South Korean movie “A Werewolf Boy” is an old-fashioned romance story featuring a young girl and her loyal werewolf boy. I know many of you are already thinking about those CGI wolves in Twilight movies, but, luckily for us, the movie is having some fun with its old-fashioned style as well as its preposterous premise, and it has more emotions than Twilight movies although I was also bothered by its awkward process of the story around its finale.
The story is recollected by an old lady who lives with her son’s family in US. On one day, she gets a call from South Korea, and she instantly returns to South Korea for taking care of her personal matter, which involved with a house in some remote mountain town. She comes to see the house with her granddaughter, and, even before she starts to reminisce, we sense that the house, which looks both nice and a little creepy, has something to talk about inside itself.
The movie goes back to 47 years ago, when an old lady was as young as her granddaughter. Soon-yi(Park Bo-yeong) and her family move to the house because they need a quiet place for her frail health condition. Their new neighbours, only five or six people, welcome them wholeheartedly, but Soon-yi remains moody about the new environment unlike her plucky younger sister, who immediately befriends the two kids living nearby.
Their father died a few years ago, and we hear that the house is bought and given to them by his business partner. It seems that there is a sort of deal between him and Soon-yi’s mother(Jang Yong-nam), and that is probably why his mean and obnoxious son, Ji-tae(Yoo Yeon-seok), behaves so insolently in front of Soon-yi’s family on the moving day. He is a piece of work; he does not do anything to help at all, and his main business seems to be snigger and insult, and this despicable guy does even not try to hide his interest in Soon-yi, who has nothing but contempt for him.
During the first night at the house, Soon-yi is awakened by some strange sound outside the house. Like any heroines of horror stories, she goes into a dark, shabby shack next to the house to find out what it is. There is a mysterious chamber in the shack, and, as soon as she opens its closed door, something dark and frightening in that chamber quickly escapes from the chamber before she can clearly see what it is.
On the next morning, she and her mother discover a mute boy who behaves more like an animal than a boy. They think he is one of those war orphans during the Korean War, but there is something weird about him. His temperature is abnormally high, and he runs fast, and his body shows no sign of injury even when he is hit hard by a falling iron rail. As shown in the scene around the beginning, he is a part of some secret experiment carried out by the previous owner of the house(he is dead, by the way), and, of course, there are the people who have a lot of interest in him.
But “A Werewolf Boy” is a ‘romance’ rather than a horror thriller, so the movie focuses on the developing relationship between Soon-yi and a wolfboy, named Cheol-soo(Song Joong-Ki) for the time being. Soon-yi and her family are flabbergasted by Cheol-soo’s rude animalistic behaviors, but she finds practical ways to tame him from a guide book for dog owners. He still uses his hands during dinner, but at least he learns some manners and he is soon accepted as a part of the household. It is a little embarrassing to watch Song Joong-Ki completely following animal instincts as ‘a big dog’, and I wondered during the screening whether Cheol-soo also went through a potty training.
Through the training process for her convenience, Soon-yi comes to care about Cheol-soo. She tries to teach him how to write and speak, and she also plays a song with her guitar for him, and their private moments are drenched with lots of sunny tenderness on the screen. But, as far as I can see, the love he feels is not a romantic one, and the movie thankfully does not go into a saccharine mode. Yes, he can learn, and he may speak like a normal human being someday, but his brain will still function like that of a nice doggie with fatal aggressive instinct.
Later in the story, Soon-yi comes to see the other side of Cheol-soo, which is not so pretty to look at, and what we get here is a typical situation we can expect from monster movies. There are a military officer who wants to take care of the situation quickly while covering the truth from reporters, a scientist who has enough biological knowledge to explain how scientifically fascinating Cheol-soo is(but he is frustrated because the others do not understand a lot, no matter how much he tries to explain), and a couple of guys with guns. With these kinds of stock characters, you will not be surprised to see a monster running from the people chasing after him – with a beautiful girl in his arms.
The director/writer Cho Seong-hee made a notable debut with “End of Animal”(2010) in last year. I have heard lots of good words about that movie from my Internet acquaintances, though I have not watched it yet because the movie has not yet available on DVD or Internet even in South Korea. I do not think “A Werewolf Boy” is successful mainly due to its weak third act, which is unconvincingly pushed by a cardboard villain(guess who that will be?), but the movie does a good job of mixing romance and horror elements in its rather offbeat story. Park Bo-yeong is lovely as a romance heroine, and I liked the neurotic hilarity in Jang Yang-nam’s performance, which provides many comic points in the film, and its bittersweet ending has emotional resonance in spite of its apparent implausibility. I am still hesitating to recommend it to you, but I can instead assure you that this movie is certainly less painful than Twilight films.