A Werewolf Boy

A Werewolf Boy

This was a film I happened to watch on a recent flight – mainly because I was intrigued by the title – and it turned out to be an excellent South Korean drama.  The two main leads in particular are amazing in their roles, and I’m not surprised that it was a huge hit when it released last year.   While the title suggests that it might be a horror story, in reality it’s more of a fairy-tale fantasy which interweaves a coming of age story with young romance.  However, just in case you were disappointed, there is indeed a werewolf although that’s not the main focus of the story.

The film opens with an older Kim Suni (Lee Young-lan) living in America with her son and his family.  I love how, in the opening shots, the camera slowly pans in from the town outside to the rooms inside, possibly symbolic of how restricted Suni’s life has become when compared to the wide open spaces and freedom of her childhood that we see later in Korea.  There are a number of small clues to the rest of the story in these opening scenes, but they only become apparent on watching the film for a second time. I’m not sure if that’s because I’m not familiar with Korean films, or if writer-director Jo Sung-hee expected people to watch the film more than once.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy







Kim Suni receives a phone call and discovers that she has to go back to Korea to deal with a house her mother (Jang Young-nam) has left to her.  She arrives in Korea and after meeting with her granddaughter Eun-joo, travels to the house where she stayed for a short time as a teenager.  From here the film tells her story in flashback, from when the young Suni (Park Bo-young) first arrived there some 47 years previously.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf BoyA Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy












Suni, her mother and her sister Sun-ja (Kim Hyang-gi) move to the countryside to help alleviate problems with Suni’s health.  A problem with her lungs has made Suni an invalid and this, along with a natural shyness has made her withdrawn and unhappy.  The countryside isn’t quite to Suni’s taste as their neighbours are rustic and uncouth, while there appears to be something watching her out in the front yard.  Her sister on the other hand, seems to slot into her new life with perfect ease, as she befriends the other local children almost instantaneously and is happy to run around the fields all day.

Things change when Suni and her mother discover what appears to be a feral boy lurking in their front yard.  Suni’s mother takes him in, although she is taken aback by his lack of table manners and general lack of knowledge regarding things such as taking a bath.  Although she contacts the authorities, no-one is interested and they dismiss the boy as just one of the many unfortunate children orphaned after the war.  The family name the boy Cheol-su and while Suni’s mother tries to make him into the son she never had, Sun-ja takes him out to play with the other children and Suni refuses to sit at the table with him.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy












Then Suni finds a dog-traning manual and slowly this displaces her nightly unhappy diary entries as she looks for a way to civilise Cheol-su.  Cheol-su cannot speak and Suni’s attempts to communicate with him start to bring her out of her shell and she forgets about her illness. But just when everything seems to be going so well, the family’s landlord Ji-tae (Yoo Yun-suk) shows up and discovers that Cheol-su is not quite what he seems.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf BoyA Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy












Ji-tae’s character is drawn with broad strokes but perhaps this is appropriate for the story since he is a classic unscrupulous fairy-tale villain with no redeeming features whatsoever.  He is determined to marry Suni, although this desire is never really explained, and he’s just too completely depraved and evil to be very realistic. However Yoo Yun-suk does make a good villain, as he has an excellent sneer and is appropriately dressed for the part.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy







Park Bo-young has a very expressive face and she is excellent in her transformation from an unhappy invalid to a girl in the throes of first love and finally to a young woman who has some very harsh decisions to make.  In Cheol-su, Suni has found another lost soul, and because of his animalistic nature, he’s not someone who makes her feel shy.  In fact, because Suni is the one teaching him and is the only person that he seems to listen too, she has all of the power in their relationship.  At least initially.

However the real revelation is Song Joong-ki, who is amazing as the werewolf boy.  His first appearance is startling as he appears nervous and skittish before grabbing for food and he does seem completely feral.  Subsequently he manages to behave as if he really has been living with a wolf pack as he brings dog-like mannerisms into his body language.  In one scene he perfectly imitates a dog chasing a ball as he plays with Sun-ja and her friends. Not being able to speak also means that Song Joong-ki has to make his face talk for him and he manages to convey each emotion incredibly well.  The reaction he shows here as Suni sings to him is just one example of how perfectly he makes his eyes express his thoughts and feelings.

