels or love, like, comfy romantic plotlines, I have to imagine that this is the kind of joy that they’re seeing and experiencing from it that gets them to enjoy that. But for me I think the navigating this complex, new, budding BDSM relationship, and in the midst of it seeing these moments of pure joy and bliss where they are just like both locked in there on the same page, they’re both having a wonderful time, like that really does it for me in, I guess, a rom-com story. But it’s– it’s not the romance. And at this point there’s nothing romantic about their relationship either. It’s just this BDSM dynamic.

Royce: Yeah, explicitly. They– While they’re, I think to some degree, they’re both thinking about the relationship and what it is and where it should go, but they have explicitly signed a contract for this relationship and it does not involve romance. They haven’t agreed to any sort of romantic relationship.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. But she does start thinking that this might be something that she wants, that she might want to date him. And so she takes him out in public one day and puts them both in handcuffs, and is like you have to stand next to me the entire time we’re out.

Royce: Yeah, this is at an arboretum. And Ji-Hoo is a bit uncomfortable about this. One of– I mean his whole thing this entire time has been getting found out, or what public perception is of all of this. And the handcuffs are hidden underneath long sleeves. It isn’t immediately visible if they’re careful.

Courtney: Yeah, they’re just walking super close to each other, but they’re also not holding hands either. So they are awkwardly close to each other for not holding hands while walking.

Royce: But as this date is going on, the movie actually flips to someone we’ve seen periodically here. It’s one of Ji-Woo’s closest friends, Hye Mi.

Courtney: From outside of the office. She’s got, like, an office friend and an out of the office friend.

Royce: Yes.

Courtney: And this is the out of the office friend.

Royce: Through this scene, I think, is the first time we see that her friend is also into some aspect of kink, and meets someone at a hotel. But the man that she meets just basically shows up clothed entirely in red flags. Like it’s a bad situation that goes downhill very quickly.

Courtney: Yeah… Which I do find very interesting, because now we’ve got sort of a contrast to this good, healthy dynamic where they’re fermenting, they’re changing things as necessary, they’re communicating, they have their boundaries, they have their safe word, they have their contract. So we have this good example of a kink relationship and then we get the bad example.

Royce: We flip to someone who is immediately, very overtly abusive, using the idea of kink as a guise around it.

Courtney: Yes.

Royce: And Hye Mi realizes this immediately. Realizes the situation she is in, and starts stalling for time after calling Ji-Woo and, like, mentioning where she’s at and what’s going on.

Courtney: She’s like, [exaggerated nonchalance] “Ah, here we are at this hotel! And it’s not like you’re a fake Dom, right? It’s not like you are trying to force me into having sex because that’s not what we agreed on, right?” As, like, the phone is on in her purse.

Royce: And Ji-Woo makes the mistake of responding to this saying, like, “What are you talking about?”

Courtney: Yeah. Well, she gets alarmed. I mean, anyone would get alarmed with that call. But she’s like, “Where are you? What’s– what’s going on? Are you okay?”

Royce: Which is heard on the other end of the line and the guy in the hotel room kind of figures out what’s going on. And then that scene cuts away. Well, I guess just before this, back at the arboretum, Ji-Woo and Ji-Hoo ended up getting found out while trying to awkwardly eat lunch together. The handcuffs made it a little difficult. They had to feed each other and people started looking.

Courtney: He ordered, like a very big, very messy sandwich that’s like if you don’t hold this with two hands, it’s going to be falling apart.

Royce: And so they try their best to not reveal that they are in fact handcuffed. But it doesn’t work out and people notice. And they quickly leave the scene. And so they get this phone call while they’re in the parking lot on the way out to their car and then rush to this hotel as quickly as they can.

Courtney: Yeah, and so we don’t see anything explicit in this scene, but it definitely is scary. It’s definitely this guy barged in and immediately, like, threw his pants off and is, like, definitely ready to force himself on this woman. But by the time they get to the hotel, she has somehow kicked his ass, like she’s tied him up.

Royce: She had a stun gun in her hand.

Courtney: Oh, that’s right.

Royce: By the time our protagonists show up.

Courtney: That’s right. She has him, like, what? Hogtied on the bed?

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: But they get her out of that situation, and she tells him– She kind of threatens him. She’s like, “I have pictures of you like this, so don’t you try anything in the future. Don’t – you know – tell anybody about this. And I will release these if you come after me,” kind of a thing. And they get her out of that situation, and they’re driving her home, and she’s just crying in the backseat. And she even kind of says, like, “I didn’t actually take pictures of him. I just said that because I feel like if I actually did that, I’d be just as bad as these abusive people who come into the kink community and pretend to be Doms. But they really just, you know, think that we as Subs are asking for it.”

