is either Korea’s Kaspar Hauser or its Teen Wolf. He is old enough to be a war-era orphan, but
even for a wild child he seems a little odd.
Yet, a sickly teen-aged girl forms a deep connection with him in Jo
Sung-hee’s A Werewolf Boy (trailer here), which screens this
Tuesday night as part of the Korean Cultural Service’s ongoing free Korean
Movie Nights in New York.
her mother, and her younger sister Soon-ja have moved to the countryside in
hopes the clean air will improve her health.
Unfortunately, the big move was facilitated by Ji-tae, the entitled son
of her late father’s business partner, who now feels at liberty to pop over
whenever he feels like it. He assumes
Soon-yi will eventually marry him for the sake of his wealth and social
status. However, Soon-yi is not
does not think much of the feral Chul-soo either when she and her mother first
find him snarling in the garden. With
the relevant social welfare agencies passing the buck, Soon-yi’s mother reluctantly
takes him in. Slowly, he starts to grow
on the family, once they clean him up and curtail his rougher instincts. Soon-yi even starts teaching him to read with
the help of a dog training manual.
However, a rich jerk like Ji-tae cannot help making trouble, especially
when his ego is bruised.
true nature is quite strange and uncanny, but Jo de-emphasizes the genre
aspects of his story to focus on his young tragic love for Soon-yi. Told in media res as the decades older woman
returns to the fateful country house, Werewolf
Boy has all the elements of a good weeper, so it is not surprising it was a
monster hit at the Korean box office.
truth, the film is at its strongest when portraying the innocent ardor of
Chul-soo’s relationship with Soon-yi. In
contrast, the ridiculously vile Ji-tae is little more than a clumsy class
warfare tool that quickly grows tiresome.
When the shoot-first military finally arrives on the scene, they at
least have the virtue of being considerably less cartoony and more fully
dimensional than the silver spoon villain.
Song Joong-ki and Park Bo-young develop rather touching chemistry as Chul-soo
and Soon-yi, respectively. The former
shows both tremendous physicality and sensitivity as the young wolf-man, in an
almost entirely nonverbal performance.
Likewise, Park is radiantly expressive as Soon-yi. Jang Yeong-nam is also memorably charismatic
yet down-to-earth as her mother.
Unfortunately, as Ji-tae, Yoo Yeon-seok is stuck with a flimsy character
and takes it embarrassingly over the top in every scene.
Boy demonstrates how genre elements can be shrewdly
repurposed to tell a highly relatable story rooted in human emotions. Frankly, Soon-yi and Chul-soo’s impossible
love would resonate without Jo Sung-hee so conspicuously stacking the deck
against them. Nonetheless, A Werewolf Boy is recommended for those
who enjoy a shaggy-haired teen-aged romance, especially when it screens for
free this Tuesday (6/25) at the Tribeca Cinemas, courtesy of the Korean
Cultural Service in New York.
Labels: Korean Cinema, Korean Cultural Service, Werewolf movies