Note: I do not speak Korean, and I’m going entirely by the dubbing and subtitles. There are likely many cultural and linguistic nuances I am missing. E.g. “Master” is frequently used, but not “Mistress”.
Jung Jihoo transfers to the public relations department of a corporation, where he meets a woman with a nearly identical name, Jung Jiwoo. She’s highly intelligent and competent, but ignored or belittled by the department’s sexist boss. Jihoo is actually her superior in the hierarchy, but he tries to listen to her and compromise.
Jiwoo is attracted to Jihoo, but is reluctant to act on it. Her mother and friend both urge her to act on it, but in a stereotypically “feminine” way, which is at odds with her direct personality.
Because their names are so similar, Jiwoo accidentally picks up a personal package delivered for Jihoo, and finds a studded leather collar and leash with the nameplate “Miho”. Jihoo tries to cover for this, but she figures it out, and says nothing.
Jiwoo initially assumes Jihoo is a dominant. Out running, she stops to look into an adult store, and has a fantasy of him putting a collar on her, but she stops him, saying, “I don’t even like wearing turtleneck sweaters.”
When Jihoo injures himself at work, Jiwoo takes him to a hospital. Afterwards, he says she must be a dominant, and is overjoyed to meet another kinky person, implying that he has never met another kinky person before. Jiwoo says no, but her curiosity is sparked, and she researches BDSM online and talks to her bar hostess friend.
Jiwoo approaches Jihoo and says she is curious about being a dominant, and gives him a contract. They will meet once a week for play for 12 weeks. Their scenes, mostly set in hotel rooms, are artistically shot. More importantly, they depart from the usual male gaze style with many shots that are of her POV looking at him in vulnerable positions. The activities include puppy play, foot and high heel play, hot wax play, flogging impact play and rope bondage. Note also that there is no nudity in this film.
Love and Leashes is one of the rare mass media works that explores a woman growing into a dominant role. We see her in an adult store selecting toys, preparing her own rope, and practicing rope bondage on a stuffed toy. She tries different kink activities, keeps some, and discards others. Jiwoo makes realistic stumbles and mistakes as she learns about herself and about Jihoo. E.g. she cuffs his hand to hers, but forgets that they have to get out of a car together. After Jihoo gives her a pair of high-heels and she uses them on him in a trampling scene, she goes home and presses her bare soles against the wall, like she is reliving and re-evaluating the experience. After another scene, it’s strongly implied she masturbates by herself.
She wears different outfits for her scenes: some casual, some formal, and in one case, a classical dominatrix-style dress. Compare this to the episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl (previously discussed), when Belle goes on a shopping spree and buys a kind of pre-fab dominatrix outfit.
Jihoo has his own problems, such as a former lover who rejected him when he told her about his kinks, yet still emotionally abuses him. This has left him with a fear of intimacy. While he is physically vulnerable with Jiwoo, he is not emotionally vulnerable. He turns down Jiwoo’s inquiries about adding sexual activities or dating, creating friction.
The series depicts the BDSM culture of Korea as being almost entirely online. Both the leads communicate with other kinksters through online forums, and Jihoo is ecstatic at meeting another kinkster in person. It’s mostly by chance that Jihoo and Jiwoo know another kinky person and help her after a bad date. Adult stores and Japanese-style “Love hotels” are institutions available to them.
The story ends with both characters overcoming their shame, both personally and professionally, and having an intimate and passionate relationship.
To be honest, I would not have thought that one of the best and most humane treatments of BDSM relationships I have ever seen would have come from Korea.