Monday, 2 September 2013

[Review] A Werewolf Boy

A Werewolf Boy (2012)
Director: Sung Hee-Jo
Origin: South Korea

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Paranormal Teen Romances are a dime a dozen now days. Most tend to be shallow and mirror like replications of the trendsetter aiming to capitalise on the phenomenal and mind boggling success of the trend. So right from the outset, it would be very easy to call A Werewolf Boy the South Korean Twilight. Both of which share are similar setup focusing on the ordinary teenage girl and her blossoming relationship with the monstrous teenage boy. But to compare the two would be a disservice as Sung Hee-Jo’s sophomore effort manages to pack more charm and bite into one solid package then Stephanie Meyer could ever hope to deliver over four separate novels.

Narrated in flashback by a sixty-year-old Kim Suni. Suni (Park Bo-young) recalls the story of the strange orphan wolf boy whom she met back in 1965 when she was a teenager. Suni and her family, led by her widowed mother, have fled from Seoul in poverty. Forced to live under the mercy of their arrogant pigheaded landlord, Ji Tae (Yoo Yeon-seok), the spoiled rotten associate of Suni’s deceased father’s business partner.

Once settled at the new homestead, Suni discovers a feral orphan boy, no older then 19 (Song Joong-ki), living in a small-contained room in the tool shed. To say that he is strange would be an understatement. With his wild and unkempt appearance he lacks any sort of social skills. He eats like an animal and can’t speak a single word yet occasionally howls at the full moon. Suni’s family quickly embrace him as a sort of adopted family member bestowing him with the name Chul-soo. Meanwhile Suni maintains her weary caution towards him. After casually observing him, Suni begins to recognize him for what he is. She then decides to try and train the boy, by the means of dog training tactics, with the hope of bringing out his human qualities. As she spends more time with him, she starts to takes a liking to him. Blossoming into a friendship that straddles the lines of first love.

A Werewolf Boy is a classic albeit simple fairy-tale of beauty falling for the beast. As is the norm with this tried and true story, their kindred ship is interfered by the pitchfork-carrying torch burning village folk who grow resentful and fearful of the beast. From here on out, it casually wanders down every conventional path you can imagine before reaching its penultimate question; asking the audience to question the truest form of monster? Is it the poor and unkempt savage orphan boy or is it the mean, vindictive and sleazy child of the privileged? These themes are tried and true and while it does very little to reinvent the wheel, it none the less does what it sets out to do with its heart in the right place.

Undeniably saccharine in tone yet it never hits the point of vomit inducing. Director Sung He-jon injects a certain amount of charm and humour to help offset what could have otherwise been overpowered with eye-rolling angst driven melancholy. This is achieved in large part thanks to the engaging and believable lead performances from both Song Joong-ki and Park Bo-young. Both actors share a believable and palpable chemistry on screen that is underscored with a presence of tension and danger in their every exchange. Song Joong-ki has a fresh and charming face. His appeal to the teenage crowd is hard to deny. But he proves to be not just a pretty face as his performance is equally impressive. He is very good at physically performing certain canine mannerisms for both comedy and genuine charm. His loyalty is unwavering towards Suni much in the same way that a dog is unquestionably loyal to its master. The relationship shared between the two is mostly innocent as sexual tension is almost a non-factor here. Park Bo-young demonstrates a mature for her age wisdom combined with an undeniable beauty that goes a long way in making her more then just a glass eyed empty minded vessel. Unlike the drivel we have endured from the likes of Stephanie Meyer in the past.

The rules of Werewolf mythology are played loose and fast. Director Sung Hee-Jo does not adhere to the lore instead opting to take certain liberties with it. The traditional elements of the werewolf are present but never exploited in the way you would expect. Chul-soo howls at the full moon as is to be expected. But it goes without saying that it is not the cause of his transfiguration. The transfiguration has more in common with The Incredible Hulk as it is born out of white-hot anger. The casual dismissing of the lore is not without good reason as it eventually plays into a vital plot point that serves to explain the existence of Chul-soo. Albeit, a plot point that I could have done without as it has the annoying habit to over explain and diminish the mystique of Chul-soo’s presence. Also the grand reveal of his CGi crafted beastly transformation is a little underwhelming as it plays victim to a constrained budget.

There is a lot to be admired about A Werewolf Boy even if it is an incredibly tried and true story. Warmly shot by cinematographer Sang-mok Choi, the film is an inviting one to look at as it gracefully embraces the audience into its pastime narrative. The secondary performances are also suitably strong and help to provide a solid backbone. Yoo Yeon-seok may be the only weak link as he has the slightly annoying tendency to veer a little too joyously into cartoonish villain territory. As is the case with most Korean films, the pacing is a little on the casual side as it takes its leisurely time clocking in at just under two hours. That may be a problem for some but I was too overcome by its alluring charm to worry too much about the runtime.

Most importantly, A Werewolf Boy succeeds where someone like Stephanie Meyer had a knack to fail. It succeeds in providing a charming profound chemistry between its two leads combined with a suitable sense of humour and legitimate tension underscoring it. As charming as Chul-soo is, the film never lets us forget that he is still a monster. Asking the audience the age-old question. Can you still love someone even if the person is a beast? It embodies everything Twilight failed to have, that being a heart and soul. The only real problem with it is that it’s just so tried and true that it never attempts to steer off course and think outside the box. Still, it can’t be denied that its heart and methods are in the right place. It’s a very well made and charming crowd pleaser from beginning to end.

-Daniel M



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