Like its title character, “A Werewolf Boy” is not quite one thing or the other. The South Korean feature (a smash on home turf) is a chaste young-adult romance that bites into supernatural melodrama, science fiction and political conspiracy theories.
Little is predictable about the coming-of-age fantasy, but the biggest surprise is that writer-director Jo Sung-hee makes the potentially unwieldy genre mix work as well as it does.
At once earnest, silly, sprightly and dark, this is a beauty-and-the-beast tale in which the beast cleans up nicely and has a pure heart to match his lycanthropic tendencies.
With more sweetness than depth, heartthrob Song Joong-ki plays the feral boy, who proves to be a kindred spirit to a friendless 19-year-old girl (a more layered performance by Park Bo-young).
Their star-crossed saga is framed as a memory piece, with the elderly Suni (Li Young-lan) returning to the country house where she met the mysterious boy 47 years earlier.
The main action, set in the 1960s, has a sitcom snap, at least until it veers into Cold War suspicions and the metaphysics of love. Suni’s family and neighbors respond to the boy with a cross between mild frenzy and equanimity. Puttering local officials assume that he’s a war orphan, while the bad-guy landlord (Yoo Yeon-seok) fumes with exaggerated villainy.
A very light “Wild Child” riff involves a dog-training manual and Suni’s lessons in language and table manners. Amid tonal shifts of unlikely smoothness, the magical elements range from goofy to childhood-idyllic.
“A Werewolf Boy.” No MPAA rating; in Korean with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes. At CGV Cinemas, Los Angeles; Regal La Habra Stadium 16, La Habra; Edwards University Town Center 6, Irvine.