There are a few minor quibbles I have with the film, but they are relatively insignificant when set against the performances from Park Bo-young and Song Joong-ki.  The special effects to turn Cheol-su into a werewolf aren’t particularly special and mainly consist of spiky hair and dim lighting.  In fact a number of the shots are very poorly lit and at times it’s difficult to see exactly what is happening.  But there are also scenes where the lighting emphasises the fantasy aspect and the sunlight looks like molten gold and others where the winter landscape invokes comparisons with European folk tales.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf BoyIt's a beanstalk!A Werewolf Boy












Although this is essentially a love story, I think the coming of age and development of Suni’s character are more interesting and appeal more than the romance aspect of the film.  Cheol-su’s love for Suni is more of a platonic adoration as he mainly just wants to be with her, while Suni’s affection appears based in the camaraderie of two misfits rather than true romance.  However they do have good chemistry together and the final scenes provide a poignant and somewhat unexpected end.

A Werewolf BoyA Werewolf Boy







A Werewolf Boy is a well told story which mixes supernatural fantasy with the more mundane successfully.  It’s worth watching for Park Bo-young and Song Joong-ki, but also for Jo Sung-hee’s direction which successfully steers around a number of possible plot holes to deliver a satisfying and  captivating story. 4 stars.

A Werewolf Boy


I know very little about Korean films and only a fraction more about the Wuxia genre in Chinese cinema. Even then, my knowledge is based on films such as Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Hero which are aimed more at the Western market and probably not representative of the genre at all. But Bichunmoo was one of the first wire-work martial arts films I saw and it’s a little more unusual in that it is Korean. I love it so much because in many ways it reminds me of a cheesy masala film. It has all the necessary ingredients – tragic lovers, excellent sword fights, a hero who refuses to die despite some very convincing attempts on his life, a significant necklace, an evil warlord and even a dance number!

Bichunmoo is based on a comic series which ran to six volumes, and that is a lot of story to fit into 2 hours. Nevertheless, director Young-jun Kim includes as much as he can with the result that the film is at times hard to follow and almost every scene contains important plot points. Blink and it’s easy to get lost. To add to the confusion, the film was originally longer but a number of scenes were cut to make it fit into the two hour slot demanded by Korean cinemas. This means that there are characters that suddenly appear with no explanation of who they are. The film also jumps forward ten years and it’s hard to realise this has happened as the characters don’t age, and the advance in time is never mentioned. However despite these flaws there is plenty to enjoy and it’s certainly never dull.

The film opens with Jin-ha (Hyeon-jun Shin) drifting down a river towards an army encampment. This gentle beginning doesn’t last long though as’ Ten Black Swordsmen’ explode out of the water and make quick work of the opposing Mongolian soldiers in the first of many excellently choreographed fight scenes. The next scene cuts to Jin-ha rather morosely sitting on a rooftop gazing forlornly at his lost love Sullie (Hee-seon Kim) and then quickly moves on to a flashback of their lives together as children. Jin-ha grows up under the tutelage of his uncle Kwakjung (Ju-bong Gi) and learns from the Bi Chun Shi Gi Sword Fighting Book – doesn’t every master swordsman have to start somewhere?

Sullie is the daughter of a Mongolian general and his concubine, but when her mother dies General Taruga (Hak-cheol Kim) takes Sullie to the city. Before leaving she gives Jin-ha one half of a jade necklace and arranges for them to meet in the city proving that no matter how fragile she looks, Sullie is one tough customer and not easily pushed around. Jin-ha’s uncle is killed by assassins trying to steal the secrets of Bi Chun Shi Gi but before he dies he reveals that Jin-ha is in fact the son of a Korean nobleman Lord Yu, and asks his student to take revenge on his parents’ killers. Who just happen to be the General Taruga and his men. This takes us about 10 minutes into the story and already we have separated lovers, a desperate heroine, vengeful hero and an angry father – phew!

