Saturday, December 14, 2013

Stream this Korean blockbuster-done-right: Jo Sung-hee's genre-jumping A WEREWOLF BOY

Again I say: You've just got to hand it to Korean filmmakers. They can take the bare bones of the most cliché-ridden subjects--from romance to fairy tale to werewolf to thriller to family dramedy--then toss them together to make something so new that you swear you've never quite seen the like of it till now. A WEREWOLF BOY, from 2012 and said to the be the most successful melodrama in Korean film history (though "melodrama" doesn't begin to cover this genre-jumping movie), uses all of the above subjects, and thanks to its unusual combination of peculiarity, charm, humor, sadness, surprise, thrills and--above all--love story, it should leave audiences in a rapt state of joyous, tear-filled wonder.

How do those Koreans do it? you may well ask yourself after watching this sublime blockbuster that subverts so many of the clichés that easily sink other examples of mass-audience frivolity. This is but the second full-length feature from Jo Sung-hee, but, man, is this fellow (shown at left) accomplished! The film itself is so full of beauty -- from the scenery and the charming, colorful sets to the actor's faces and the occasional but very well-used special effects -- that this alone can carry you easily along. In fact, this is not only one of the best fairy tales and love stories TrustMovies has seen in a long while, it's also one of the best werewolf films.

It all begins here in America, where a three-generation family arises in the morning, with Grandma front and center. When she receives a surprise phone call that sends her back to Korea to sell a old piece of property, as well as visit her grand-daughter who is studying over there, the history of this woman unfolds.

Back when she was her granddaughter's age, due to her health problems, the family moved to the countryside where, on her first night there, she encounters a wild and literally feral boy (above) whom the family soon takes in and tries to help raise and educate.

The connection that forms between the girl and the boy is the heart of the film, and it never wavers, only grows stronger and deeper as the movie progresses, despite a nasty, mustache-twirling (if he had one) villain (above), scientists and government agents, some dumb but relatively kindly cops, and other of the usual suspects.

Yet Mr. Jo spices all this up with sets, colors and other visual that keep bringing fairy tales to mind (note the colorful doors inside the family's Korea house); scenes of teaching the wild boy how to eat, behave, brush his teeth (above) and appreciate music (below) that have genuine humor and charm; along with a generations-spanning story that speaks in its own lovely, individual ways to grandparents, parents and children alike.

My spouse has remarked a couple of times how, at the conclusion of several Korean films he's now seen, though he had enjoyed the movies as they progressed, he still found himself unexpectedly moved at their conclusion. That's one of the smart little secrets of these Korean artists: The way they peruse and then use movie clichés, while jumping from genre to genre, consistently zig-zagging between delivering and upending our expectations -- and in the process doubling our pleasure.

You can catch A Werewolf Boy now via Netflix streaming or purchase it on DVD. You'd think this one would be ripe for an American remake, but we'd probably special-effect it to death and so ruin its tender charms.

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