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Monday, 3 December 2012

DECEMBER 1, 2012

GENRE: ASIAN, WEREWOLF
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

How's this for some irony: the mostly digital transformation scenes in A Werewolf Boy (Korean: Neuk-dae-so-nyeon) are some of the best I've seen for this particular movie monster, and yet it serves a film that's not really horror. There are only three wolf scenes, and while they are intense and somewhat scary, the film is mostly a romantic drama... not unlike a certain other "werewolf movie" that's playing right now. The difference is, our guy isn't a creepy asshole like Jacob, and the love story doesn't require you to be a daydreaming teen girl (or very lonely housewife) to work.

Oddly, at times it sort of reminded me of Titanic - the structures are very similar, starting in the present with an old woman who is "forced" to relive a memory from when she was much younger. And that memory involves a sweet romance with a boy from another way of life entirely, who finds himself the target of a jealous, rich asshole who wants to keep her for herself. Hell, it almost even ENDS the same way, when they return to the present and the old lady drifts off to a content sleep, but she doesn't die. There's a bit of Time Traveler's Wife (novel ending) too, which helps hammer home the rather sad story.

So what the hell is this doing on HMAD? Well, the hero (Chul-Soo) IS a werewolf, and while the wolf action is limited, it's tough to forget his nature and how potentially dangerous the situation is. Part of the problem is that he can't talk or write (he's a feral child), so you know it's just a matter of time before tragedy strikes and he is blamed by the asshole guy, without any way of defending himself (though there IS a bit of a plot hole to this, as someone is attacked by the jerk and survives, so he should have been able to clear Chul-Soo's name). So in many ways it sort of goes back to the old, action-lite Universal monster movies, particularly Frankenstein and The Wolf Man, with the monster meaning no harm but causing it anyway because he doesn't know his strength (Frankenstein), and (apart from the obvious) a monster that's also our hero, someone you sympathize with and want to see freed of his curse.

But even if you ignore all of that you can still enjoy it as a tragic romance tale, which hits all the expected beats but in a charming way. There's a lot of dry humor in the film, which I quite liked - keep an eye on the assistant in the background when everyone's at the dinner table (which features some more overt humor with some silliness surrounding a hot teapot), and another bit where a fairly obese man is trying to work with a very tiny spoon while delivering serious information about Chul-Soo. And the growing friendship between Chul-Soo and Suni (the female lead) is quite charming; at first she's treating him like a puppy that needs to be trained, but it, of course, blossoms into true love as the film progresses - there's a wonderful bit where he curls up and sleeps outside her door, and after a while she moves her mat over to her side of the barrier, with an overhead shot providing the "so close but so far" visual for those who didn't get it yet. On that note, yeah, the movie can be a little heavy-handed, but since it seems to be aimed at younger crowds I guess I can forgive it, and it's not as offensive as say, Bella looking out her window as the seasons change around her as on-screen text tells us that it's October when people are trick r treating.

However, it does share another thing with the Twi-films, and that is an unnecessary 2+ hour runtime. Only the Breaking Dawns clocked in under the 2 hr mark, but that's to be expected since they're each only adapting half a book - the others all punished us by testing the limits of the parking validation. Werewolf Boy starts off fine, but as it goes along, when things should be getting tighter, it starts to feel like the editor was passing in his first passes, particularly in the final, ROTK-esque final reel, which gives us not one but THREE scenes that could have worked perfectly fine for an ending. There are also odd bits here and there that serve no purpose, like arguing with the local doctor about whether or not a big city hospital might be more appropriate - we never see this character (or another hospital) ever again, so this just adds an extra minute to the movie with no payoff for it. There are also times where people act illogically to keep the story afloat - the villain shuts the electricity off so that he can go set Chul-Soo free (and thus frame him for a crime he had already committed), but no one thinks to go check on him during this time? Wouldn't the potentially dangerous werewolf you have under video surveillance (shut down along with the electricity) be the first thing you consider to be responsible for an obvious sabotage on an electric box?

Still, issues like this are minor and not deal-breaking. Despite the length, I found myself engaged and charmed by the romance, and upset during the requisite 3rd act tragedies. It didn't break much new ground narratively, but the performances of the leads (Bo-yeong Park is quite appealing as the young Suni, and Joong-ki Song does wonders considering he never speaks) and sweet/sad story entertained me throughout, and while it may not appeal to a die-hard horror fan looking for werewolf action, at the end of the day it put character and story first, which is something too many traditional horror films neglect. After 2400 horror flicks in a row, anything that can engage me on that level is worth lauding.

What say you?

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