I don’t usually start something (a movie, book) with the intention to write about it. The urge to do so oftentimes comes afterwards, capriciously. When I first finished watching Werewolf Boy, words were popping out into my mind but I dared not revisit this topic soonest because I was emotionally overwhelmed by it. For the next couple of days it wrecked my heart still just by flashing back to certain scenes or reading what people say about it, I decided to put this project off. I keep on postponing and postponing and a month later it remains a pending project. (Procrastination pays off, thanks a lot). Add more days into it and oblivion is where it’ll end up to be, like so many other projects have piled up into. So, I braced myself to watch Werewolf Boy for the second time, for good measure, and here we go~
Werewolf Boy starts off with dark tone and gloomy mood and veers slightly into horror territory with those pitch-black night scenes and eerie rustling silence. Heart pounding fast and breath held until the titular subject comes to light — a bemired, tousled, human-like creature which crawls on four extremities and grunts like a carnivore. Suni (Park Bo-young) and her mom freeze at the sight. They just moved into the deserted abode on a countryside a day before and this is what greets them in the morning?
Authority is summoned to identify him and most desirably take him away. Until that happens, mom (Jang Young-nam) shelters him in, much to Suni’s disapproval. Her health condition is the reason behind their relocation, she self-studies and has no friends, and now she has to share space with this mute boy who knows no basic mannerism. How upsetting is that? Well, her attitude isn’t commendable either. Their move is for her benefit she has nothing to lose thereof, yet she frets and broods more than say, her sister Sunja (Kim Hyang-gi). She musn’t have considered the sacrifices her family has to make for this.
Sunja goes out and plays with fellow country kids while Suni stays inside the house and writes her diary of forlornness. The strange boy named Chul-soo (Song Joong-ki) eyes her with curiousity but Suni will invariably scowl at him. She begins to see him in a different light after a circumstance where he stands up for her against Ji-tae (so he has a name! I caught this on the second viewing), someone you don’t wanna get to know any further. Chul-soo will growl at him and switch to a totally innocuous look at Suni. Cute~
Consider her interest sparked, she consults her long-forgotten dog-training manual to tame Chul-soo (as if he isn’t docile enough). Starting with simple verbal orders like “wait” and “eat”, she teaches him basic manners, daily routine, and how-tos. She will pet him for a job well done, winning his perpetual allegiance in the process. Noticing his fixation on a pencil, she even teaches him how to write and eventually tries to get him to speak.
Things are looking good, aren’t they? Suni’s smile reappears, her health’s improving, and she’s found a good company in Chul-soo. But of course we need friction to skew equilibrium and disturb harmony. This officious role is given to no one but Ji-tae (Yoo Yeon-seok) and his bull’s eye is no other than Chul-soo. Why? Just because. Chul-soo crosses his path and he ain’t liking it; he once threatens him too. I however believe he can very much dislikes something/someone for no reason, just like how he seemingly likes Suni but acts like a total jerk nevertheless.
Chul-soo’s inherence itself always draws attention since his discovery. His endurance and strength is mind-boggling; he runs super-fast too! Authority labels him a war orphan, but is he really one of them? Ever so protective of Suni, he reveals his bestial nature when she’s scuppered. Alas, this errant transformation happens before Ji-tae. Uh-oh. One more reason for scoundrel Ji-tae to dislike him.
Ji-tae’s so determined to get Chul-soo taken down but authorities have no reason/evidence to that he plots a scheme to provoke Chul-soo and prove his precariousness in front of everybody. Can Suni control Chul-soo this time? Can she return the favor and protect him?
Like Titanic, the plot line of Werewolf Boy unfolds the way the now-old lady character remembers it. A certain circumstance brings her back to that fateful place where she reminisces once-in-a-lifetime story of her youth then. The lodge is inherited to her and senior Suni (Lee Young-lan) needs to decide what to do with it. She makes a quick visit and stays for the night as she flashes back to the story that took place 47 years ago… At last, she braces herself and peeks at the barn that holds so many memories.
For me, Suni-Chul-soo’s bonding is not romance at all. “Love was the first human language he’d ever learned” the tagline has it but the ‘love’ here isn’t to be interpreted romantically. No matter how hard they’re trying to sell this idea — it’s a good promotional gimmick — I’m not convinced. The way I see it, two souls who are in desperate need of a company find the answer in each other. Suni finds someone to talk to, a friend if I may, and who dotes on her; Chul-soo perhaps for the first time in his life has someone who cares for him. A different kind of ‘care’ that’s provided by his ‘creator’.
