This was long overdue. Like, three years overdue. But I finally watched it, and BOY do I not regret watching it. A Werewolf Boy was that heartwarming movie that everyone really needs to see at least once. It made me laugh like crazy and then cry buckets. People weren’t kidding when they said to have a box of tissues around.
Summary (and there are spoilers)
The film follows Kim Soon Yi (Lee Young Ran as the older version, and Park Bo Young as the younger version) as she returns to Korea from the States to sell her old home. Park Bo Young also plays Soon Yi’s granddaughter Eun Joo, just to emphasize the fact that these two generations are very much linked together.
We flashback to about 40 years prior on a dark and stormy night, where the previous owner goes into the barn and slowly unlocks a door. There’s a lot of snarling behind this iron door, but we never get to see who or what is behind it because the owner gets a heart attack and dies. A few years later, Soon Yi’s mother (Jang Young Nam) purchases it for her and her daughters because Soon Yi’s lungs are quite frail. The doctor had recommended that she move to the countryside, away from the pollution of Seoul, and their father’s business partner’s son Ji Tae (Yoo Yeon Suk) helps them move. By “help” we mean he just oversees the older folk move heavy furniture and loudly proclaim that he helped pay for this house because he’ll marry Soon Yi one day.
On the first night, Soon Yi hears weird things go bump at night, and she investigates the barn. The mysterious beast runs out at her, and she starts screaming, but can’t see what it is. It’s only the following morning when she’s doing the laundry that she notices someone hiding in a lean-to near her house. Her mother lures the beast out, and it turns out to be a very dirty, very hungry werewolf-boy (Song Joong Ki). At first they don’t know what to do with him, and Soon Yi is disgusted by his manners as he gobbles everything in sight. The government office won’t take him in because he’s too old to go to an orphanage, and reckon that he’s one of the orphans from war that got lost. So the mother, bless her soul, decides to take him in and keep him around, naming him Chul Soo.
What ensues is a hilarious montage of random things Chul Soo does because he’s a werewolf-boy. He falls asleep while getting his back scrubbed, he always wants whatever Soon Yi is eating, and he howls at the moon (making the mother run into his room and slap his back to shut him up). He runs around with Soon Yi’s younger sister Soon Ja and the other neighborhood kids, Dong Suk and Dong Mi, and enjoys playing fetch with the baseball. Soon Yi is initially very irritated by him at first, but he helps her lift heavy boxes to unpack and she gratefully gives him corn. Because of her kind gesture, he realizes that she’s a good person (not someone to fear), and immediately protects her when Ji Tae comes around grabbing her wrist and being aggressive.
Of course, Ji Tae hates Chul Soo because he doesn’t like how Soon Yi is attached to him and how Chul Soo is stronger than him.
Soon Yi realizes that she can train Chul Soo using a dog owner’s manual, and she reinforces good habits in him with pats on the head. A pat when he puts away the laundry, a pat when he brushes his teeth or ties his shoelaces, a pat when he eats like a normal person. Chul Soo realizes he likes these pats, and so it makes him love Soon Yi even more. And she cares for him more too, teaching him how to write and read and encouraging him to speak. But all happy things must end, because Ji Tae makes Chul Soo into enemy no. 1 for the small neighborhood, and plots to kill Chul Soo. It doesn’t help that Chul Soo isn’t a mere werewolf-boy, but actually turns into a werewolf.
Some Thoughts (and there are spoilers)
I can’t emphasize more how heartwarming and emotional this movie is, and neither can the movie itself with its warm color tones and light music. The director’s intent to make this movie a supernatural fairy-tale really comes through, because even with the supernatural aspect and the dark villains A Werewolf Boy maintains its innocence and whimsy. It’s a romantic movie, but in the most platonic sense. You know that Soon Yi and Chul Soo care for each other deeply, and it’s a love that transcends words and physicality. If the movie were one of a human and a real dog, it would probably still be as beautiful.
