That awesome feeling you get when you’ve just watched a really good movie. A movie that ends up being something much more than you expected going in.
That’s how I feel after watching A Werewolf Boy (늑대소년/Wolf Boy). The 2012 Song Joong Ki starrer is a moving, heartwarming, poignant and visually stunning film that leaves a lasting impression.
Park Bo Young is Suni, a 19 year old girl who is advised by her doctor to get some fresh air in the country to combat an illness affecting her lungs, an ailment so bad, she can’t go to school, must study on her own at home and according to her little sister, doesn’t even have any friends.
As Suni, her mother and sister try to settle into their new home, a young man (Song Joong Ki) they assume is a homeless orphan appears outside their home.
While the county figures out where they can send the young man, Suni’s mother decides to give him a bath and fresh clothes, food and a name, Chul Soo, much to Suni’s annoyance. But Suni soon has a change of heart since other than not being able to speak, Chul Soo appears to be a normal, kind young man.
She begins to teach Chul Soo how to eat, speak and even write, using a dog training book as her guide. But while Suni’s family and the neighborhood kids next door befriend Chul Soo, the sleazy Ji Tae (Yoo Yun Suk) resents this encroachment on what he believes is his property (Suni included).
The story unfolds as sort of a coming of age tale for both Chul Soo and Suni. Chul Soo grows closer to the family and his new friends as well as learns about being more civilized and less like a homeless-looking outcast. Suni, meanwhile, loosens up and cracks her hard shell of passive negativity thanks to Chul Soo. And this is all while Ji Tae schemes to get rid of him.
Misunderstandings, Ji Tae’s villainy, the bonds Chul Soo forms and the revelations about his origins build up to several emotional climaxes that end the film and leave a uniquely satisfying and hopeful, yet bittersweet and tragic ending.
And yes, I guarantee MaGMCMs for everyone.
The title A Werewolf Boy (or Wolf Boy as the literal translation of the Korean title) does a little bit of disservice to the film. While it does have fantasy and supernatural elements when it comes to the title character (it is literal, he turns into a wolf-ish creature, that’s all I’ll say), the film is much more a sweetly romantic family drama. It is perfectly light with plenty of fun, lighthearted moments that balance the several emotional gut punches that arrive successively as the film reaches its climax.
The title may evoke a certain preconception as well as draw immediate comparisons to some other teen supernatural romance films, but A Werewolf Boy is a film that transcends any one genre. And does it well.
The stunning cinematography takes full advantage of the idyllic Korean countryside, painting a beautifully fairy tale-like setting in the post-Korean War 1960s. The film begins with Suni, now a grandmother, returning to the country home and remembering those unforgettable few weeks 47 years ago. That set-up is used very effectively, bookending the film, setting up what ends up being the biggest emotional kicker.
Writer-director Jo Sung Hee does a masterful job balancing the comedy and drama with the romance and fantastical elements all while presenting it with a mesmerizing and sort of magical atmosphere.
Park Bo Young is a fine leading lady who gives a performance that is essential to the film’s ending having any meaning or resonance. Jang Young Man as Suni’s mother and Kim Hyang Gi as Suni’s little sister provide ample support while Yoo Yun Suk does his best as Ji Tae who ends up being merely a one-dimensional means to an end.
But this film is all about Song Joong Ki.
I’ll admit it, right off the bat. I’ve got a man crush. I don’t admit that very often. And thanks to this film, I’m certainly not ashamed to admit it here. He is a talented actor who is only just getting started and he’s a good guy to boot.
From hosting KBS’ Music Bank to his breakthrough in the drama Sungkyungkwan Scandal and his award winning role in last year’s Nice Guy, Song Joong Ki has been Korea’s boy next door.
He’s handsome, with soft features. Qualities that fit his flirty role in Scandal, but drew questions when cast in a revenge drama.
But Song Joong Ki proved in Nice Guy that he’s more than just a pretty face. He can handle brooding dramatic charisma just as well as boyish innocence.
Here in Werewolf Boy, he has to present both. His softness provides a warmth and natural air of kindness that immediately draws you into his story. He utters maybe at most a half-dozen lines throughout the entire 2-hour film, which means for the rest of the way, he must effectively convey emotion and thought with just his actions and most of the time, just his face. Not very many actors or actresses can do that effectively. Song Joong Ki does it here.
He manages to evoke clear emotion with just a look, whether it’s conveying that his street pancacke is too hot or that he cares for Suni and her family. There’s a big difference between silence that is emotionless and silence that is profound. With another actor, Chul Soo could have just as well been a mute robot. But Song Joong Ki brought depth and warmth to the character. Without that, the film and its ending would be absolutely pointless. No matter how well written and beautifully shot, the film would have failed. Song Joong Ki kept that from happening and is the biggest reason A Werewolf Boy is ultimately effective.
A poignant and heartwarming story about family, friendship, loyalty and love, A Werewolf Boy is creatively and visually breathtaking. It has a story and a lead actor that are emotionally engaging and a final act that lands every one of its emotional punches because of it. A Werewolf Boy is a great example of how cinema, in any language, can resonate long after the credits roll.