Sweet and warm as it is, the interaction never goes beyond that of a pet and its master. Although Suni proceeds to humanize Chul-soo, she is very much in charge. Chul-soo however never quite becomes a human — he’s somewhere in between. He is forever indebted to Suni and like a pet would shows his loyalty through and through; he never betrays her command, particularly when she asks him to “wait.” Doesn’t his endless devotion remind you of the story of Hachiko?
Still on our titular boy, his being raises a few questions. If he’s a part of an experiment, that suggests that he isn’t the only object — where are the others? If he’s created, raised, and trained to be part of super-soldiers, his presence effuses no ferine feeling. Although he’s inherently a werewolf, he doesn’t attack or even tries to — he isn’t affected by full moon either! Besides his body strength and swift feet, he is as meek as a puppy. He initially moves on four limbs, jerks, snorts, and crouches on a corner, but he adopts human traits in no time. He’s by and large a human — aside from the fact that he doesn’t talk though seems to understand human language — we may forget that he isn’t really one.
Worry not, Ji-tae is around often enough to remind us of this premise and to allow us to hate him more the second he re-appears onscreen. Urgh. His character is thoroughly one-dimensional that nobody’s sorry for his demise. What triggers Chul-soo’s transformation, Ji-tae saw it firsthand, so why would he in the right mind openly assault Suni in front of everybody, and worse before Chul-soo’s very own eyes? Oh, he’s out of his mind, I forgot.
Personification-wise, both leads did a great job. Hats off to Joong-ki who portrayed the character convincingly. It’s not easy to have no lines yet communicate profusely non-verbally. His eyes do speak volume — we can tell and feel what’s behind each of those gazes. (I get the urge to create stills-montage of them — there are maaany). Who says this flower boy cannot glare or stare down his opposition?
[Major spoilers ahead. Skip the next three paragraphs if you haven’t watched it but are considering to] However, it is his muteness that makes the first word he utters delivered with such efficacy it tears up my heart. It is said at the perfect time, not a moment too soon or too late, when I would’ve least expected it. (It carries way more depth and substance than, say, Sae’s first word in Orange Days j-dorama). It’s definitely one of the most memorable scenes ever; he’s taken the word (Sentence? Statement?) to new heights that’s probably untranscended by any other actor.
Then… the rendezvous. It’s already heartbreaking to learn that he has been waiting all these years for her (as per her instruction), ment her broken guitar, learnt to speak and read, and above it all… he’s unchanged and strangely as immaculate as the last time she saw him. The last point inevitably raised my eyebrows. He capably looks after himself well and has picked up about hygiene, fine, but who gives him a haircut or provides him with essential toiletries and stationeries to practice his writing or becomes his language tutor? Hmm…
Triviality aside, he probably doesn’t realize how much time has lapsed since that day, and he will highly likely continue to wait for years to come. (Another Hachiko?) Why doesn’t he age? Is he immortal? are the questions that will be left unanswered. And yes, I have watched the alternate ending, and I prefer the original ending still. Chul-soo’s assertion doesn’t have corresponding weight and punch the way it causes senior Suni. It is also more surreal.
Similarly, watching something for the second time won’t give you the impact the first viewing did. We already know where the highs/lows are, where the road will bend or turn, when the twist will happen… the blow isn’t as strong, the intensity isn’t as consuming anymore. I still shed a few tears, which was far less affected compared to how I had needed two tissue breaks on those crushing moments.
Subsequent viewing(s) however can give us clearer picture of it as a whole – I usually pay more attention to finer details that may escape me the first time around – thus a more thorough/objective stance toward an oeuvre, yet I tend/try to rate something based on that initial feel/impression rather than the revisited ones. My preference *shrug*
Werewolf Boy is a beautiful, poignant, bittersweet story of human relationship. It is well-paced and also pretty to look at, with picturesque landscapes and contrasting colors. Many scenes were shot at a certain angle that allowed lights to seep through or cast a silhouette. Nevertheless, I realize that this movie is not for everybody. One probably needs to be in a certain mood in order to enjoy this, but Werewolf Boy doesn’t disappoint and it is one of those movies you’ll remember after many many years.
A Werewolf Boy/Wolf Boy (Neukdae Sonyeon)
Director: Jo Sung-hee
Production: Bidangil Pictures, CJ Entertainment, 2012
Cast: Song Joong-ki, Park Bo-young, Yoo Yeon-seok, Jang Young-nam, Kim Hyang-gi, Lee Young-lan
Genre: K-movie, Fantasy, Drama