Director: Jo Sung-hee
Starring: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-yeong, Lee Yeong-ran, Shin Bi
Fiction seems to always have had leanings toward paranormal romances on page and on screen. Though the Twilight series is probably the most recognized series around and probably responsible for the sub-genres recent spike in popularity, Asian cinema seems to have a much more storied history in the cinema. Whether tales of Nine-Tailed Foxes, Chinese Ghost Stories, or Snake demons, this idea of a human being and supernatural force is seemingly just as prevalent in the East as vampires, ghosts, and werewolves are in the West. So arrives ‘A Werewolf Boy’ from South Korea, a box office smash in its local theaters and one of their most successful films of the year.
A Werewolf Boy follows Su-ni (Park Bo-Young), a young woman who moves to the country with her widowed mother and younger sister because of a medical condition. She is in a bit of a dark place in her life when she and her mother discover a young somewhat feral boy (Song Joong-Ki) hiding nearby in a bush. Being post-Korean War, records are scarce and the family decides to take him in. At first unsure about the new people in his life, he does take a shining to the young Su-ni and begins to treat her as a dog would treat their master. For the most part, Su-ni is happy with the situation and attempts to civilize the boy through music and learning. When he saves Su-ni from danger, he reveals a surprising strength that is not of this world; and earns fear from certain people. As his mysterious past becomes clearer, how can Su-ni save her friend while keeping the hidden “beast” inside of this new member of the family?
Featuring relative newcomers, the film is actually solidly acted. Park Bo-Young’s Su-ni is spirited, cute, and shows quite a lot of growth during the film. She does fall into some traps of the genre that make me roll my eyes a bit whenever I see them, but she is not bad at all. Song Joong-Ki gives a very good performance as the Wolf Boy in mostly physical turn in the role. With minimal dialogue, he relies on a more physical acting style and has reactions actually quite similar to canines. It’s oddly reminiscent of Danny the Dog, minus the battered nature. The supporting cast is good as well, though never really delivering standout appears; they are content to let the two leads have the limelight. Of note is Yoo Yeon-Suk, the human suitor of Su-ni. He is as slimy as they come and quite an unlikable character. As the only real villain in the film, he does do a better job than many other members of the supporting cast, and his choice of 60’s era attire made me laugh a bit, being so reminiscent of clothing I recall seeing my father wear in old photographs.
The film looks great, with the expanse of the countryside and little town giving the film an almost dream-like setting. Clothing is somewhat plain, but actually pretty accurate to the era, and the set design is somewhat sparse. It isn’t terrible, but generally kind of bland. The wolf boy’s feral state is something that I am not sure how I stand. It thankfully does not use too much CGI but it leans more towards Teen Wolf than American Werewolf in London. Music is very typical of this type of film; with soft strings and the appropriate swells should the scene require it. Park Bo-Young does do a little rendition of the film’s theme acoustically in the film and it is pretty good. In general, the film’s production was well managed.
With a generally more interesting first act, there are a number of humorous moments involving the leads getting to know each other and ‘training sequences’ involving table manners. A bit of a surprise, A Werewolf Boy is not just another Twilight clone. It honestly feels like many other Korean dramas just with a bit of a supernatural tilt. It’s generally funny first half is at odds with the much more dramatic second half, but it is not a bad film. Featuring solid performances and good chemistry between the two leads, I’m certain this film’s success has cemented their popularity to Korea’s entertainment circle. A great beautiful setting and decent music anchor this generally simple story and while it is hardly amazing film making, it is easy to see why it is such a success.
You may enjoy this movie if you enjoyed: Dog Star, Windstruck, Fly Me to Polaris, Every Dog Has His Date