A Werewolf Boy 2012. Written and Directed by Jo Sung Hee. Produced by Lee Young-Suk. 125 minutes Korean Eng-Subbed
A Werewolf Boy is one seriously beautiful movie. I mean...seriously so! The last film I considered beautiful was Tamar Van Den Dop’s Blind. Bittersweet, with a nostalgic grief and picture book languidity, it just captured me. (Blind is not spec-fic so I really can’t discuss it here, but check it out if you can.) Of course, maybe I just like wounded beautiful boys and muted cinematic colors. Plus I’m a sucker for anything that feels like a fairy tale.
One more word about beauty: it is hard to achieve. Because the world can be so cynical. And there is often something intrinsically corny and innocent about beauty. Anyway, that little bit of philosophical meditation aside, let’s go onward:
As a kid I was really fascinated with stories of supposedly lost children: Kaspar Hauser, The Green Children of Woolpit, and the like. I’ve never much liked werewolves or shapeshifters, however. But A Werewolf Boy is not like any other werewolf movie. It manages to capture the protectiveness we feel for lost children as well as the fear we have of fairie changeling or feral children, and --as played by Song Joong-ki, who completely inhabits the role-- the otherworldy innocence of a child caught up in human rules and regulations is the stuff we lovers of fantasy and eternal loves just totally eat up.
The story begins in 1965 when teenaged, sickly, Kim Sun-Yi finds a strange-looking boy on the farm they are living in with the help from Ji-Tae. Sun-Yi is poor and her family is somewhat isolated from the rest of the village. Despite all that, she and her family take in the mute scrungy unwashed boy whom they name Chul-Soo believing he was abandoned by his family during the Korean War.
Chul-Soo is feral but harmless. Unfortunately, since he doesn’t understand human language or gestures, he doesn’t fit into society. Anyone with a maternal bone in his/her body will want to take such a kid in. And Sun-Yi is not only maternal but understanding. She knows what isolation can come about from poverty and illness. She also understands that at our most isolated, we revert to an animalistic state. Thus she begins to train him, as one would train a dog. And like a faithful dog, he does everything she says and is loyal to her and falls in love with her. Koreans have a fascination with a pure love that endures everything for love..and this film depicts this love perfectly, as if eternally loving someone is the most natural thing in the world---when money, power, and human rules are out of the picture. I suppose there is some remnant of this kind of pure love in American YA books and teen films as well. I’m not talking about the overwrought sexuality of books like Twilight but those stories where the perfect beloved dies because the world is ever at war with innocence and goodness.
But yeah, there is that whole money, power, government, normalcy, health, belonging, thing. In this case they come in the form of evil villain named Ji-Tae who is sweet on Sun-Yi and who is (of course) jealous of Chul-Soo’s relationship with her.
I’m trying to think of the last American movie that I could describe as sweet or beautiful. Offhand, I can’t think of any. Sweetness is not something we do well. And I’m not sure this is the kind of movie everyone can watch. Some folks may groan and snigger at the sweetness but I’ll recommend it nevertheless. The story resonates with all the power of a fairytale come to life. The hero and heroine are good; the villain is bad. The story is not so much simplistic as elemental. And its major elements are grief, loss, and the powerlessness that leads to estrangement from the world and identifying with the oppressed.
A Werewolf Boy became one of the largest grossing films in Korean Box office history. Its sense of loss and loyalty is haunting and nostalgic. It is downright sweet and beautiful and even a jaded teenager will find her heart awakened by it. And yes, you will cry and weep buckets when you see it. It is available for streaming on Netflix