K-movie Review: A Werewolf Boy

Friday, March 22, 2013

I can’t lie, I whole-heartedly enjoyed Werewolf Boy. I really did. It’s actually rather strange because I’ve grown dead sick of all werewolf/vampire romances in the last few years. Ever since the Twilight books, we've been flooded with these kind of fantasy movie/TV romances, each getting slightly more ridiculous than the one before (seriously though, this obsession with werewolves and vampires needs to stop). For that reason, I almost didn’t want to watch Werewolf Boy at all, but since I was drawn to the cast I had to at least give it a chance. Turns out, it was the right decision on my part.

 Plot summary: 

After her father's death, Soon Yi's (Park Bo Young) family moves into the countryside, he mother believing that the fresh country air will be better for Soon Yi's lung condition. 
One night, Soon Yi hears something outside the house and goes to check, only to be faced with a scary dark figure. Frightened, she runs back inside the house. The next day, Soon Yi and her mother see the figure in the garden, but it turns out to be an untamed boy (Song Joong Ki), who does not know how to speak. Despite Soon Yi's objections, her mother takes him in, feeding and grooming him. Although Soon Yi initially shows no interest in the boy, she takes it upon herself to teach him manners and names him Cheol Soo. Over time Soon Yi and Cheol Soo bond and eventually become inseparable. Yet the mystery behind Cheol Soo sparks the interest of Ji Tae (Yoo Yun Suk), the son of Soon Yi's deceased father's business partner, who owns their house and has intended to marry Soon Yi.

SPOILER ALERT! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

 What I liked: 

The emotional impact. Indeed, it has been a while since I've been so moved by a movie to the point of crying along with it in the end. 
For the record, I'm kind of a reserved person in real life and I rarely get teary-eyed when I'm watching dramas or films. That's why I consider it a rather big accomplishment when a movie makes a such an impression on me. There have been many movies that were otherwise very well done, but simply failed to move me. And watching a movie with a sense of emotional detachment always takes the enjoyment out of the experience. 
Werewolf Boy, however, got me fully invested. I was genuinely gripped, both by the adorable main characters and the tragic romance. It was definitely something that caught me off-guard as I generally tend to view teen romance movies as a form of easy entertainment, rather than feeling particularly touched by them. 

The romance. Though I am generally a fan of more mature depictions of relationships, I do have a soft spot for fantasy romances and, to me, Werewolf Boy is a modern fairy tale of sorts. While the movie is set in a relatively realistic countryside community in the 1960s without any additional fantastical elements, what we essentially have is still a forbidden love story between a human girl and a werewolf boy. Therefore, their interactions are portrayed as very sweet and innocent, just like they are in fairy tales. 
While such romances might not be everyone's cup of tea, I probably loved the movie that much precisely because the main couple was so young, pure and uncorrupted. You see, aside from wanting to be together, Cheol Soo and Soon Yi had no other demands to the world. Instead, it was the world that had a problem with them. So, as a viewer, I found myself completely devoted to rooting for the young couple to win the fight against the prejudices and hostility of the civilized world. 
Of course, the fact that the young couple were played by actors I like was another big plus. Since I have a pretty big bias for Song Joong Ki and I'm also rather fond of Park Bo Young, I was probably inclined to like them from the start. But I'm sure many of you will agree that the two actors looked impossibly adorable together.     

Cheol Soo as a werewolf.
 
What I liked was how Cheol Soo's animal side was always noticable in his mannerisms and body language. 
First of all, Cheol Soo didn't know how to speak the human language, he only communicated through body language which was oftentimes very animal-like. Also, once he had learned to trust Soon Yi, he started following her around like a puppy dog. In fact, his unconditional affection for Soon Yi reminded me a lot of the loyality that dogs have for their owners. Now I know this starts to sound a little off-putting when I talk about Soon Yi being Cheol Soo's owner. Because it would be icky to think that our heroine is basically in love with a dog. But I'd like to point out that there was a good balance between Cheol Soo's werewolf and his human traits.  
For instance, Cheol Soo did have the ability to learn how to write and read. It was clear that it did not come easy for him, but by the end of the movie he has actually grasped the basics of the human language. It was also emhasized that Cheol Soo had a strong instinct to help other people. But even more importantly, he was able to feel compassion and love, as well as express it. Cheol Soo certainly had limitations when it came to understanding his surroundings the same way as humans did, but it was always made clear that he was perfectly capable of living in a civilized world. And above all, he has the ability to adapt and improve himself, which is perhaps the most striking difference that separates him from being a feral creature. 
In my opinion, this lovely balance between Cheol Soo's werewolf and human side is another important detail that makes this movie work so well on a emotional level - you just can't help but wish he'd find a place for himself. Unfortunately though, Cheol Soo doesn't really belong neither the uncivilized nor the civilized world. He is an outcast in both. He can succesfully take care of himself in the wilderness, but he yearns for company like any other human would. And although Cheol Soo is humanly enough to live alongside people, he isn't accepted him into the community because he isn't considered completely human. And the issue of not belonging anywhere seems to be the real werewolf curse for Cheol Soo.


