Were one to stop watching the Korean drama A Werewolf Boy at the 58-minute mark, it would be easy to come away with the impression that it’s been mistitled for the English-language market. Sure, there’s a kid in it who’s pretty feral, but a werewolf? Pull the other one. A funny thing happens 58:45 in, though. The kid actually turns into a werewolf, growing hair all over his body, his bones shifting to increase his size. (He also gets a fright wig in place of his regular hairdo.) The thing is, writer/director Jo Sung-hee plays coy for so long that it’s possible to imagine a version of this film where this transformation doesn’t occur and he’s just a super-strong teenager that was apparently raised by wolves, hence the lousy table manners.
Made in 2012, the box-office smash (it was South Korea’s third-highest-grossing domestic release that year) opens with retired grandmother Sun-yi (Lee Young-lan) returning to the dilapidated country house where she spent a few formative months in her late teens. “It was like that even back then,” she tells her distracted granddaughter, Eun-joo (Park Bo-young). “It seemed like a monster would appear at any second.” Naturally, this triggers a 100-minute flashback to when Sun-yi (now played by Park) moved there 47 years earlier for her health — as her mother (Jang Young-nam) reveals to their new neighbors, she has lung problems — and befriended an orphan boy (Song Joong-ki) who is eventually given the name Chul-soo because the family has to call him something.
Sun-yi’s first nocturnal encounter with the boy spooks her something fierce, but in the light of day he’s not nearly as scary, even with his ragged clothes and gnarled fingernails. Besides, he cleans up nice and responds well when she consults a dog-training manual to curb his more anti-social tendencies. What Chul-soo doesn’t take kindly to is her late father’s business partner’s rich asshole son Ji-tae (Yoo Yeon-seok), who treats it as a foregone conclusion that Sun-yi will be his wife someday. That’s enough to inspire some growling, but it isn’t until Ji-tae physically threatens Sun-yi that Chul-soo’s bestial nature asserts itself in a big way. Since this development requires an explanation, Ji-tae tracks down a scientist who reveals that Chul-soo was part of an experiment to create a super-soldier by combining the traits of man and wolf. (Hey, just like Project: Metalbeast!) Normally, I would call that a bad idea (after all, I’ve seen Project: Metalbeast), but all the military had to do was hire Sun-yi to train their wolfman army and they would have been in the pink. Too bad they’re so intent on putting their lone werewolf boy down.