The influence of film genres can be clearly felt in contemporary Korean cinema, but every so often a film emerges that, although it contains many recognizable genre conventions, on the whole is hard to classify. A Werewolf Boy
is such a film. At times it feels like a rural drama set in the 1960s, at times like a youth melodrama, and at times like a fantasy thriller. At its recent premiere in the Contemporary World Cinema section of the Toronto International Film Festival, the film enchanted some critics and turned off others, but all could agree that the work displays a high degree of originality.
The plot, told mostly in flashback, focuses on a young woman Suni who moves into a rustic old house in the countryside during the 1960s. One day, she is startled to discover a strange teenage boy Cheol-su who has taken refuge on their property. The boy, who seemingly suffers from severe psychological trauma and is unable to speak, is wild and unsocialized. However Suni overcomes her initial disgust for his lack of manners and is able to train him to behave, as one might train a dog. Soon, Cheol-su develops a deep affection for her.
The mystery of Cheol-su’s origins grew deeper as the film progresses and moves through several distinct changes in tone. Although mainstream in its orientation, the film displays the recognizable imprint of director JO Sung-hee, who garnered widespread attention for his chilling short film Don't Step Out Of the House! (2009), which screened at the Cannes Film Festival, and his austere feature debut End of Animal (2010). Director JO excels at creating a highly charged atmosphere in his films, and in this work he is able to create moods that are both bright and melodramatic, while at the same time containing a creeping sense of doubt. Alternatively, even when the film turns darker it maintains a sweetness that young audiences will find appealing.
One of the biggest draws for this work's young target audience is sure to be actor SONG Joong-ki (Penny Pinchers
), who has built up a large fan base for his work on television. He was given a particular challenge in playing the role of Cheol-su, who looks and acts like a primitive but who also displays a sense of humanity underneath. The character of Suni is played by actress PARK Bo-young, familiar from the smash hit comedy Scandal Makers
that turned her into a star. After screening in the Open Cinema category of the Busan International Film Festival, A Werewolf Boy
will be released in Korea on Halloween -- an appropriate date for this cute but subtly creepy film.