I think I may have trust issues with the English that comes out of Korea.
I mean, seriously, it’s right there in the title, but all this time that I knew this movie existed, I somehow had it in my head that this was a movie about a wolf boy, and not a werewolf boy. For the record, I can now confirm that this movie is, indeed, about a werewolf boy, and, happily for me, it is far from being a scary movie (unlike most movies about werewolves).
Also for the record, Song Joong Ki is absolutely wonderful and amazing in this (although, when is he ever not, right?).
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS, A LITTLE BIT
Even though this movie is quite the lovely one, I feel that just a small section on managing expectations would be useful.
1. There’s a bunch of stuff that the movie does not explain.
It doesn’t clarify our resident werewolf’s origin story, for one thing. It does allude to it, a little bit, but it’s mostly left unexplained. The backstories of our other characters are also left largely unexplained, although a few details get filled in as we go.
One backstory detail that I wondered about, is why a rich, entitled playboy like Ji Tae (Yoo Yeon Suk) would be so fixated on marrying sickly, prickly, disinterested Soon Yi (Park Bo Young). Show never throws light on this detail, which niggled at me, since the attraction seemed so obsessive yet misplaced. Unfortunately, I just had to accept that his fixation on marrying her was just the way it was. No whys, it just was.
Another thing I wondered about, is what happened in the end, to the goat-raising farmer who got hit on the head. Did he die? Did he survive? That niggled at me a little bit, too.
The upside is, this lack of answers doesn’t adversely affect our story. Which means to say, if you just accept that this movie is a window into the world in which our characters live, you should be able to enjoy this one just fine.
2. Yoo Yeon Suk is mean in this show
I don’t know about you, but I remember Yoo Yeon Suk best as Chilbongie in Answer Me 1994, and it was rather jarring for me, to see him being antagonistic, self-centered, cruel and all-around mean as Ji Tae.
It doesn’t help that Ji Tae’s characterization is broad-stroked and cartoonish at best, but Yoo Yeon Suk does a great job with what he’s given. I mean, I found him thoroughly hateful, so.. mission accomplished, I guess? 😛
STUFF I LOVED
Song Joong Ki as Chul Soo
Song Joong Ki is no holds barred amazing as our titular werewolf boy.
With barely any spoken lines in the movie, Song Joong Ki informs us of all of Chul Soo’s thoughts and emotions, purely through his body language and his expressive gaze. From the ferociously feral moments, to the moments of confusion, to the melancholic times, to the happier, freer times, I never felt like I didn’t know what Chul Soo was thinking or feeling; Song Joong Ki’s delivery is just that good.
When Chul Soo does get to say a few lines, Song Joong Ki totally makes the few lines count. The impact that his few lines land with, is so great that he effectively makes those times feel like legitimately thunderous mike-drop moments.
Park Bo Young as Soon Yi
Park Bo Young is fantastic in both of her roles in this movie, that of young Soon Yi, and also, of Soon Yi’s granddaughter in the present day timeline. The two characters are very different in personality, and I never found myself getting confused between the two. When watching Soon Yi’s granddaughter, I never felt like I was seeing shadows of Soon Yi, which is testament to Park Bo Young’s excellent delivery.
Also testament to Park Bo Young’s very solid acting chops, is the fact that Soon Yi’s shift, from dour and sullen in the beginning of the movie, to more carefree and happy, feels completely organic, despite the relatively short timespan in which that shift occurs. The trajectory, of disdaining Chul Soo, to actually liking him, to eventually wanting to protect him, is also easily believable.
Chul Soo & Soon Yi together
My favorite thing about this movie is really all the scenes where we see Soon Yi and Chul Soo together.
Although this story is, in some sense, touted as the romance between Soon Yi and Chul Soo, I feel like their bond is actually much larger and more profound than a romantic love.
