Werewolf Boy – 늑대소년 (Korean Movie Review)

This story features on my other site “Things I Love From Asia“, but I include it here just because this site has a wider readership.

I wanted to take my girlfriend to the cinema last night. My favourite cinema in Vietnam is Korean owned, and they show mostly Korean and Chinese movies. We only had a small amount of time to spend together and it came down to a choice of two movies. One of the ones on offer was a horror/thriller. The other was listed as a “psychological crime drama”. I thought “I really don’t think that’ll be appropriate, but it’s better than a horror movie at least because I know she won’t like that”.

Well whoever classified the movie for Lotte Cinema were idiots. Werewolf Boy, 늑대소년, or as it is called in Vietnamese, just “Sói” (wolf) is not a crime drama. It is a fantasy love story. It’s sort of a coming of age movie, but it’s also a hilariously funny comedy and the most beautiful love story I’ve seen in a while. It’s also bitterly sad.

Werewolf boy is about a young girl named Suni, played by Park Bo-young who moves to a tiny countryside village with her sister and mother after her father dies. Suni is sick with a lung problem and doesn’t go to school and is a sad, reserved girl until she has an odd encounter. Living nearby to the house is a young boy, unable to speak and completely wild like a wolf. Much to her annoyance her mother takes the boy in and cleans him up and clothes him, but the boy lacks any social skills. He growls at people, he wolfs down all the available food (pun intended) in seconds and leaves nothing for anyone else.

But Suni reasons with him. She reads a book on dog training, and through the positive reinforcement of patting him on the head when he is good and teaching him to “stay” and “wait”, she civilises him, much to the amazement of her family. Her mother names the boy Chul-soo, and he quickly becomes an integral part of the family. He carries the young children when they cannot run. He plays games with them, and at one point he saves them from certain death from a falling iron girder with his superhuman strength, stunning all onlookers.

While his name is “Chul-soo” I like to think of him more affectionately as “Sói”, the Vietnamese title for the movie, which is why I have included that version of the movie poster. Werewolf Boy was the number 1 movie for the weekend that it was released in South Korea and it did not fail to pack out the entire cinema last night when it aired in Vietnam either. The movie is hilariously funny and so many times the whole cinema would erupt into laughter at the antics of the boy and his lack of social graces. There is a scene were Suni and Sói are home alone and for fun she makes him wear a dress and puts make-up on both of them, only to have the rest of the family and neighbours turn up at home early for dinner, causing them to hide in embarrassment. This moment is so awkward for the protagonist that the whole audience was tense with anticipation and discomfort and when they are finally caught and exposed and Suni haughtily pretends there is nothing unusual and storms off to bed, the whole crowd was finally able to relax and laugh.

But Werewolf Boy is a story about forbidden love. Look, it’s not that I wanted a happy ending. I HATE movies with neat little happy endings. That’s why I watch Korean movies because they are more complex than some Disney fantasy bullshit. I do give the director and writer some credit because I fully expected one of the two main characters to die. It was just going so clearly in that direction and I thought for sure that Suni would die suddenly of her illness or that Sói would be shot dead by the angry “slimeball” that got them the house and is trying to make Suni marry him.

Fortunately this doesn’t happen, but the movie does end sadly and I can’t help but be so angry at the writer for making the movie end the way it does. It’s not that it doesn’t end on a happy note, because it does, but it gets there via a very sad turn of events which I cannot reveal. Like every single person in the cinema, my girlfriend cried. She wasn’t very obvious about it, but she had to wipe away tears. So did I, and every time I sniffled she would look at me trying to figure out if I was crying or not. I was. I don’t think there was a person in the cinema who didn’t cry last night.

It was a funny choice of movie for us for many reasons. One of them was hilariously apt. I love having my head scratched. Yi figured this out recently by accident and thought it was so funny they way stroking my hair immediately makes me freeze up and go silent with pleasure. It hypnotises me and I hate it when she stops. To my, and no doubt her incredible amusement, Sói does this too in the movie. He gets so used to Suni giving him positive reinforcement in the form of her stroking his hair that he demands it all the time, silently lowering his head in front of her until she pats it and strokes his hair. This was sort of weird and amusing as well as embarrassing because I do this very thing to her sometimes, silently lowering my head and waiting for her to stroke my hair. After seeing Suni and Sói engage in this, I think the idea bemused her so much. I don’t growl, but I purr. Because I am not a werewolf boy. I am a lion boy. It was just funny and a tiny bit awkward to see my own rather unusual behaviour depicted on-screen so accurately in a fantasy movie about a boy who is a werewolf. I can’t yet tell if seeing this portrayed in such an amusing way made my girlfriend warm to my bizarre nature or think I’m actually rather embarrassing and funny.

