09 December 2012

Film Review: A Werewolf Boy

Over the weekend, I had the privilege of viewing the most successful melodrama in Korean history, "A Werewolf Boy".  Set in the Korean countryside of 1965, the movie's focus on the lives of Koreans is a complete contrast to the flashy images of cosmopolitan excess currently prevalent in popular culture. This is Director Jo Sung-hee's first foray into commercial cinema; before this movie, he worked on a number of art house films. Jo Sung-hee manipulates the pastoral setting to drive the viewer into a nerve wracking state of unease and paranoia. In "A Werewolf Boy", doors are both pathways to hope and portholes to unknown horror.

The movie's supernatural subject matter is treated with less of a sense of camp and frivolity than films like Twilight. Although there are comedic elements, the plot is driven by a sense of lingering doom reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock. The presence of an actual sense of horror makes "A Werewolf Boy" a delightful antidote to the comical, contrived acting and super budget CGI special effects that define most supernatural films. The script, which was written by director Jo Sung-Jee, conveys many of the same themes that were present in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein: humanity's fear towards that which we consider outside of our species, the supernatural and the unnatural; but, like Frankenstein, we see the development of tender, even romantic feelings, between the social outcasts and the supernatural outcasts.

The movie opens with Kim Suni, who is residing in the United States, in the later stages of her life.  This is a flash forward from the actual storyline. Suni is now an ahjumma (grandmother), who has the respect of her family members. As she inspects her wrinkled skin in the mirror, it is apparent that Suni valued beauty in her youth. Through the progression of the film, Suni returns to the village of her teenage years with her granddaughter.  It is during this time that Suni begins to recall the strange events surrounding the time during which her family resided in the village. 

In traditional Korean drama fashion, the viewer is soon introduced to Ji-Tae, the impractical wannabe chaebol who is the son of their landlord.  Ji-Tae is arrogant and useless, at best, making him a prime candidate for a future love triangle.  The werewolf boy, played brilliantly by Song Joong-Ki, soon emerges from the shadows. The appearance of this strange, feral boy initially evokes fear and loathing from Suni and her family. What begins as a very contentious relationship later grows into a bittersweet love story between the wolf boy (Chul-Soo) and Suni. The relationship that grows between Chul-Soo and Suni is much more like that of Belle and the Beast, then Bella and Jacob, and (for this viewer) seemed to strike a more meaningful chord in terms of relationship dynamics. Bella's complete lack of fear towards her supernatural suitors always seemed unrealistic to me. Wouldn't the typical reaction of any normal human be a little fear mixed in with her desire?

Viewers in the United States, as well as though viewing it after December 6, were treated to the extended version of the film. Included in this version are a magnificent alternate ending and deleted scenes that provide a better explanation as to how Chul-Soo and the villagers develop their fractured relationship.  This film is definitely a must see for movie goers who are fans of international films, Korean drama aficionados, and those who are looking to witness genuine theatrical talent.

"A Werewolf Boy" will remain in limited release in select locations within the United States until 12/13/2012.  See it!

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