[SPOILER] To Chul Soo, Soon Yi is not only the one that he’s attracted to. Before she’s the girl that he likes, she’s the one who nurtures him and helps him, and the one to whom he turns for approval; almost like a mother figure of sorts. And to Soon Yi, Chul Soo grows from pseudo pet, to friend, to romantic interest, to savior. [END SPOILER]
They accept each other in spite of their differences, and that unconditional acceptance – which in turn gives rise to the fierce desire of one to protect the other, without regard for his or her own safety – all without need for exposition nor explanation, moved me at a fundamental level. I feel like the bond between them is raw, deep and powerful, such that words are barely needed.
Which is quite a feat for Show to sell effectively, since we don’t have all that much screen time to build it. But, Park Bo Young and Song Joong Ki sell it so well that I believe them completely. Their very natural deliveries essentially helped me to overlook any gaps that our narrative had, in building their story. Their deliveries were literally enough, to convince and immerse me. Really good.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Guh. The ending had my heart blubbering with all sort of emotions, I tell ya.
On the one hand, I was so happily, joyfully freaked out that he’d been waiting for her, all these years. Faithfully working on the assignments she’d given him: to learn to read and write so that he could read her that children’s book, and, to wait. And he did exactly that. Oh, how steadfast and loyal and devoted he is, to the one on whom he’s set his heart. To think that he’d even patched that broken guitar together, piece by fragmented piece. Sob. Such painstaking, patient dedication!
How beautiful, that he finally got to see his long assignments through to the end, after 47 long years. He did get to read to her, and his wait was not in vain, since she did come back as she’d promised. And he did finally get that pat of approval on the head, which meant so much to him. Best of all, he got to finally express himself to her, in words.
On the other hand, why did she leave him afterwards? Just, why??? How could she leave him, after he’d waited so long? Surely she had so much more she wanted to say to him, and to hear from him? Even though she’d told him that he didn’t need to wait anymore, I don’t think that quite counts as a proper goodbye, to be honest. All he understands of that, is that his waiting assignment is now over. But that doesn’t resolve any of the loneliness and longing, which continues to linger, especially since she’s left, again.
As the credits roll, we see him making a snowman on the hill, just as she’d told him that they would, so long ago. Gah. It breaks my heart that he’s still living by her every word, but, alone. And he never did get to hear her play the guitar again, after piecing it back together so carefully. On top of all that, there’s this distinct feeling that I get, watching him, that he will probably continue to wait for her, indefinitely, whether she’s told him to or not, and whether she ever comes back, or not.
Auugggghh. My heaaart.
The only way I can really deal with this, is to choose to believe that Soon Yi will come back to Chul Soo again, never mind that the movie doesn’t really give me much of a reason to believe that. And then, as she talks with him, and spends time with him, acknowledging and affirming him, in the process, she’ll get to reciprocate at least a little of the devotion that he’s poured out so freely on her.
After A Werewolf Boy killed it at the box office, a Director’s Cut version was released, which was meant to basically increase audience satisfaction with the ending. So I hunted down the Director’s Cut, just to see if it would make me feel better about the original ending.
The short answer is: it helped, a little bit.
It helped, in the sense that I feel like Soon Yi and Chul Soo get their moment, suspended in time; where they essentially return to the way things used to be, where their souls meet, in that purified, suspended state, and finally speak forth the words that they’ve been saving for each other, all this time. The fact that I can see young Soon Yi in this scene helps me feel like I’m witnessing that transcendent, magical dimension of the moment.
On the other hand, it doesn’t change the fact that she leaves Chul Soo behind, and that he watches her go, with that haunted look in his eyes.
Auugggghh. My heaaart.
Even though this movie leaves us with more questions than answers, and even though the ending is, to me, distinctly melancholic and somewhat tragic, this is a beautiful watch that is, is some ways, a masterclass in faithfulness, loyalty and love.
It can be argued that the loyalty is unmerited, and the recipient, ultimately unworthy, but the point, as we see in Chul Soo, is not in reciprocity, nor in the virtue of the recipient. Rather, it’s in the beauty and the pure-hearted, uncalculated generosity of the giver.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Bittersweet, moving, and captivating. And lingers long after the final credits.
FINAL GRADE: A-