A dark and stormy night pierced by wolf-like growls sends shivers down your spine. It’s not a horror film, it’s just the intro to one of South Korea’s most successful melodramas A Werewolf Boy.
A Werewolf Boy is a flashback of an elderly Korean woman, Kim Suni. Forty-seven years ago, Suni moved to the countryside with her younger sister and recently widowed mother. Not only experiencing financial difficulties, Suni is also weak due to her ill health prompting their move to the country.
There she discovers a wild teenage boy whom her mother believes is an orphan from the Korean War. Her mother takes him in temporarily, calling him Chul-soo, a name she had been saving if she had had a son. Suni scorns Chul-soo at first while her sister and the neighbourhood children take to him as he shows off his super strength and tender affection for them. While looking through their luggage, Suni discovers a dog obedience manual and gleefully tries to teach Chul-soo manners. The task of teaching Chul-soo is slow going at first and Suni is even hurt when Chul-soo accidentally bites her hand when she offers him food, but his loyalty and hard work leads to the two of them growing closer together.
Suni’s mother tries to get Chul-soo adopted knowing it will be hard to feed another mouth, even though he begins to grow on her. Especially when he saves her daughters from a falling metal beam, dismissing the fact that Chul-soo’s super strength is unnatural. As the two teenagers become affectionate, their relationship arouses the jealousy of Ji-tae, the son of Suni’s late father’s business partner. Having spent their childhood together, Ji-tae expects to marry Suni. Although he seems a foppish and uncaring man, he harbours a deep love for Suni. His suspicion about Chul-soo’s inability to speak and super-strength leads to disastrous consequences involving the military and some documents which may unveil the secret behind Chul-soo’s past. Not knowing Chul-soo well, the villagers follow Ji-tae’s lead and Suni must tearfully part with her first love.
It’s no surprise that the opening night of KOFFIA’s Sydney leg was a sold out affair, A Werewolf Boy being the third highest grossing South Korean film last year, a feat considering the film was released in November, considered a slow season for cinema as well as being in the melodrama genre. Its popularity led to the director Jo Sung-hee re-releasing the film in the cinemas with an alternate ending. Recent South Korean drama has seen a lot of popularity in the fantasy genre especially with popular fantasy dramas such as My Girlfriend is a Gumiho, Vampire Prosecutor and Arang and the Magistrate.
Memorable moments in the film included Suni singing along to her guitar, clearly mesmerising Chul-soo as well as the cute scenes as they interact together in their new worlds, both of them discovering how lonely their past life was. The two young actors, Park Bo-young (Suni) and Song Joong-ki (Chul-soo) bring life to this beautiful story of young love and fantasy. Known for her portrayal as a teenage mother opposite Cha Tae-hyun in “Speedy Scandal”, Park Bo-young’s Suni is a lonely and yet headstrong teenage girl and her character really sets up the painful ending. She also shows variety in her roles as she plays the bubbly grand-daughter of the elderly Suni. Song Jong-ki is known to extensively research his roles and in this case he watched nature documentaries, observed stray dogs to capture their body movements as well as watching Tim Burton‘s Edward Scissorhands, Matt Reeves‘ Let Me In, and Gollum in Peter Jackson‘s The Lord of the Rings. His research was emulated well into his role from his beginnings as the wild boy in his hungry scramble for food, his facial expressions as he sought comfort like a well-loved pet as well as his uncontrolled anger and quick reflexes when Suni was in danger.
As I watched the film, I almost forgot the flashback elements of the film until scenes of the older Suni appeared on screen. Suddenly it was night-time and the cinematography became sharper and contrasted with the beautiful seasonal hues from the previous scenes. This dreamlike fairytale romance is a heartwarming story that will bring you to tears and have you reminiscing about your first love.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 122 Minutes. (w/English Subtitles)
This film was originally reviewed at KOFFIA – Korean Film Festival in Australia – 2013, where it was the opening film. Visit www.koffia.com.au for more information.
Images from Kobiz.