Courtney: And I do think it’s really interesting too, because that is a thing that can happen, that is a concern. And that’s why, like, true members of the kink community talk about safety so often.

Courtney: So we also see, sort of, not only here’s the good kink dynamic and the bad kink dynamic, we see two women who, one is the Sub, and it shows what the issues can be as a submissive woman who doesn’t have a long-term, established relationship with a Dom, like, trying to find one and how she can get in some very unsafe situations. But then we have the woman who’s the Dom on the other side and she’s the one in control, and she found her submissive. So we get the contrast which I like to see. But she even says, like, just how hard it is to even find a dominant. And she’s crying. She’s like, “When, I – you know – put myself out there online looking for someone, I got over 50 responses and over half of them don’t even care what I actually want, and they just send me dick pics right away. And then the other half, when I do meet up with them, it’s fake Doms like this.” And so you really, really get the impression that she’s been at this for a while and struggling to find a healthy dynamic. And I say fake Doms because that’s also what they said in the movie, that’s how they translated it anyway.

Courtney: Even Ji-Hoo, who’s driving the car, driving the both of them at this point, says like, “I hear there are a lot of fake Doms who just want to have sex right away.” So that’s another very clear: kink is not inherently about sex. If you want to be a Dom just because you want to have sex with someone, you’re probably not actually a Dom in the way that is socially accepted by this community. But, what’s more, we can also, and should also, separate out the romantic component of it here. Because then Ji-Woo, hearing like, “Oh, I hear fake Doms just want to have sex,” and even though sex is not a thing she has expressed any interest in, she did just actually ask him out today. While they were handcuffed she’s like, “I think we should go out.” And she even says like, “Yeah, let’s date. That– that’s an order.” And then he’s like, “I don’t actually think we should do that.” And so she’s now feeling guilty because she asked him out romantically. She straight up says, “I’m just like those fake Doms that just want to have sex.” And she’s questioning herself. And of course, now she knows her friend is also into BDSM. So they are now openly talking about this, whereas they were not before any of this.

Courtney: And at some point in there we get another– We get these little drops of flashbacks to Ji-Hoo’s past relationship, and we get another one of them at some point in here, where it is like the moment where he told her and she’s clearly disgusted. But he even says, like, “Well, we bite each other sometimes, we hit each other sometimes. Like, this isn’t that different.” And her response to that is like, “Well, that’s just a way to show affection, it’s not the same as this sick stuff.” And she asks, “Were you abused as a kid?” Which I think is very interesting, because I think that is still a very, a very queer experience. Like someone thinks this is out of the ordinary, this is abnormal, this is not how a normal brain should work, therefore there must be a reason why you are the way you are. And they jump to the worst possible conclusion. How often do aces hear that? Or aros hear that? Like, were you abused as a kid?

Royce: Yeah, that’s pretty widespread. Where – I guess – really anything that is seen as deviant, whether it is orientation or gender identity or, you know, something else that is not seen as, you know, quote unquote, “normal” in society, it’s immediately pathologized. And one of the things that people jump to very quickly it’s something traumatic in childhood, which: thanks, last several decades of pseudoscientific psychology research.

Courtney: [chuckles] Thanks!

Royce: But this questioning of their relationship is what brings us to the next plot sequence in the movie. Ji-Woo’s and Ji-Hoo’s contract is coming up on its end date, and they scheduled their last session at Ji-Hoo’s home. And it shows them getting ready, and I believe that the sort of impression at this point is that they are going to run through their contract, and then that’s the end of it. Ji-Hoo has said no to a romantic relationship, but that has been on their mind recently. But Ji-hoo’s ex, Hana, shows up at his apartment just before Ji-Woo gets there. And she sucks.

Courtney: She really does. I’m not fond of her.

Royce: There’s not a whole lot to this. It just shows how some of the abusive end of their relationship has continued because they’ve stayed in contact to some degree. But after they talk a little bit, she just stares at him and smashes some of the food plates and glasses that he had prepared for Ji-Woo and then walks out.

Courtney: But then that also does have Ji-Woo questioning, because she sees the ex leaving. Like they cross paths in the hallway. And so a combination of seeing her and also getting turned down for dating romantically recently, she’s kind of under the impression like, “Wait, are you two back together?” Which I think is probably a little bit jealousy, but also a lot of concern for him because she knows how much that ex sucks.