Jin-ha sets off to find Sullie and on the way is attacked by yet more assassins after his sword-fighting secrets. A Mongolian noble Namgung Junkwang comes to Jin-ha’s aid using a fan rather than a sword to defeat the assassins in an impressive and very fast action sequence. Meanwhile Jin-ha shows off his technique of Bi Chun Shi Gi which allows him to attack his enemies using the force of chi alone. It’s very cool.

On arriving in the city, Jin-ha learns that Sullie is engaged to marry his new friend to help further her father’s political ambitions. Jin-ha attempts to run away with Sullie but the two are caught and after yet another superb fight scene Jin-ha is shot full of arrows by the treacherous General Taruga and falls off a cliff into a river. It’s interesting to note that the technique of Bi Chun Shi Gi not only allows you to explode your enemies but also has the ability to make your word glow green!

Jin-ha is however rather difficult to kill – he’s not going to let a few arrows, a large fall and near drowning stop him. He is found by Ashin (Su-ro Kim) who heals him with some village remedies which seem to involve a lot of mud. At some point here we jump forward in time where Sullie believes Jin-ha is dead and is now married to Namgung Junkwang and has a 10 year old son, Namgung Sung (Bang Hyep). Jin-ha has become the cold and ruthless Jaha-lang and is followed by the’ Ten Black Swordsmen’ who are all trained in the art of Bi Chun Shi Gi and look like very cool Goth ninja assassins. Jin-ha is aiding the rather despotic Han leader Jo-beak Seung and his evil general Saijune (Tae-hwa Seo) in their mission to kill all the Mongolians and generally mopes around trying to get over his lost love. However in the course of the Han’s campaign Sullie and Jin-ha meet again on opposing sides of the war and you just know they’re not heading for a happy ending.

There is a lot more to the plot and there are betrayals, revelations, more assassination attempts and an ‘other woman’ in Lady Yeo-jin. It’s a story on an epic scale and really deserves more than 2 hours since a few scenes end up feeling rushed and there are some relationships which would have benefitted from further development. However the film looks stunning, the story does make sense despite the deleted scenes and the fight scenes are well integrated into the storyline. Although the actors are Korean, the film was shot in China using their more experienced crews, and it shows in the attention to detail throughout. The costumes by Min-hee Kim are wonderful and Hee-seon Kim is stunningly beautiful and ethereal as Sullie. Although her character seems quite passive, she fights back effectively against her father and is also quite capable of picking up a sword to defend herself if needed. She looks amazing here as she dances for the Han chief Jo-beak Seung and despite her rather fragile appearance she is much stronger than she looks.

Hyeon-jun Shin is excellent as Jin-ha and convinces as the stoical hero. He is honest and innocent at the start of the story but changes as events turn him into a deadly fighter seeking revenge. He doesn’t let much emotion show on his face until it really counts, but his eyes speak volumes especially as he gazes at Sullie. Like all good heroes you know that his strength and loyalty will be there when needed and then he will never, ever give up. Jin-yeong Jeong is also excellent as Sullie’s husband who is also desperately in love with her but cannot ever replace Jin-ha in her heart.  The other supporting characters play their parts well, and in particular Han-gari Lee is memorable as Jin-ha’s lieutenant Changryeon. The story of the tragic lovers is very over the top and melodramatic but works well as the driving force for Jin-ha’s actions and is really more convincing than relying on the revenge plot alone.

The action is fast paced and frequent with fantastic fight scenes choreographed by Yuk-sing Ma. The atmospheric soundtrackby Seong-jun Kim gets replaced during the fights with electric guitars which gives a much harder edge and makes more of an impact. The Bi Chun Shin Gi technique allows Jin-ha to use force against his enemies and rather interestingly they burst apart in showers of dust rather than blood and gore, although there are the occasional rather anatomically unlikely spurts of blood to enjoy!

It is all very spectacular and although occasionally confusing the story is compelling. It’s not a great martial arts film and although I haven’t seen the comics I’ve read that it’s not a great adaptation of these either. But it is an excellent film if you take it as a love story and just enjoy the wonderful fight scenes and glorious cinematography without worrying about the jumps in the timeline or the suddenly appearing major characters. 4 stars.