The acting. Back in my Nice Guy review, I mentioned how I think that Song Joong Ki acts with his eyes more than with his words. I think his performance in Werewolf Boy is a perfect example of this because he hardly says anything the entire movie. Joong Ki captures the little nuances of Cheol Soo's character extremely well, from his feral mannerisms to humanly weaknesses, simply through subtle facial expressions or body language. He finds a perfect balance as he is expressive without exaggerating.  And well, who could ever play Cheol Soo better than Song Joong Ki, who is pretty much a puppy himself.
Although Park Bo Young is a little less brilliant in her role than Joong Ki, she has several emotionally poignant moments where her acting feels sincere and convincing. For instance, the scene where she is trying to drive Cheol Soo away in order to protect him, is truly heartbreaking. At that point, the viewer should automatically feel more sorry towards Cheol Soo, who's being rejected by the person he loves the most, yet Soon Yi's utter despair and torment is perhaps even harder to watch. Then in the scene that follows after, Soon Yi cries with her back turned against the camera, so we only see her figure in the shadows slowly walking away while desperately sobbing. Even though we cannot see her face, it is an extremely sad moment.
And finally, my third favourite performance was by Lee Young Ran (I believe that this the actresses' name, correct me if I'm wrong though), who played the older version of Soon Yi. She really made my heart ache in the last scenes of the movie, where she meets Cheol Soo again and realizes that he's been waiting for her all that time. She feels terrible guilt for having left Cheol Soo and yet he is not mad at her, which makes the entire thing even more sorrowful.  



The cinematography.
 I am aware that pretty set and gorgeous camera shots alone don't make a movie, but it can make an already good movie a great one. 
I loved the warm tones used in this movie, giving it the era-appropriate look. The setting was very beautiful, complimented by shots of the countryside during the sunset and shots of desolate snowy fields in the winter. Also, the great use of vivid lighting gave the movie an almost magical look - daytime shots being warm and full of sunlight, and nighttime shots being in blue tones and filled with shadows to create a mysterious and eerie atmosphere. 
And I liked that by using clever camera angles and shadows, there wasn't a need to overuse CGI or special effects that perhaps would have seemed too fake. Because there really is no point in letting CGI take over the movie, when the fantastical atmosphere can already be conveyed through simple but cleverly executed camera shots.

The snowman scene. At the very end of the movie when the credits start rolling, there is a lovely scene of Cheol Soo making a snowman. While making snowmen and playing around the snow is something we usually associate with happy feelings, this little moment is far from being a happy one. There is just something so heartbreakingly poignant about seeing Cheol Soo once again all alone, innocently entertaining himself like a little child who's been forgotten at the playground. It's such a sad and lonely scene, and I'd say it's my favourite one in the whole movie because it's simple, yet so utterly gut-wrenching.




 What I didn't like:   

The werewolf trope. I can't help but feel that the werewolf mythology for this story was not as fleshed out as it could have been. I did like the general concept, especially when it comes to the characterization of Cheol Soo as I mentioned above, but I wish the writers had done more with the idea and given us more insight into Cheol Soo's origin story. I was also curious to learn more about the man who kept Cheol Soo in captivity at the start of the movie. I liked that the writers didn't opt for the same werewolf formula that has been used in Hollywood productions, yet the questions "why" and "how" were still left unanswered. I do understand that there’s only so much content you can fit into one movie, which is why I am a little more willing to let it slide. Nevertheless, the writing could have used some polishing in that department.

The villain. The weakest part of the movie is definitely the villain Ji Tae, who is evil just for the sake of being evil. The character is written boringly and there is no further development to him at all. I'm fine with the story having the elements of a fairy tale, but I am much less accepting towards one-dimensional characters that are too reminiscent of Disney cartoon villains. It is rather sad because I believe that Yoo Yun Suk totally could have played the heck out of a villainous role, if he'd given more material to work with. I blame the writers for this one.   

