I never liked the “Twilight Saga” movie franchise; I thought it was a story made to channel ‘teen’ fantasies rather than to really develop a compelling storyline. But like it or not, I would be hard-pressed to deny its influence in movie pop culture. Several other genres have tried to follow its footsteps as in ‘teen love fantasy’; movies such as “I am Number Four”, “Warm Bodies”, "Beastly" and others have popped up in movie theaters. These are commercial movies created to make its viewers ‘feel good’ and pitch what is called ‘teen angst’.
Seems like South Korea is not resistant to such things. Director Jo-Sung Hee’s (fresh from his writing chores in “I am an Animal“) “A Werewolf Boy”, follows the footsteps left behind by the “Twilight” movies. Nope, he isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but rather, he keeps his ambitions tempered. “A Werewolf Boy” (Hangul: 늑대소년; RR: Neukdae Sonyeon; lit. "Wolf Boy") is one predictable movie that focuses on the relationship between a young girl and a feral young man with a little bit of thematic developments thrown in. But the thing is, Jo Sung-Hee’s writing proves to be more competent than the first two films in the "Twilight" series (I only saw two of them, I quit after the horrible first sequel).
Kim Suni (Lee Young-lan) is an elderly woman who lives in the U.S. with her family. One day she gets called back to Korea because of a nice piece of property that she had inherited from her mother. Coming back with the intentions of selling it to a company who wants to make a resort, Suni is suddenly faced with memories of her time in this place. As a young girl (played by Park Bo-Young), she remembers her time with her mother (Jang Yang-Nam), her sisters and how a mysterious young man named Chul-soo (Song Jung-Ki) had affected their lives. Chul-soo’s influence was often in a good way, but it also made them doubt what they believe as to what is man or monster.
It is hard for me to express just how I felt about this film since I am not exactly fond of movies built on clichéd romantic developments. I do have to say that while there were things that stood as cliché for me in “A Werewolf Boy”, I just could not bring myself to say that I disliked it. Writer/director Jo Sung-Hee comes forth with a rather predictable storyline, and honestly, while I thought that the film had general audiences in mind when they made this, it just did not go into things that could’ve made it great. It wasn’t that the film was bad, but it had intentions that went in a different way than I would’ve liked. There is a strong theme just what makes a man or a monster, but it isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. The film runs on formula and I know formula films can be fun; that is what the film really is, a light-hearted tragic love story that presents familiar things as told in “Beauty and the Beast”.
There is a young girl with a medical condition that sends her to this part of Korea, a caring mother, a rich douche bag and a misunderstood young man. Even the part of the government agents can be seen as ‘villagers’ in such tales. Jo Sung-Hee does present these things in a somewhat careful manner; he never tries to preach or even try to hammer in the romantic overtones into his viewers’ heads. He starts things off easily enough, by going into the first 55 minutes defining the relationship between Suni and Chul-soo, how he becomes part of her family and how an envious douche bag threatens the harmony within their house. I liked the way Jo developed the otherwise familiar trappings in its plot. He channels light, delightful humor to capture that hearts of his viewers as Chul-soo becomes part of Suni’s family almost as easy as a pet dog would. While I have problems with it, since Chul-soo is a human being, the writing sells this idea remarkably well. Despite the fact that it does have a misstep in the script, I was able to be sold on the idea that Suni may indeed just wish to ignore what she knew. This was due to the fact that the two main performers were able to connect and pitch the emotions behind each scene. There is something cute with the interactions; yes, it may feel a little far-fetched, but Jo wanted to communicate that there are accepting people in this world and who are willing to take a chance. The writing does not try to hide that there is something different with Chul-soo, but he does manage to spark interest as to how everything would turn out.
Once the film hits the 60 minute mark, it manages to finally catch its stride. While I wasn’t too impressed with how the screenplay explained Chul-soo’s origins, I guess it could’ve better or a lot worst. The origin element should've been developed further rather than resorting to the cutesy-fartsy first half that went a little too long, that the movie almost felt like it should've been two movies instead of one. The military man and the scientist were all staples of movies of this kind, but thankfully, Jo was able to tie everything together thanks in part with the use of devices that aided is flow. It also helped that Park Bo-Young (without her, this movie would have really sucked) and Song Jung-Ki were quite capable performers that I was able to ignore the uninspired elements in its story. The supporting cast were also quite good, and Yoo Yeon-Seok sold his bad guy Ji-Tae character quite well.
The direction was quite competent despite the weaknesses in the writing. As with most Korean films, the cinematography was excellent. The way the shots were framed were created to inspire a sense of reality and the unknown. Jo does not get overboard though as he keeps things simple. I do have mixed feelings with the werewolf effects, since they appeared to be well behind current special effects standards. They looked a little too tacky to be scary or even believable, they appeared to be something from the 70’s or the 80’s, and these days where CGI had been greatly improved, either this is a mere homage to the classic “Wolfman” movies or this Korean movie just ran cheap.
“A Werewolf Boy” is not a special film that needs to be seen. It isn’t reinventing the wheel, but rather a re-presentation of what we have seen. Despite its many flaws, I found it an entertaining watch thanks mostly in part to the solid performances and the flow of storytelling. The film also has quite a strong final act, as it showed a side about love and loyalty as only a pet dog would but exercised by a human being. A beast can have more goodness in its heart than a normal human being with common sense. It had enough good things going for it that it earns a mild recommendation for fans of Korean cinema and a Rental for everybody else. It just did not reach its fullest potential even though its commercial intentions were right on target. Did I enjoy it? Yes in a way. So think of it as having sex without having an orgasm. Sex is always good. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
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