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Review: ‘A Werewolf Boy’ has heart, heft and surprises

Review: ‘A Werewolf Boy’ has heart, heft and surprises
A scene from “A Werewolf Boy.”
(Handout)

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.

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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).

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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.

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“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.


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