That’s a lot of credit to the acting as well. Park Bo Young and Song Joong Ki are fantastic together, and it’s a lot of credit to Song Joong Ki that he managed to encapsulate the spirit of an animal so well. They don’t let the fact that Chul Soo is a human really come to the forefront; if they did you would sense more amorous feelings between the two. And yet there are none, because Song Joong Ki perfectly encapsulated the love and loyalty a dog would have for a good owner. There were many times when I thought of my own pet – except I have a cat, and cats are brattier. But I never thought for a moment that the movie should have a more amorous turn or that the two leads should kiss. Maybe Soon Yi could kiss him on the forehead, but that would be it. I give credit to the actors so much for portraying this perfectly innocent love, and to the director/writer Jo Sung Hee for guiding the path of the performance.
Another reason why Song Joong Ki is so great here is because he barely has a single line in the movie. Everything is so dependent on his breathing, posture, and facial reactions. You can tell exactly when he’s afraid, hungry, happy, curious – even the exact moment when he realized that petting is a nice reward. One of my favorite scenes was how earnest he was and excited to play with the kids, but he would rather have Soon Yi around more. So when she doesn’t move right away, he runs back to her, waits, and then follows after her to play. It’s that simple protective kind of love that I really liked seeing, and everyone else also understood. It’s why no one in his neighborhood can believe him as a villain, no matter what Ji Tae says, because they know that Chul Soo would never do any harm. He’d only attack when threatened; even when Ji Tae tries to manipulate Chul Soo he doesn’t attack the neighbors. He makes a mess of their house, but he never actively harms them. Song Joong Ki also manages to keep his face as still and blank as possible, maintaining this look of wide-eyed curiosity about the world. It makes his micro-expressions that much more meaningful.
As for Yoo Yeon Suk, I can’t believe he was such a sleazeball. He’s so good at playing a villain that it’s hard to see him as a good character (which are more of his recent drama roles). He actually sickened me every time he came on screen, even during the “making of” featurette, even though I know that he’s just acting. That’s how good he was. The only frustrating thing about his character was how insolent he was and how much power the town kind of gave him even though it never seemed warranted. He’d throw his weight and money around, and he’d order around even a military colonel (who also didn’t act very much like a colonel). He’s such a hoodlum that I wondered how he could get away with so much, and even overpower some guards so easily to access the barn where Chul Soo was locked up.
And finally Park Bo Young is perfection. I was introduced to her in Oh My Ghostess, but had I seen this one first I would not have been surprised by what she could do in that drama. The intensity she portrayed in the scene where Soon Yi and Chul Soo parted ways was so powerful I broke down crying. And this was after the movie made me bust a gut laughing at the hanbok-makeup scene. Everything was so simple, so raw in that scene. When she accidentally slaps him, and then apologizes, but forces herself to stop apologizing… or when she throws a small rock at him and gives him a tiny gash on his cheek that actually hurts her more than it hurts him… I couldn’t stop the snot from running down my nose. It’s one of the things that I appreciate about this drama – that the big moments are made simply and without too much grandiose music. Even when we see Chul Soo in his werewolf form leaping upon Ji Tae, there’s no sound. We are forced to look and pay attention to only the visual, to see how mighty Chul Soo is, and to look up at him in awe.
The only complaint I have with the movie is the end. I knew they had to part ways, but I didn’t like how they reunited. I didn’t like that Chul Soo never aged. He’s a werewolf, not a vampire, and don’t give me that Twilight nonsense where werewolves can change how quickly they age at will. I wanted to see Chul Soo look a little older, a little more weary. But because he never aged, and because the reunion scene was bathed in a warm orange light, I actually thought that it was a dream sequence. I thought that the older Soon Yi had dreamed that he was still waiting for her and that he read to her. I know that there’s evidence he really is alive waiting (the barn has all the paper and plants when she woke up, and the granddaughter saw him), but to me it felt so unfair to have him just sitting there, waiting for her. I know it would illustrate pure love perfectly if they really did meet, to show that love never fades, but it felt really unfair. So in my mind, that was a dream sequence.
All in all, it’s such a good watch and I’m sad that I waited so long to see it. But better late than never is what I always say!
A Werewolf Boy will be available on DramaFever Friday, Sept. 4.