A WEREWOLF BOY 늑대소년 (MOVIE REVIEW)

 A Werewolf Boy 늑대소년 (2012) 
Movie review
For the most part, I enjoyed A Werewolf Boy – it was a well-crafted, bittersweet movie with a coherent, mostly-logical plotline and achieving that is actually harder than it sounds.

All those lumping it under ‘Twilight’, it’s really not on the same wavelength. If you need a comparison, the dynamic is a more tragic, innocent, not-quite-romantic, abridged version of Inuyasha.

Side note: Who else looked at the movie poster and thought it was starring Song Joongki and Song Joongki dressed as a girl?

Warnings: Major spoilers, image heavy & long

I appreciated that Suni wasn’t a particularly likeable character at the beginning. She's a sullen, withdrawn, introverted girl and had realistic trouble adjusting to country life and her illness. I appreciated her character arc but I feel like the changes were a little abrupt and there could have been subtle reminders of her illness and a few more callbacks to her Diary of Sadness.

I loved the little shot where she begins writing in her Diary of Sadness and then puts it aside to read the dog-training manual – nice touch. It was really great to see that she wasn't afraid to speak up to defend Cheol-sa.

Park Bo-Young gave a mostly understated and realistic performance, which was appreciated.

It was a daring move to render Song Joongki mute, but I do think it paid off, especially at the climax. Joongki emoted well and I liked the jerky, canine movements he adopted and the small details like when the kids are playing a ball game and he immediately responds to any sound or movement they make as the ball is thrown - very dog-like. I’m amazed by how young he made himself look at the beginning.

The werewolf transformation took an enormous backseat, plot-wise. There was no explanation for why/how he became a werewolf, which highlights how secondary this plot point was - Cheol-sa showed no 'wolfish' quality except when Suni was in danger, which was sweet but a little unrealistic. I couldn’t see many details of the transformation because it was night, but it was the least believable aspect of the movie, unfortunately. Really cheap-looking.

The Suni/Cheol-sa relationship is an interesting one. The trailer (especially the English one) seems to market the movie as a straight-up romance, but it’s hard to place Suni’s role in Cheol-sa’s life – she is his trainer, his mother, his friend, his carer and protector all rolled into one person. Her ‘kidaryeo’ reminded me of Kagome’s ‘osuwari’, except Cheol-sa is significantly lower on the autonomy scale.

It was great to see their lighthearted moments of play and watch him bring out the tender, happier side to her (and to see her valiantly trying to retain a serious, composed image in front of her family and neighbours hehe)

Loved the guitar scene – tender moment and well shot. However, since the guitar was so important as a major catalyst in Ji-Tae’s plan, I think they should have had some more scenes where they bonded over the guitar.

The main thing that made the ‘romance’ angle a hard sell for me is that I feel like her regard towards him didn’t shift significantly from that of a loving owner towards a child, a sibling or a pet. Replace Cheol-sa with, say, an abnormally strong, intelligent dog and you'd still retain most of the movie's nuance, meaning there was nothing to show that he wasn't just a 'pet' but a human.

The hair petting, the maternal commands…the relationship never felt completely equal, I suppose, because she never needed him as much as Cheol-sa needed her, and a significant part of that was due to Cheol-sa not being able to talk.

Their relationship turned on the two moments that Cheol-sa protects Suni from danger.

It was the second time when he fails that highlighted, for me, how there is still an essential gap in power between them and made it hard for me to ever see them in a romantic light. It exposed Cheol-sa's still-limited, animal-like capacity - able to protect Suni on instinct, but unable to communicate with anyone else, he reverts back to his instincts and is unable to help her when she relies on him 100%.

Cheol-sa's confinement highlighted, for me, the fundamental gap between their 'humanity'. Ultimately, he was still utterly dependent on her and powerless, in the face of greater authorities and was treated as a dog, not a human, when she was unable to defend him.
The fact he ended up obeying all but one of Suni's commands (her last one when they were facing Ji-Tae's gun), and was subsequently banished forever, showed he never really gained that sense of his autonomy, which makes up an important aspect of 'humanity'. The part when she returns and he's straining at the restraints, held back from his own will by her command to 'wait' was sweet but also really sad.
It was sad to see Suni herself withdraw back into pre-Cheolsa, resigned 'sickness' mode too - quietly defending Cheol-sa but not with the same fervour I expected from her. It was a realistic and sad moment that showed how affected Suni was by the relapse of her illness.

Ji-Tae, as unlikeable as he was, was at least a passable antagonist. I liked the build-up in the tension between him and Cheol-sa over three meetings.

It was, of course, way too convenient he just happened to find an envelope with the address of the professor. It would have been great if Ji-Tae’s search for the professor was a running sub-plot ‘off-screen’ and would be alluded to in off-hand comment like ‘Oh, Ji Tae’s not been around in awhile…’

The catalyst for the final conflict is fairly believable (though, again, hinges on Ji-Tae becoming, well, unhinged). Jeong-ssi would go and try to give Ji-Tae a second chance and Ji-Tae would betray that trust. I liked that the ultimate confrontation was serious enough to believe that Cheol-sa would have transformed to protect Suni, despite her command.

It also highlighted, as the Soompi review said, that the true monsters are people like Ji-Tae, who are intolerant and fearful of things that they can't understand.

Beautiful acting in the last forest scene – loved Cheol-sa's single word and Suni’s mixed messages reflecting her conflicting impulses. Loved the orange of her sweater picking up the orange highlights in his jumper. I didn’t expect her to walk slowly away though - I thought she would want to get out of there as fast as possible.

Total mood killer but - that was some INTENSE ROCK THROW action.

I didn’t really tear up until the very end. It was a beautiful, bittersweet thing when Suni apologises to Cheol-sa for telling him to wait.

 

You don’t realise the power and absoluteness of his devotion until that point (neither did Suni, I wager) and it really hits you how hard immortality would be since she’s lived an entire life and has come back an old woman and he’s waited in the same place and not changed.

I’m still not quite sure if the ending scene was supposed to be literal or allegorical. If it was literal, I’d also question why she just LEAVES HIM AGAIN? If she knew he was alive and had been waiting for her for fifty years…you’d think she’d want to stay with him a bit more?

I sort of wish they had cut it after she went to sleep or when she opened the door, which seems like a good place to stop (not going to lie - I was kind of expecting her to die after going to sleep to him reading– does this make me a horrible person? omg)

I loved most of the cinematography – the colour palette, the use of light and the motif of the interplay of blue and orange was done well. For some reason the white light was intensely bright and wrapped everything in a sort of fuzzy light ‘memory’ haze. It was nice at some points but kind of excessive to sustain for the whole movie, especially during daytime scenes.

Also, not sure if it's my computer monitor but the nighttime scenes were dark - I could barely see anything.

Overall, A Werewolf Boy was an enjoyable movie. I won’t say the plot is particularly original, but it was well-done and sweet in its own way.

Cheol-sa and Suni's 'romance' was the most outlandish claim of the movie - no doubt she loved him but how much of that was romantic love remains a question mark for me.

That said, I don’t think there needed to be a completely ‘romantic’ love in this movie for it to worktheirs was a story of sweet puppy-love, kindness, play and unconditional devotion, in my eyes and, hey, that’s okay every once in awhile.