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If thereís one thing we can gather now that the snow has been shoveled from the stage of Forks, Washington, is the impact that the success of the Twilight films has meant to todayís cinema.  The movie industry has discovered the financial power of the teenage female and has at long last, good or ill, begun to produce girl-centric films accordingly. Apparently that revelation has transcended international boundaries making its way to Korea, who has released a teen-friendly, furry fairy tale called A Werewolf Boy.

Suni is an old lady, thereís no getting around it.  She despairs over wrinkles and sagging muscles in her face while her salt and pepper hair gives away her advanced years.  Like many older folks, sheís more or less overlooked in her own home, watching her grown children rush about around her, while sheís only occasionally part of it all.  A phone call transports Suni back to the past: A rural house where she lived for a short time while convalescing for her weakened lungs has been willed to her.  Though itís been decades since she was there, itís up to Suni to decide whether or not to sell the place.  Upon returning to inspect the land, Suniís memories transport her to her teenage years when she lived in the house with her mother and younger sister and another unexpected guest already on the premises. 

The home previously belonged to a reclusive scientist rumoured to be doing strange experiments in the night.  One of those experiments remained behind after the scientistís death.  When Suni hears odd noises outside her window, what she first reckons is some sort of wild animal is actually revealed to be an incredibly dirty, frightened young man.  Starving, encased in filth, with unkempt hair and clawlike nails, the boy seems more beast than human.  The bumpkin police force has no clue what to do with the wild charge, so Suniís kindly mother takes the youth in, names him Cheol-su and does her best to clean and feed him.  Having no civilising factors to adapt him to this new life among normal folk and seemingly incapable of human speech, Cheol-su is as helpless and lonely in his way as Suniís respiratory illness has made her. 

The initially resentful, wary Suni takes it into her head to train Cheol-su as one would a dog, and it actually works.  The benefits of Suniís rewards system shows instant results and soon Cheol-su is no longer turning over the dinner table to frantically scarf down whatever vittles he can get his hands on, but quickly learns to read and write for the praise of a pat on the head.  For all that Cheol-su cannot speak, a bond grows between the two isolated teenagers and eventually when the officials offer placement in a home for Cheol-su, Suni impersonates her mother to refuse it. 

Of course this sweet, bucolic existence cannot go on without a snake in the garden: Enter Ji-tae, the spoiled son of SuniĎs dadís business partner.  Ji-tae has loaned them the house, clearly with an expectation that Suni would be the ultimate payment.  The slimy, rich boy is not Suniís cup of cha and unable to conceive of any female not dropping at his feet, Ji-tae employs more aggressive methods to persuade Suni of his feelings.  This triggers a bit of a change in Cheol-su, whose transformation into a super-strong lupine creature gains Suniís gratitude, but places the innocent changeling in danger of exposure and elimination once Ji-tae brings in the authorities.  Cheol-su is imprisoned, prodded and in peril of death for merely existing, and Suni must decide for the trusting boy what is best for him even if it breaks her heart.

The innocence of the romance, the decidedly not-scary thrills and fairly goofy-looking monster makeup solidify A Werewolf Boy as a mash-up of The Wolfman and Beauty and the Beast for the Twihard generation.  The gentleness of the critter in question along with his K-Pop-star cuteness and that whole overprotective puppy thing make him a classic hero in a girlís fairy tale.  Suniís original pouty reluctance to help the poor waif, which inevitably turns into much more, sometimes lures her into irritating Mary Sue territory; that annoying quality that seems to be necessary in all female romantic heroines lately (Her idea of laughs is to naughtily paint Cheol-su and dress him up in womenís clothes, knowing he has no clue whatís going on, which comes off more dumb and cruel than funny.). Luckily her better points, including standing up for Cheol-su in the face of the rich jerk and an armed guard, win out. 

The performances are uniformly good, leading with Song Joong-ki as Cheol-su, the mysterious wolf boy.  He does the confused innocent thing perfectly, gazing with childlike interest at the world and people around him; his eyes convey all the words his character is unable to say.  Park Bo-young as Suni is a nicely spunky heroine and makes those few irritating quirks of the character endurable.  Sheís so good at being strong for Cheol-su despite her weak body that you want to see more of her toughness.  Once Cheol-su and Suni have their understanding and affection starts to blossom, the pair makes one of most perfect and charming teen couples in recent cinema.  Though A Werewolf Boyís premise is completely fantastic, the charactersí devotion and their relationshipís positive effect of each becoming stronger and better for the other is inspiring and made of real feeling.  Jang Young-nam as Suniís mom is also a delight as the young widow who fiercely loves and protects her kids.  Her warm-hearted acceptance of Cheol-su is sweet and she carries much of the filmís humour, deftly walking the line between being a comedically naÔve character and just a silly one.

A Werewolf Boy is definitely a no-boys-zone (Unless the boy is on a date with a girl, then itís a smart-boyís-zone).  The cheesy wolfman makeup owes more to Michael Jacksonís Thriller than Rick Bakerís An American Werewolf in London and will get laughed at loudly by any male in the audience.  Donít even think of finding out exactly what kind of experiment turned Cheol-su into a werewolf in the first place.  Itís vaguely brought up now and again and then dropped.  Director Jo Sung-hee knows thatís not what the audience came to see and the film is possessed of so many other good qualities, we can live with its slightness. 

Still, Iíll take the sweet, quiet charms of A Werewolf Boy over any chapter of the overwrought, turgid Twilight films with their Sparkle Plenty vampires and CGI puppies any day.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Feb 18th 2013

 

A Werewolf Boy is featured as part of New York Korean Film Festival running from Feb 22-24 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of  CJ Entertainment

 

 

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