You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Werewolf Boy

A cinematic mongrel that defies genre conventions, "A Werewolf Boy" leaps from one conceptual plane to another.

With: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-young, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jang Young-nam, Li Young-lan, Kim Hyang-gi. (Korean dialogue)

A cinematic mongrel that defies genre conventions, “A Werewolf Boy” leaps from one conceptual plane to another. Starting with the discovery and domestication of a feral boy in the woods, it develops into a coming-of-age romance, then into a sci-fi thriller and supernatural fantasy, resulting in a strange but undeniably imaginative blend of fey sweetness, psychosexual nuance and dark allegory informed by contempo Korean history. Asian tween auds will be enchanted by helmer-scribe Jo Sung-hee’s storybook visuals and whimsical incorporation of elements from “Twilight” and “Hanna.” Crix and fest programmers will be either intrigued or bemused.

The narrative is bookended by scenes of the protag, Suni Kim (Li Young-lan), a Korean-American immigrant who has returned to South Korea in her old age. Spending a night at her old country house with her granddaughter, Eun-ju (Park Bo-young), Suni recalls how 47 years ago, her ill health necessitated the move from Seoul with her widowed mother (Jang Young-nam) and sister Sun-ja (Kim Hyang-gi).

Popular on Variety

The film filters these events through Suni’s subjective memory, imbuing the story with a magic-realist touch. Flashbacks show the Kims living in genteel poverty at the mercy of their arrogant and foppish landlord, Tae-sik (Yoo Yeon-seok). One night, Suni (played as a teenager by Park) glimpses a shadow in the stable; the next day, she discovers a raggedly lad (Song Joong-ki) of about 19 crouching in their yard. Even though he behaves like a wild beast, Suni’s kindhearted mother adopts him and names him Cheol-su, assuming he’s one of more than 60,000 children orphaned in the Korean War.

At first Suni considers him a nuisance, but eventually has fun taming him according to a dog-training manual. Cheol-su demonstrates unswerving loyalty and superhuman brawn, thus inspiring the envy of Tae-sik, who lusts after Suni.

The early scenes, in which the Kim sisters frolic with their playmates and turn Cheol-su into their pet, played against a beautiful pastoral landscape, maintain an ambivalent perspective that reflects the helmer’s arthouse roots. The film shifts freely between a serious exploration of the clash between nature and socialization, a la Francois Truffaut’s “The Wild Child,” and a playful Korean appropriation of classic children’s stories such as “The Call of the Wild” or “Black Beauty,” where Cheol-su’s role is interchangeable with that of a husky or a horse.

Just when a tender romance takes shape as Cheol-su becomes more humanized, the story suddenly changes course to delve into Cold War espionage and genetic engineering. As the pace quickens into that of a taut thriller, Cheol-su’s character gains complexity as a symbol of repressed animalism unleashed by war. The poetic, open-ended epilogue takes off into another dimension where dreams, hallucinations and parallel universes coexist.

Thanks to the screenplay’s determined flouting of narrative expectations, “A Werewolf Boy” is continually fascinating, but it could benefit from a tighter structure and some trims in the second and third acts.

The casting of Song and Park may rope in young auds, but the ultra-popular leads don’t push the boundaries of commercial thesping. Park’s demure innocence reps a regression from her spunky single-mom role in her breakout triumph, “Scandal Makers,” while Song’s image should be more threatening. Most absurd is the stock villainy of Yoo’s Tae-sik, who huffs and puffs like the Big Bad Wolf.

Tech package is ravishing, with Choi Sang-muk’s softly filtered, romantically lit widescreen lensing accentuating the beauty of Korea’s four seasons, while Laura Ashley-inspired costumes and furnishings instill a dreamlike, fairy-tale quality.

A Werewolf Boy

South Korea

Production: A CJ Entertainment (in South Korea) release, presentation of a Bidangil production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Kim Su-jin, Yun In-Beom. Executive producers, Jeong Tae-sung. Directed, written by Jo Sung-hee.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Choi Sang-muk; editor, Nam Na-young; music, Shim Hyun-jung; production designer, Kim Ji-su; costume designer, Kwak Jung-ae; sound (Dolby Digital), Gong Tae-won; re-recording mixer, Lee Jong-ho; visual effects supervisors, Jang Seong-ho, Park Young-soo; visual effects, Mofac Studio; line producer, Oh Young-seok; associate producer, Charles Park. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Contemporary World Cinema), Sept. 13, 2012. (Also in Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 122 MIN.

Cast: With: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-young, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jang Young-nam, Li Young-lan, Kim Hyang-gi. (Korean dialogue)

More Scene

  • Donna Karran David Lynch Foundation

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker Honored at David Lynch Foundation's Women of Vision Awards

    Donna Karan, Mary-Louise Parker and Deborra-Lee Furness were celebrated for their charitable work at the David Lynch Foundation’s 2019 Women of Vision Awards. “We are all being guided to come together as one. There is so much chaos in the world right now,” Karan said, while accepting her Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual luncheon on [...]

  • Bill Hader

    Bill Hader, Greg Berlanti, Margie Cohn and Cindy Holland Inducted Into Variety Hall of Fame

    Variety’s annual Hall of Fame ceremony mixed comedy, gratitude and warmth at the annual awards ceremony Tuesday night at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. Because the class of 2019 celebrates technical innovation and achievement across film, TV, digital, video games and music. The honorees — Greg Berlanti, Bill Hader, Cindy Holland, Dametra Johnson-Marletti, [...]

  • Billy Porter FNAA

    Billy Porter Explains Why Fashion 'Can and Should' Be Activism

    On Tuesday in New York City, a handful of fashion’s marquee names, including Kenneth Cole, Tommy Hilfiger, Steve Madden and Pete Nordstrom, and many of its muses, including Billy Porter, Lena Waithe, Adriana Lima and Paris Hilton, gathered to celebrate the annual Footwear News Achievement Awards — or, as it’s more colloquially dubbed, the “Shoe Oscars.” Activism and the potential for designers to spur [...]

  • Tiffany Haddish Black Mitzvah

    Barbra Streisand Gives Tiffany Haddish Star of David Necklace for Her 'Black Mitzvah'

    Tiffany Haddish rang in her 40th birthday Tuesday night by celebrating her black and Jewish heritage with a star-studded “Black Mitzvah” party. One of Haddish’s famous friends, Barbra Streisand, was noticeably absent from the festivities, but sent the comedian a special memento for the occasion. “She got me this beautiful Star of David,” Haddish told [...]

  • Kasi Lemmons

    'Harriet' Director Kasi Lemmons Weighs In on Julia Roberts Casting Controversy

    Eddie Murphy, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nia Long and “Harriet” filmmaker Kasi Lemmons were honored for their contributions to the industry Monday night at the inaugural celebration of black cinema by the Critics Choice Association. And as the event, held at the Landmark Annex in Los Angeles, looked back on how far people of color have come [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content