Royce: But they go in, they talk briefly, they start what is supposed to be their final session, and I– There’s a line in there somewhere that’s like, “Since this is our final play, let’s have no regrets tonight.” But they don’t get very far into the session, Ji-hoo starts kissing Ji-Woo, and she tells him to stop and pulls away.

Courtney: Yeah… She, like, pushes him off and is like, “I don’t think I can do this.” Very ace coded, do you agree?

Royce: I think that fits. I think this was also just a very complex situation and this is not– this is behavior unlike what we’ve seen in all of their sessions so far. So it was very abrupt. They hadn’t talked about this.

Courtney: Mm-hmm. It’s really just the repetition of these inklings. Like she has a friend who’s like, “You’re not interested in anybody.” And also like, “What wouldn’t you do?” And she’s like, “Nothing like that, like very suggestive, I’m not going to do that.” And then reiterating her search, like is it normal that we’re doing this and not having sex? And someone asked, like, “What is it that you want?” And she doesn’t show any interest in further sex. And then pushing him off when they’re making out. It’s really just the repetition of her disinterest in sex that appeals to me. Because it’s relatable. It’s not just a one time scene. We get little nuggets of it throughout.

Royce: And in the moments after that, Ji-Hoo mentions basically the emotional baggage or trauma from this ex, and mentions that he is afraid of getting too close and getting burned. And the two of them go their separate ways after that. So a bit of time passes, at this point, our protagonists’ contract has ended, and they’re both shown to be a bit unhappy with their current situation, trying to figure out what to do at this point. Back at work, though, a group email comes out that has an audio recording.

Courtney: [aggressively] That damn intern!

Royce: And of course, this gets replied in a group chat, not sent to one person. Everyone is aware of it.

Courtney: I think he was trying to just send it to her, right? Like–

Royce: I honestly don’t know.

Courtney: I thought the text of it was like, “Oh, you better be careful, people might not understand,” or something. But then it got sent out to everyone. Because that intern had basically picked up a recording from some device he’d purchased because he couldn’t remember any instructions, so he was just recording a bunch of stuff. So that night when they were tearing apart the office. He had a recording of it.

Royce: Yeah, it was a pen, a recording pen, and he accidentally left it on all night.

Courtney: [sighs] So, surprise. Whole office knows now. They get called into disciplinary hearings. And, of course, this really sexist, bro-y kind of office culture that they’ve already established here, there are a lot of suggestive comments, especially directed at her. There were a lot of, like, “Oh, this must be how she behaves at night,” and talking about how it was some sort of sexual thing and asking about the nature of their relationship. And is this romantic, is this sexual? And kind of just assuming that it was at least sexual.

Royce: Yeah, the whole meeting was inappropriate.

Courtney: Very inappropriate.

Royce: And it puts both of them on edge, not really knowing how to respond to this.

Courtney: Yeah, and I mean technically they shouldn’t have done that in the office. It was after hours and just the two of them, and they did destroy a bunch of things which they had to leave so quickly that they didn’t clean up.

Royce: Yeah.

Courtney: So someone had to clean all that up, and I think they even bought a new back scratcher for the guy that really sucked because they broke that. But they’re protagonists and that was a really fun scene and I liked watching it. So to me it pales into comparison to how wildly inappropriate all these comments they started getting after was.

Royce: But yeah, during this meeting, Ji-Hoo stands up for Ji-Woo in the midst of all of these comments. And after the meeting, the two of them are talking, and start talking about the nature of their relationship again, while wondering if they’re both going to get fired for all of that. They decide to renew their contract.

Courtney: Well, they also do decide to date romantically too.

Royce: They do. They decide to try a DS relationship that is also romantic, and explore that with that– those expectations and boundaries set.

Courtney: Rework the contract.

Royce: Yes. And it is also shown that that session wasn’t the only work inappropriate thing that got recorded over that night.

Courtney: No, the manager who sucks still sucks. [chuckles]

Royce: And a couple of the other higher ups that were in the disciplinary meeting, and so Ji-Woo convinces the intern to also leak those recordings to the entire office.

Courtney: Yes. Which– didn’t we also end up seeing that the intern was like one of the people on this anonymous forum? I think there was a scene of him later. Because he was already going to quit anyway, and he wasn’t going to get a full-time job here. So she convinces him to send this out to everyone else. And they’re basically like, “Well, we can’t lose all of our management and seasoned employees,” and so they don’t lose their jobs. They just have to take on more work and do some of the projects that other people don’t want to do, kind of a thing. But I’m pretty sure it showed the intern at the end. Because one of the two of them posted like, “Oh, we have decided to renew our contract and we’re trying to date.” And someone was sitting there making a comment back that was like, “Congratulations on your DS relationship and also your love.” And I thought that was the intern.

