The appeal of this show can basically be summed up in these 7 words: Yoo Seung Ho and his cuddly kitty.
If you love cats (or animals in general), have a pet, or have loved a pet in the past, I can confidently say this: in spite of its shortcomings, this show will succeed at tugging at your heartstrings, while giving you a strong urge to go hug your pet, stat.
Show takes its story in several directions that I didn’t care for too much, but y’know what, it was all worth it, if only to meet the lovely Bok Gil-sshi.
MY 3 FAVORITE THINGS
1. Beetle the cat as Bok Gil
As much as I have a huge soft spot for Yoo Seung Ho, the true star of this show, for me, was Beetle the cat, who plays Bok Gil. I seriously looked forward to any and all scenes featuring Bok Gil, never mind what the scene was about.
I love that Bok Gil is such a gently sassy-yet-sweet sort of character. Her voiceovers (by Han Ye Ri) are the perfect balance of mildly sardonic, subtly plaintive and – just sometimes – coolly gleeful. Yet, underneath the saucy, Bok Gil’s a caring marshmallow-heart. I love that.
[MILD SPOILER] One of my favorite Bok Gil moments is in episode 6, when we see Bok Gil eagerly anticipate Jong Hyun leaving the house for the day, coz she’s looking forward to her all-important alone time, where the entire house is her oyster. After reveling in the house for a bit, it isn’t long before Bok Gil’s had her fill of alone-time, and misses her human and anticipates his return with wistful sighs. I found that little detail super endearing. ❤ [END SPOILER]
2. Yoo Seung Ho as Jong Hyun
I’m not watching Remember (yet?), so Imaginary Cat is my first taste of having Yoo Seung Ho back on my screen after his military-enforced absence.
As expected, I eagerly lapped up his lovely voice, that gorgeous smile, and those drown-in-me eyes. I mean, seriously, those eyes are molten. (Melt.) Plus, I love that Yoo Seung Ho genuinely loves cats (which is why he took on this project), and that affection totally shows (more on that later).
On the downside, there are a couple of moments when Yoo Seung Ho’s delivery didn’t land so well with me. [SPOILERS] Like in episode 6, when Jong Hyun grapples with the probable-fact that Bok Gil is Haru, I felt his delivery was a little overdone. And in episode 7, when Jong Hyun comes home and cries to Bok Gil, it somehow felt fake, to me. I don’t know. Maybe it’s not him; maybe it’s me. Or maybe it was PD-nim directing him a certain way. Whichever it was, those scenes just didn’t work for me. [END SPOILERS]
In spite of those moments, I’m happy to say that my Yoo Seung Ho affection is very much intact, and I’m convinced that he was the best person to act opposite Beetle’s Bok Gil.
3. Jong Hyun and Bok Gil together
…Which brings me to another favorite thing of mine in this little show. Yoo Seung Ho and Beetle together are too adorable for words. *hearts in eyes*
The only cats I’ve met who’ve actually put up with extensive cuddling have been boy cats; the girl cats I’ve met have been much more wary and finicky about skinship. And even then, the boys couldn’t tolerate the cuddles for quite as long as I actually wanted to give them, and would always make their hasty escapes after a while. So you can understand how Jong Hyun’s extensive cuddles with Bok Gil are the stuff of cat dreams for me, ha.
I love that Yoo Seung Ho’s genuine affection for cats shows through. He handles Beetle with comfort, ease and anticipation, even. You can just see how much he enjoys the skinship with Beetle, and, well, that just makes me happy. I’m sure that Yoo Seung Ho being a cat person definitely helped Beetle to stay in character too. Also, I salute Beetle and her handler, for making all that skinship happen. From what I know about cats – even the ones who like cuddles – that accomplishment is nothing to sniff at. 😉
On the character-front, I love the relationship between Jong Hyun and Bok Gil, that they basically mean the world to each other. Even when Jong Hyun’s drunk, he gravitates to Bok Gil and cuddles up, which I find super endearing, coz it shows how much he loves Bok Gil.
I found it suitably poignant, that Bok Gil and Jong Hyun basically saved each other 7 years ago. I love that it’s a two-way street with these two, even though one is human and the other, cat. And that emotional equality shows too, like when Bok Gil worries about Jong Hyun when he’s sick, like she does in episode 7.
Even though I hate that Bok Gil got sick, I do love the way Bok Gil raises her arms to Jong Hyun in confusion when she doesn’t feel well in episode 7. I just find it super endearing, that in her moment of vulnerability, it’s her human that she reaches for. Aw.
STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE
1. Jong Hyun’s loveline with Na Woo
I really didn’t like the loveline between Jong Hyun and Na Woo (Jo Hye Jung) and dearly wish that writer-nim had just left romance out of the equation entirely. That, or maybe treat the loveline with a more tentative and restrained hand, ie, leave everything way more open, but still positive.
My dislike for the loveline is less to do with my desire for more Jong Hyun-Bok Gil screen time (though that is also true), and more to do with the fact that quite often, I found Na Woo downright annoying.
