"Wait for me... I'll come back for you, I promise..."
Su-ni (Lee Yeong-ran) is an elderly lady in her twilight years who has lived a full life and raised a loving family. On receiving a phone call regarding the possible sale of the house she grew up in, she returns to her former home with her granddaughter (Park Bo-yeong) and no sooner does she arrive than long forgotten memories begin to fill her mind.
We follow as she takes a trip down memory lane to her past in the 60s when she (played in her youth by Park Bo-yeong) and her family discover a feral boy (Song Joong-ki) in the grounds of their home. Feeling the need to help this seemingly helpless child, they take him in, name him Chul-soo and begin to try to integrate him into their family. Though he seems unable to speak, Su-ni slowly begins to connect to Chul-soo but on seeing their growing bond, the unscrupulous Ji-tae (Yoo Yeon-seok) tries to force himself on Su-ni; having already decided that she’s the one for him.
However, in doing so Ji-tae bites off rather more than he can chew for Chul-soo is, in fact, a werewolf boy and on seeing Su-ni in peril our hero's blood positively boils changing him into the creature he hides within; without hesitation viciously attacking Ji-tae.
Utterly enraged and humiliated, Ji-tae hatches a plan to get rid of this ‘monster’, once and for all...
In the lead-up to the release of A Werewolf Boy, the buzz surrounding the film was intense, to say the least, and within a short time of the film appearing in cinemas box office takings had made it the most successful melodrama in Korean cinema history, at the time.
So, was all the hype warranted? Well, yes… and no:
In discussing a specific film, any reviewer/critic will (or perhaps "should" would be more appropriate) endeavour to set aside personal genre and narrative subject preferences in an effort to ensure that their dissections are as unbiased as possible. Sometimes such efforts are easier to achieve than others but, equally, every so often there come instances where it's blatantly obvious that the directorial realisation of a film's narrative is utterly deliberate and successfully serves its intended purpose even if full storyline immersion fails to be achieved by individuals likely outside a film's target demographic. Such is the case with A Werewolf Boy.
Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with Korean melodrama; which both lies at the very core of A Werewolf Boy and also forms its ultimate destination. In fact, some might even say I have on occasion a soft spot for the genre but though A Werewolf Boy has noticeable warmth; shows genuine heart throughout and has a fairly engaging narrative, I for one was never truly moved. Sweet, the film certainly is; heartbreaking, it is not.
Thematically, A Werewolf Boy covers familiar and even classic territory in its depiction of an individual who through no fault of his own lies outside the norms of society and whose appearance as the 'monster' of the piece is as a direct result of others' unthinking assumptions; blinkered perceptions; and uninformed, even self-serving, fears which ultimately lead to lynch-mob reactions and deliberate, focused and violent persecution. Of course, narrative ideas such as these can be seen in an absolute myriad of examples from around the world from literary stories of man-made creatures; to (some) Korean mythological tales of fox demons; to more recent cinematic depictions of, for example, an 'elephant man'; and almost all points in between. Add in the love and melodram elements and you have almost a virtual clone of a certain story of a strange individual with scissors for hands.
All that said, there's a reason many of those stories are considered to be 'classic' - they're universally understood and, let's face it, they largely work. Even more than that in this case, as thematic depictions these types of ideas fit perfectly with the social critique and commentary almost inherent to Korean cinema throughout the years, as well as also allowing for a love story that ticks all the "love, loss and laughter" check-boxes that Korean romances so often require.
However, the downfall of this is that A Werewolf Boy feels somewhat less than original in concept and, as such, its success (or not) to specific audiences is as reliant on the intricasies of the ongoing story and empathy for characters as it is on the film's overall arc and ultimate destination; if not more so.
Speaking of which, while character depth is certainly less than it could have been, a great deal of the aforementioned warmth of the film overall comes from the often gentle humour found in the interactions of the main 'family' members and the noticeable chemistry between Park Bo-yeong as Su-ni and Song Joong-ki as the silent titular character. However, the frankly woeful and painfully cringe-worthy character of Ji-tae as the 'bad guy' of the piece detracts from almost every scene in which he appears; being so over the top as to not even be worthy of being termed a caricature: Not the actor's fault in any respect but a massive problem all the same.
Cinematically, A Werewolf Boy is accomplished throughout. Visuals are sumptuous, framing is nigh-on prefect and pacing follows the gentleness of the narrative without ever dragging or feeling laboured. It should also be said that the decision to show the werewolf side of the main character only in night scenes with little light works rather well - whether the reason for that is narrative ('werewolf at night' etc.); for increased visual believability; in an attempt to get a lower age certification; or all of the above.
Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-yeong, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jang Young-nam, Lee Yeong-ran
With the buzz surrounding A Werewolf Boy in the lead-up to its release and its subsequent success at the box office, the question of whether the film lives up to the hype instantly comes to the fore. However, while the narrative could almost be described as a ‘classic’ tale, sadly the familiarity of the story to almost any fan of Korean cinema results in a film that feels rather less than original in concept.
The 3-Disc Korean (Region 3) CJ E&M Limited Edition First Press version of 'A Werewolf Boy' will be released in Korea on March 27th 2013; the film itself being provided as an anamorphic transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and the original Korean language soundtrack a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby 2.0.
However, English-speaking viewers should note that as with many Korean DVD releases there are no subtitles available on any of the numerous extras.