A scene from the movie "Dancing Cat", which features cats in leading, supporting and extra roles / Courtesy of Indie Story
Film, cafe seek to break biases
By Kwon Mee-yoo
A 27-year-old woman who quit her job to open a cafe, a poet who travelled for 15 years and a television commercial director - there seems to be no intersection among the three people's lives, but affection toward stray cats created a bond. And they have set out to break prejudice against cats on the street.
Lee Yong-han, the poet who published photo essays on stray cats including "Bye Kitty, and Thank You" and "Be Bright Cats" collaborated with commercial film director Yun Ki-hyoung in the new movie "Dancing Cat", while Lee Jung-hee, 27, is busy adding finishing touches to her new cafe "Dreaming of Stray Cats" near Jonggak Station on subway line No. 1, which will open later this month.
Lee Yong-han's "Bye Kitty, and Thank You", published in 2009, made many people think again about cats on the street and Yun was one of them. As described in the movie, Yun came across the book in a library and started to think about making a documentary based on Lee's book.
"Thoughts on the book and cats kept recurring to me and I contacted Lee through the publisher. When I told Lee about the movie, he gave permission willingly", Yun said in an interview with The Korea Times last week.
Lee said it was the first offer to make a movie based on his book. "I received many thank-you letters from the readers and interview requests from the media, but making a documentary was an interesting idea, though I wondered whether it was feasible or not", the poet said. "But it was going to be the first movie in Korea starring cats in leading, supporting and extra roles and I had no reason not to accept idea".
Yun first thought of making a 20-minute documentary with Lee's photos, but to add more style in mise-en-scene, Yun set out with a video camera to capture stray cats in his neighborhood. "At first I just wanted to film some bridges for the photo documentary, but ended up shooting the cats for a year and a half and arranging the footage with Lee's photos in parallel", he said.
In the movie, the photos of stray cats taken by Lee are interspersed with Yun's footage following cats. Lee and Yun named the cats based on their traits - a character cat in Lee's town is named Hui-bong, after veteran actor Byun Hee-bong, and a constantly sleeping cat living near Yun's house is named Jam-bo. The cats might seem distant at first, but they soon open up to those who reach out to them.
The two said Korean society lacks consideration for the weak and such a bias is projected on stray cats. "Under the development-centered policy continued for decades, people became destructive of nature and considered plants and animals cumbersome", Lee said.
The movie hits local screens from today. Visit http://blog.naver.com/catcat2011 for more information.
Cafe for stray cats
Lee Jung-hee quit her job in March to open a cat cafe, in search of a breakthrough in her life. "I thought my life might end up boring and of no great importance and decided to step away from the office life", she said.
Lee said she had always liked animals. "I raised all kinds of pets at home from rabbits and cats to fish and even ants in a jar", she said. "For cats, I first liked pedigreed ones like Persians and Russian Blues, but later fell in love with cats on the street. Some of them are born on the street, while others were abandoned by their owners. They do not approach people easily, but they have something attractive about them".
While preparing for the cafe, she applied for local social network service Cyworld's Dream Campaign, a social sharing program that helps selected people's dream come true. People can post dream ideas online and the ideas getting the most support among users are chosen to be actualized.
She seemed excited when talking about the new cafe. "I didn't really expect to be chosen, so it was big, pleasant surprise for me. I am learning how to make coffee and bake cookies", Lee said.
However, she must deal with prejudice against cats in preparation for the cafe. "When I told my friends that I am going to open a cat cafe, even some of my friends said they wouldn't come because they don't like cats. It was shocking to hear that, but I'm trying to change such bias", she said.
Though named cat cafe, Lee decided not to have cats in the cafe.
"I really like cats and visited many cat cafes, petting and taking photos of them. However, when I visit such places over and over, I realized that the cafe cats were not happy anymore. They seemed tired and some of them were neglected", she said.
"I decided not to bring cats in my cafe, but to donate 10 percent of profit to support stray cats through animal rights organizations such as the Korean Organization for the Protection of Cats and Korea Animal Rights Advocates.
"Instead, Dreaming of Stray Cats will feature a variety of content related to cats from books and movies to artwork. I think it could be better since people who are allergic to cats can come to my cafe and think again about stray cats".
Lee Yong-han and Yun also showed interest in Lee Jung-hee's cafe and asked the location and opening date, promising to visit the place.
Against bias on stray cats
More cats are appearing in commercials, music and web cartoons.
"When I published a book on stray cats, it was one of the first of its kind in Korea, but there are more books, music and other cultural content focusing on cats", Lee Yong-han said.
"Artists and musicians like cats and I think they should transfer such thoughts to the general public", Lee said. "Our movie 'Dancing Cat' and Jung-hee's cafe could do the work, too".
Getting to know about stray cats in one's neighborhood would be a first step to the world of cats.
Some feline lovers might argue that it is unhealthy to give human food such as canned tuna or sausage to cats. Yong-han, however, thinks holding out a hand to cats comes first.
"A bite of sausage might be the first and last one for the cat, but it could save the cat from hunger. So I think it is important to open up minds first", the poet said. "But if you are going to feed them regularly, it would be better to buy a bag of cat food".
Yun suggested naming familiar stray cats. "There are many cats living on street, but we just do not recognize them. When you pay enough attention, you will see them more often", he said. "Encountering cats often, feeding them and naming them will form a connection and it will soon become mutual".
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53rd Baeksang Arts Awards 2017