As a character, Na Woo feels like a caricature a lot of the time, because her behavior (particularly in the earlier stretch) tends to feel OTT. [SPOILER] I mean, who randomly busts her way into someone else’s apartment – someone that she barely knows, mind you – to insist that she get to meet his cat? And then makes an appointment for the cat to get a physical, pays for it, and then insists on buying everything in the store for the cat? It was all just too weird for me. [END SPOILER]
I generally found Na Woo pretty pushy as a character, and it bemused me that she often reacted in an indignant &/or wounded fashion when Jong Hyun didn’t respond positively to her overbearing, often disrespectful behavior.
In episode 7, Jong Hyun lets Na Woo hang out at his apartment so that she can spend time with Bok Gil. In voiceover, Bok Gil pronounces Na Woo annoying, and I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly.
Na Woo is not respectful of people’s spaces and boundaries, and consistently infringes on them, all series long. She keeps getting in Jong Hyun’s face, even before she knows that Bok Gil is Haru, and she becomes so much worse once she knows Bok Gil is Haru.
In episode 7, we witness her being disrespectful of Jong Hyun’s need for quiet when he works, and we also see that she doesn’t respect his request not to touch his things (she could’ve stopped looking at his work after getting Bok Gil away from his work space). On top of that, she doesn’t respect that Jong Hyun’s more Bok Gil’s owner than she is, what with pronouncing that she’s going to take Bok Gil to the cafe because Jong Hyun’s being “overly sensitive” because of his work. Worse, after all that, when Jong Hyun tells her off for the way she’s behaving, Na Woo’s so lacking in self-awareness that she huffs tearfully that Jong Hyun’s mean.
UGH. I haven’t disliked a leading lady this much in a long time. Seriously.
Because Jong Hyun spends so much of the series being annoyed by Na Woo (can’t say I blame him, I was annoyed too), I found Jong Hyun’s episode 8 affection for Na Woo rather sudden and the eventual happy closure of the loveline hard to buy.
2. The Bok Gil-Haru arc [SPOILERS]
From early in the show, I had an inkling that Bok Gil would be written to be Na Woo’s long-lost Haru. At first, I thought, “Well, this is such a short show, I suppose convenient plot points like this are excusable.”
By episode 5, I’d changed my mind. The Bok Gil-Haru arc feels excessively tropey because of the melodramatic tone Show gives it. Na Woo’s tendency towards entitled behavior doesn’t help, and I found myself bemoaning the Show’s decision to spend its precious little screen time on such melodramatic heaviness when it could’ve been so much cuter.
3. General Tropeyness
With shorter series like this one, I tend to have a higher tolerance for general levels of tropeyness, but I must say that by the end, Imaginary Cat had me rolling my eyes at how many tropes it managed to pack into its short little episodes.
I already found Jong Hyun’s series-long tendency to talk with his dead first love rather tropey (seriously, this show could’ve been titled Imaginary Girlfriend and it would’ve worked just as well, ha), but in episode 7, Show takes it to a whole other level.
Jong Hyun’s fever, Na Woo coming to his apartment right then, him collapsing on her shoulder, him being nursed by Na Woo, him mistaking her for his first love while delirious and reaching for her hand. I found it all rather hard to stomach. Plus, it all had no emotional heft since there was so little context to back it up. I found myself cringing instead of melting, which means this all had the opposite effect on me than what writer-nim had probably intended. Not good.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Man, oh man. The finale was hard to watch. I literally had to stop it partway (I had to pause while they were in the tent gazing at the stars), and pick back up after 3 whole days. Which is how long it took me to steel myself. And I still cried. 😛
Show does a nice job of showcasing Bok Gil’s last days with Jong Hyun in a poignant, moving and heartwarming manner, and also allows us to leave Jong Hyun on a bittersweet yet positive note. It’s a hard but necessary thing, coming to terms with loss, and we get to see Jong Hyun move forward in his life without ever forgetting his friend Bok Gil. And that’s something I can totally identify with, having lost beloved pets in the past.
At its heart, despite the cute packaging and its multitude of flaws, Show does try to put across a poignant message about love and loss; that communication from the heart is what bridges differences. Something along the lines of, if Jong Hyun and Bok Gil can overcome their inter-species barriers to become best friends, surely we can bridge differences between ourselves and other humans too?
I rather like that message, really.
On the downside, I never was on board with Jong Hyun’s loveline with Na Woo, and the detail, of Jong Hyun basically opening his heart to Na Woo in the end, didn’t sit so well with me.
On a more important note, I really really wish writer-nim hadn’t deemed it necessary for Bok Gil to die. That felt sudden, tacked on, and emotionally manipulative in the sense that it felt designed to bring forth the maximum amount of tears from viewers. That’s one of my pet peeves with dramas, writing-wise, and even though I cried and mourned the loss of Bok Gil, I’m still irked with Show for even going there, y’know?
Why couldn’t we have our story end with Jong Hyun continuing to live his life and figure out his career and friendships, with his dear Bok Gil-sshi by his side, complete with daily snuggles and gently sassy Bok Gil voiceovers? I honestly would’ve much preferred that and would’ve happily watched that for another 10 episodes. At least.
Sigh. But y’know, maybe that’s why this show is titled Imaginary Cat, in the end. Coz while Bok Gil may be gone, we know that she’ll continue to live on in Jong Hyun’s heart and imagination – and in ours too?
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Uneven, but with enough cute and poignance to make it worthwhile. Aw, who am I kidding. Bok Gil alone makes this worthwhile.
FINAL GRADE: B