Film Review: A Werewolf Boy

We&#8217;ll take this warmly directed, deeply affecting supernatural romance over the entire synthetic <i>Twilight </i>series any day.

Suni Kim (Li Young-lan), an aged Korean woman living in America who has returned to her homeland, recounts the tale of A Werewolf Boy in flashback. As a sickly girl (played by young Park Bo-young) 47 years earlier, she was brought to a country house by her widowed mother (Jang Young-nam), along with her little sister and brother. Their quiet existence was shattered by the sudden appearance of a wildly animalistic stray boy (Song Joong-ki), whom the family took in and named Cheol-su.

Cheol-su is initially impossible, behaving more like a beast than a boy, but Suni takes him in hand and trains him into civility, using a dog manual. Cheol-su becomes devoted to the girl, and this arouses the jealously of Suni’s arrogantly obnoxious landlord Tae-sik (Yoo Yeon-seok, repulsively gotten up), who lusts after her. Cheol-su has already displayed superhuman strength and speed just playing childhood games with Suni, but whenever she is threatened, the real beast in him seems to come out.

This sure ain’t your grandpa’s werewolf movie! Writer-director Jo Sung-hee has crafted a highly watchable and affecting, genre-crossing work that emphasizes human emotion and interaction over horror. The early scenes with Cheol-su meeting Suni’s family and bonding with them are more Truffaut-Wild Child than Hammer Studio and often quite lovely. As he and Suni grow closer, their relationship has a romantic innocence, especially when she sings a glowing little song she composes for him. Their ravishingly photographed pastoral idyll is interrupted, of course, by hostile outside forces, headed by Tae-sik, which bring up the violence. It’s singular that in this age of so-called digital marvels, Cheol-su’s transformational werewolf moments are the weakest in the film, a rather cheap-looking matter of a shoddily furry mask and claws and rote camera effects which reek of B-movie budgetary constraints.

Hard-core horror lovers may be disappointed, but the film’s intelligent tact, human empathy and meltingly romantic approach are a more than fair tradeoff. Park and Song share a delicately profound chemistry and are the prettiest pair imaginable, with the boy in particular cleaning up well and resembling nothing so much as a real-life anime hero. The other children are radiantly adorable and Jang brings a nicely matter-of-fact humor as their mother. Li is very touching as Suni in later years, making one glad that they didn’t simply age Park up (as they did so unconvincingly with Winona Ryder in Edward Scissorhands). That decision contributes greatly to the film’s memorable and stirring denouement.