A WEREWOLF BOY (2012)
A fairytale meets bittersweet fantasy romance, a feral orphan is taken in by a rural family and must learn to integrate and battle prejudice
The storied history of the Korean melodrama continues here with Jo Sung-hee’s follow-up to 2011’s End of Animal. The open-endedly titled ‘A Werewolf Boy’ is a genre-mashing effort which strides across fantasy, romance and family drama, perhaps aware of the international appeal of Twilight-style ventures in the process.
It is probably the romantic core of the story which carries its true emotional weight, teaming up teen love angst with an outsider story of acceptance.
We open in the future to the film’s main husk though. Kim Sun-yi is an elderly woman living in the US who receives a phone call about the sale of her old home back in Korea.
When she returns home to visit the house, she recalls how 47 years earlier she was a 17-year old living a 1960s rural Korean life after moving out of Seoul. We jump back to follow this young Sun-yi, played by Park Bo-young (Scandal Makers, Don't Click), as she moves with her widowed mother and sister Sun-ja to this remote valley.
Hounded by their arrogant and rich landlord, Ji-tae, the family attempt to settle, while Sun-yi isolates herself due to health concerns over her lungs.
One day the family discover a feral teen boy (Song Joong-ki) in their yard, who is unable to speak and acts like a wild dog, stuffing his mouth with cooked potatoes. Assumed to be an orphan from the Korean War, Sun-yi’s mother takes him in, giving him the name Chul-soo.
Despite his wild nature, Chul-soo shows a generosity and moral understanding of his surroundings. While Sun-yi is initially annoyed by the often out-of-control Chul-soo, she soon finds it rewarding to train and tame him.
As Chul-soo starts to find his place in the family and with the other children around him, the cruel Ji-tae, who seeks the attention of Sun-yi, targets Chul-soo and attempts to force him out of the community.
The fantasy description of this film points to its supernatural elements, which we let you discover yourself, and bends our expectations of how this family drama will evolve. However, such mystic aspects are secondary to the very human emotions that the film evokes.
We see the Korean notion of romance which, in the often provocative nature of the country’s cinema, is not just a difficult path, but perhaps an impossible one. Too problematic for even the most devoted of hopeless romantic to piece together.
On the technical front, it is the adventurous and engaging cinematography which best brings the film alive. Ensuring that it surpasses that crowded genre of international teen supernatural films and produces a more profound emotional onslaught.
To stop short of revealing too much, it is through the film’s final 10 minutes that will likely pull the tear-jerking chains of many audiences. A parting shot of sadness for viewers that will resonate beyond the supernatural elements prior.