A grandmother wakes early in the morning and observes herself in the mirror. She pulls at the crows feet firmly embedded at the corners of her eyes. Disgusted with her sagging skin and failing features, she waits for life to pass her by.
This is the main premise behind director Jo Sung-Hee’s latest heartstring tugger, A Werewolf Boy. The film tells the story of Soon-Yi as a young woman meeting a young, bedraggled boy. This isn’t quite Twilight: themes of teenage angst and constant pouting are replaced with family tension and the laws of attraction. Initially reduced to cowered panic, Soon-Yi’s family eventually accepts this strange homeless boy found in the back room of their shed, even going so far as to name him Chul-Soo, an honorary tribute to the absence of a son/brother in the immediate family.
The first half of the film is practically flawless. Park Bo-young shines as the nervous yet affable Soon-Yi. Suffering from a lung condition she cannot run around the expansive countryside with her charming siblings—who even in their doldrums state bring about some of the funniest moments of the film—and is reduced to a limited existence, venting about it through negative diary entries. Meeting this boy brings about a special realisation and awakens her to a new level of existence.
Though the decision to delay the werewolf transformation until late in the running time was a wise one, by the time it does arrive it’s almost by surprise considering how much time is devoted to the romantic-comedy genre beforehand. It’s far from horrifying—this is for teenagers on dates—but Sung-Hee still manages to create incredibly tense moments out of these perhaps cheesy testaments to 80s horror.
If it weren’t for the bookended narrative, A Werewolf Boy comes close to being an inspired revision of that childhood classic, Harry and the Hendersons. And in the best possible way, via Let The Right One In. Fortunately avoiding the pathetic hallmarks of teenage fantasy dramas (uncomfortable longing and pining to a pop soundtrack) the performances manage to evoke a certain sadness that will crumble even the most cinema-wearied. If there’s any complaint to be made it does drag after a while but Sung-Hee has made an otherwise strong addition to the fantasy drama genre.
(At our screening, one particular scene roused a mass of sighs: surely a sign of a solid film in a bloated teenage marketplace.)
The Korean Film Festival is currently playing in Melbourne until September 11 at ACMI cinemas.
Nicholas Brodie - follow Nick on Twitter here: @fodusempire
Nicholas Brodie is a writer with big hopes and tiny dreams. Possessing an MA in Film he is on hand to provide opinion pieces and reviews on what's new and, hopefully, still relevant.