Royce: It may have been. I may have missed that, but yeah.

Courtney: And by now they’re like pros. They’re doing, like, shabari, which, as you hear this, like, kink educator, teaching people how to do things, they’re like, “This is a very advanced level. There’s a lot of difficulty here to doing it correctly.” And at the end during one of their scenes, after she’s, like, tied them all up successfully, she’s like, “Oh, you look cute tied up like this.” And again, the way he delivers his lines and the look on his face, he is just so joyful in all of these situations that I love it. He’s just like, “Then you should keep tying me up like this!”

Courtney: But even after they have renewed the contract and they’ve decided to date, it still shows them doing kink scenes, but they still aren’t making out. The most we ever see is neck biting and, like, cheek and, like, face kisses. But it doesn’t even show them, like, kissing on the mouth again. So that’s another thing where I see at the end it’s like now they’re dating and they’re still into kink but they still don’t seem to be sexually active. I like it. I like it. It’s a good movie.

Courtney: And there is– I would be comfortable saying that this character could be read as ace-coded. I’m very adamant that you either need to say the word asexual or make it abundantly clear that this attraction does not exist, on at least a couple of different occasions, before I’d actually say like this is ace rep. But I can unequivocally say that there is something that appeals to and resonates with a lot of aces. Because I seriously think we heard about this from three– at least three different ace friends before we ever watched it ourselves. That was, like, recommended to us preemptively, and that doesn’t normally happen with pieces of media, unless it specifically is ace rep. Because then we get a lot of, you know, listeners, comments, emails saying, like, “Oh, there’s ace rep in this thing.” Or we’ll see a whole bunch of social media posts saying there’s ace rep in this thing. But for just like a Korean romcom that’s on Netflix…? Why did we have three separate aces be like, “This is great and you should watch it.”? It’s the vibes, it’s the vibes. And I suppose that’s all I have to say about that.

Courtney: So that is going to bring us to today’s featured marketplace vendor. Today, we’d like to give a big shout out to Fydbac [spelling], who is [reading] “forsaking the mediocre through freehand tattooing, illustration, comics, art books, and more.”

Courtney: This is just a super, super talented artist. In their shop we purchased the Power & Magic Anthology book, which features the work of 17 women, demigirls, and bigender creators of Color. It was a beautiful anthology. I loved it, beginning to end. Fydbac’s contribution to that book was a short comic called Def Together, that’s D-E-F together, which is a story told through the perspective of a deaf magic student, who very clearly has a crush on a blind magic student. It’s beautiful artwork. There actually wasn’t a lot of text, so the art really spoke for itself. I thought it was beautifully done. You can purchase that anthology, or just a PDF of the comic itself if you don’t want the whole physical book.

Courtney: But there are so many other things here in the shop. There are books, there are t-shirts, stickers. There’s a red bubble that even has, like, some Ace Pride, or general Pride merch, like a sticker that says Tattoo Lover but has the Ace Pride colors. And of course, if we have any tattoo lovers out there, I just– I think it’s so cool that she is a tattoo artist, an ace tattoo artist, and aro and non-binary for that matter. I will say for anyone popping over to the website– Because of course all links to the shop, social media, everything that we have on this vendor, it’ll be in the show notes as per the usual. But for anyone popping up the website, there’s nothing super explicit in the shop itself, but when you do start exploring there are lots of different pages with just art galleries for different mediums, and there are some not-safe-for-work things in there. So venture in at your own risk.

Courtney: But I have seen a few pieces of their artwork that are kink-related. I’ve seen a character, like, holding a riding crop.

Courtney: Actually this one I’m so fascinated with. So there’s an entire section for Fyd Tales, stories and concepts. So these are not like fully completed comics that you can read. They need support to fund them and a lot of them are tagged as ace, or aro, or both, or non-conforming romanticism.

Courtney: And there’s one here that’s tagged as ace and dualism, about a psychiatrist named Cifer, who appears to be in the concept art here walking his assistant around on a leash. It’s a very interesting concept, and piece of art, and I’d like to read it. I wish it was a full thing. Either that or I wish I was closer to LA to inquire about tattoo work, because I want a new tattoo. But alas now is not the time for me. So do watch Love and Leashes if it is of interest to you. Do check out Fydbac’s work and her shop. And, as always, you can go to to see our full list of aro and ace small business owners. And we’ll talk to you all next time. Goodbye.