 Overall conclusion: 

Charmingly acted, beautifully shot and emotionally gripping, Werewolf Boy is a surprisingly good example of a fantasy romance done well. In a sense, Werewolf Boy is also partly a coming-of-age story of two young people looking for their place in the world. While I do have some complaints about writing, such as a boringly evil villain and a lackluster background mythology, I am thoroughly impressed by the poignancy of the core story and the relationship between the main couple. Cause what the movie lacks in credibility, it makes up in heart. 

 Verdict: 

Plot - Beautifully told heartfelt story about a lonely wolf boy, a misunderstood young girl, and the young innocent love blossoming between them. Affectionately written and nicely executed. The ending broke me, though.

Acting - Song Joong Ki delivers a compelling performance almost without any dialogue and entirely through facial expressions and body language. Park Bo Young is charming and actually quite capable of handling powerful emotional scenes. Yoo Yun Suk puts on a convincing performance as the bad guy, though the character is awfully one-dimensional. Lee Young Ran is graceful as the older Soon Yi.

OST - Never intrusive or overly dramatic, but lingering and gentle. And Park Bo Young's "My Prince" is absolutely lovely.

Romance - The couple is endearing and very easy to root for. The progression from friendship to real love is youthful and sweet. 

Cinematography and editing - Gorgeous. The warm colour palette perfectly fits the time the story is set, and the setting is romantic, even a bit nostalgic.

 Final rating: 9       Enjoyment: 10 




 Memorable quotes: 

Soon Yi: "This is a book my father bought for me. I haven't read it yet, but I won't ever read this. Because you will read this to me. When you will learn all the letters and words, read it to me. Then, I will stroke your head hundred times. This is an order, you know?"
---
Soon Yi: "Cheol-Soo, are you really monster? What is real? What is your true nature? But I don't care. I'm..I'm ok even if...I'm ok even if you are a monster."
---
Soon Yi: "Hide yourself. Quickly. People are coming. I'll go to them and say you have run away, so don't follow me. Go, you idiot. If you are caught, you are dead. I can't be with you now. Go! Get lost! I hate you so get lost! Let me go! Go! Go you idiot!...Ah..I'm sorry Cheol Soo...It is for your sake. Don't come! Don't come! I'll go! I'll go so don't come here!"
Cheol Soo: "Don't go."
---
Soon Yi: "Did you wait for me? Come here. Stop waiting now. Cheol Soo, I am sorry. Why? Why did you wait for? I'm sorry. I've done everything. Eat what I want, wear what I want, married another man, raised children. I lived like this. I'm sorry. I am an old lady now. My hair has turned white."
Cheol Soo: "No. It's same. Hands, mouth, eyes..You are still beautiful. So much..I've missed you so much."


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13 comments

  1. You just reminded me, I haven't watched this yet! What am I waiting for?? Tomorrow - will definitely watch it.

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  2. Lovely review! This definitely sounds like a movie worth watching! I'm gonna have to check it out! Thanks, Indigo! ^^

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    1. Thanks! I am glad I'm getting people to watch this movie now :)

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  3. Your review makes me want to rewatch this movie! I loved it, although I thought Song Joon Ki was maybe a little *too good* at playing a puppy. I wanted to scratch him behind the ears, not kiss him. That's pretty much a first ;)

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    1. Yeah, Joong KI really fitted in this role, unsurprisingly. But somehow I wasn't bothered by his puppiness, because young innocent love as depicted in this movie kinda is like puppy love. But had the characters been older, then it wouldn't have worked the same way I think.
      But it's good to hear that my review makes you wanna watch it again :)

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  4. You know, I'll be honest, I'm really waiting for you to make a review for this movie. HAHA. Anyway, while reading your review, I got this urge to watch it again but I restrain. I think, I'm still not prepared to watch, see Song Joong Ki, and cry like a baby. Ugh. But then, I still love the movie and will really try hard to download it. Okay it's getting long so yeah. Your review is awesome! :)

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    1. Thank you :) I think I posted my review just at the right moment then.
      I don't think I'm prepared to rewatch this movie very soon either, I was already shocked that it made teary-eyed the first time.

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    2. Me too! I kind of expected it to be like a fairy tale one. You know, with the girl and the boy be together in the end and the conflict will just disappear like bubbles, but this movie, totally blew me away that it made my water bank inside my body spill through my eyes. :>

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    3. I wasn't that surprised that the movie had a sadder tone, but rather surprised that I was just so affected by the sad scenes. It's not that often that I come across a movie that gets me that invested in the characters and the story.

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    4. Agree. There is that something in the movie that tugs your heart. Maybe that something could be Sonh Joonh Ki. Wahh

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  5. Omgosh I really want to watch this movie now. As if Soong Ki wasn't enough reason... :)

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    1. Do watch it. I really enjoyed it.

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