After the movie ended I felt ok about it, but later that night I got really depressed over it. My girlfriend is Vietnamese, which means she is not allowed to stay overnight with me even though we live in the same apartment building. She lives downstairs and sleeps on the floor and I rent a small apartment on the top floor. Last night more than any other I just wanted her to stay with me. I was feeling sad and tired and I just wanted her to sleep beside me. There’s a touching moment in Werewolf Boy where Sói and Suni get very close and she goes to bed and closes the door behind her and Sói curls up on the floor outside her room to sleep. In order to be close to him, Suni brings her bedroll and places it on the other side of the wall so that they are sleeping side by side with just the wall between them. Sadly, there are four floors between where Yi and I sleep at night and when she had to go downstairs to sleep I was so mad at her. I know she has to do this and it would be culturally inappropriate for her to spend the night with a guy who she wasn’t at least engaged to, but it just annoys me so much that it’s so pointless when she already lives in the same building and the only people who would know are her godparents who let her live her, so it’s not like all the neighbours would be talking about it or anything. It drives me nuts because while I respect traditional social rules in Vietnamese society, this one seems so pointless when we already live in the same apartment, albeit on different floors.

Sometimes some things are just like that in life though and you just have to learn to wait. Sói waits. Sói waits a very, very long time because he loves Suni. I have to wait too. But it doesn’t mean I have to like it, and that’s why Yi left last night with me ignoring her and refusing to say goodnight. Life is complex and sometimes love can be forbidden or troublesome and sometimes you have to play a waiting game. We’re as funny and unlikely a couple as Sói and Suni, but we’re still a couple. Life’s more interesting when it’s complex. I just didn’t expect Werewolf Boy to turn out to be the perfect analogy to my own life – a crazy wild kid turns up and is tamed by the shy but principled Asian girl who teaches him patience and obedience and falls in love with him.

Werewolf boy is a beautiful movie. It’s not too complex. It’s very light-hearted. But it’s also full of the significance of deep interpersonal relationships like all Korean movies. I thoroughly recommend it and encourage you to see it with your girlfriend or boyfriend. But it is sad and at the end of it I guarantee you will say “I wish it hadn’t ended the way it did”. But life wasn’t meant to be easy and forbidden love isn’t supposed to be all “happily ever after” or it wouldn’t be called forbidden love. At least the director didn’t pull a cheap trick like making one of the main characters die. Werewolf boy is sadder and more beautiful in a much deeper way than that. Because Sói waits. Sói will wait forever because he never ages. Maybe Sói and Suni are the perfect analogy for Yi and I, but the biggest difference is that while I also make funny animal noises and demand pats on the head, I do get older and I can’t wait forever like Sói can. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go out on the balcony and howl at the moon to let my sleeping girlfriend know I’m still here waiting for her.

UPDATE: I just wanted to add this because I think it makes a beautiful conclusion to the story. As I said, it kills me that sometimes I get very little time to spend with Yi despite the fact that she lives in the same house as me. Well, the night mentioned in this story, I slept alone. The next night, she was very late home from work and had to do some things and we didn’t get much time together. I was really depressed. I went out to my new favourite bar and sat there and had one beer and thought “What the hell am I doing ?” and came home again. But after looking at my girlfriend and the cleaner both asleep on the floor while the landlady slept on the couch in the lobby I felt really lonely having to trudge up the stairs to my room. When I got there I lay on the bed and cried because I just felt so alone and friendless right then. Then something occurred to me. I slipped on my silk kimono and I slipped downstairs with noone hearing me and I lay down on the tiled floor near Yi to sleep. I didn’t sleep right beside her because I thought that might not be approved of, but I slept a few feet away so that I could hear hear breathing in her sleep. Noone even noticed until the cleaner got up at about 5am to open the front door and saw me laying on the floor and said “Oh my god David”. I just smiled at her and held a finger to my lips. I lay back down for a few more minutes until Yi woke up and then I smiled and said “chúc ngủ ngon” and got up and went back to my room.

I’d just like to think of it as our little Sói and Suni moment. No, we couldn’t spend the night together, but at least we could make the best effort to sleep as close as we could. Most nights I just leave a single rose beside her while she sleeps if I come home after midnight. But this one night, I went and slept on the floor beside her because I just wanted to be close to her. My friends thought that was pretty romantic but I wasn’t doing it to be romantic. I just missed her.

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