Kim Suni (Lee Young-lan) is an elderly Korean woman living in the US. One day she receives a phone call about the sale of her old family house in South Korea. Suni decides to travel back to her homeland, where she meets her granddaughter Eun-joo (Park Bo-young) who coincidentally looks exactly like her as a teenager. As soon as granny Suni steps inside her property she starts reminiscing the good old times, remembering when she lived there 47 years ago. Overcome by emotions she has to recount her whole life story to her granddaughter.
After her father’s death Nineteen-year-old Suni (Park Bo-young, again) and her family moved to the countryside. Once there, slime-ball Ji-tae (Yoo Yeon-seok), son of her father’s business partner, is trying to get into young Suni’s pants. Fortunately for her, there was an cute werewolf boy (Song Joong-ki) that wouldn’t let that happen. As these things go after a rocky start, Suni and werewolf boy fall in love with each other and of course their love is perfect and forever, but remember Ji-tae, the creep? Yeah, he doesn’t like that one bit and will do everything in his power to keep them apart.
Neuk-dae-so-nyeon is writer and director Jo Sung-hee’s second feature film. The movie distinguishes itself for its bright color cinematography and overuse of filters that create a kitschy fairytale-like aesthetic. Employing a clichéd, saccharine score Jo is able to create a Korean version of Twilight with the ‘spirit’ of a CW TV show, elements of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and all the trappings of teenage films: Archetypal characters, dead parents for no good reason other than easy drama, exclusively plot-serving characters (Ji-tae), predictable story and silly, childish jokes.
That being said the film is also extremely sweet and playful, especially the romance, which is successfully enacted by cute and talented actress Park Bo-young and the charming and committed Song Joong-ki (playing more of an oddball teenager than a werewolf). Thanks to both actors the romance truly comes alive on the screen and is the best part of an overly sweet screenplay. There are some genuinely heartfelt scenes and some engaging melodrama and in the third act the film successfully shifts from comedy to drama, leaving the viewer with a bittersweet taste of nostalgia fueled ‘what-ifs’.
As much as I liked the ending, the film is too long and wastes too much time on mostly unfunny comedy instead of moving the plot forward. The werewolf aspect is barely explored: There is one transformation scene and a minimal dose of gore, which Hollywood would have still omitted, but I’m glad they showed. Much to my surprise, werewolf boy bites Suni and nothing happens: That’s a first, but we are dealing with mythology after all, so I can oversee that. The werewolf, as a creature, looks rather silly, but I guess they weren’t interested in ‘scary’. It’s interesting how they explain the werewolf’s origin, but they could have done more with it. The character of Ji-tae is completely unbelievable and frustrating, taking the viewer out of the film on more than one occasion.
The film also offers itself for a sociological reading of gender roles in Korean society. The male and female characterization is clearly exaggerated and caricatural, showing women as empowered and smart, while men are mostly painted negatively. Ji-tae is a sexist prick, the policemen are wholly dumb, the neighbor is completely clueless and oblivious to what’s happening and werewolf boy himself is like a little puppy that needs to be trained. Now, if I didn’t know a man directed this, I would say it was the work of a delusional woman, because the film seems to say that men are merely puppets women play with and do as they please. They can try to change us, but don’t hope too much in succeeding. ‘It’s better marry a rich man, than a man you love’: That’s granny’s advice at the end. I don’t know if she believes that or if my subtitles were off or whatever, but that just seemed out-of-place and was never touched upon again.
Overall though, at the end of the day love does conquer all and I can’t help but get a certain degree of satisfaction out of a film like A Werewolf Boy, because for the most part its (diabetic) heart is in the right place.
Rating on First Viewing
(on my laptop)
6 out of 10