Wednesday, 16 July 2014

HWAYI: A MONSTER BOY - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Unique Korean crime thriller slays @FantAsiaFilmFest2014

The kid's a natural born killer.
Alas, he just wants to be a real boy.
Hwayi: A Monster Boy (2013) ***½
Dir: Jang Joon-hwan
Starring: Yeo Jin-goo, Kim Yun-seok, Cho Jin-woong, Jang Hyun-sung, Park Hae-jun, Kim Sung-kyun

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Hwayi (Yeo Jin-goo) is a normal 15-year-old boy in every respect except for the fact that a monster living in his neighbourhood continues to haunt him at the most inappropriate moments. He is, however, quite normal. He has five fathers and one mother, all hardened criminals and they live communally in a shack next to a greenhouse where they raise junipers. Indeed, so far, so normal. One of his Dads has trained him to be a skilled marksman and in no time at all, the lad is ready to make his first kill. The only problem is that Hwayi has been getting tastes of the world outside his family and, like Pinocchio, it seems he'd possibly like to be a real boy. Each day, he wanders about the city, envying the kids walking to and from school, then making the acquaintance of a hot babe. A definite chemistry is a-sparkin' here, but how does a lad take a girl home to meet the folks when he has 5 Dads?

It's also understandable that the hot, young lassie would take quite a shine to Hwayi. After all, he's a nice looking boy and always attired in an ultra-stylish school uniform. It's not as if he goes to school or anything, though. He's been self-taught by dipping into the family library of his erudite scumbag Dads and Mom. In fact, he even displays the gifts of an artist - so much so that his fathers and mother debate the merits of sending him to art school instead of him having to toil for the rest of his life as a hit man. Ah, decisions, decisions. Such are the vagaries of parenting.

In Korean movies, anyway.

Well, before anything like a relatively normal education can happen, the family has one big job to pull off and they desperately need Hwayi to make it happen. Alas, the job will reveal a truth Hwayi is not prepared for and soon, he's hell bent on revenge. His need for vengeance is aimed squarely at the family he's come to love. This is clearly enough to conflict any lad.

And then, there's that monster.

Hwayi: A Monster Boy is a dazzler. I dare any American filmmakers to even try matching this. They'd fail miserably, of course. It takes a specific indigenous perspective that's not clouded by an industry now woefully rooted in dull tried and true formulas aimed at morons. The great script by Park Ju-seok is steeped in fairy tale, melodrama, horror, slam-bang criminal heists, hits and extremely shocking violence. Director Jang Joon-hwan imbues the film with shades of film noir whilst energizing it with stunning white-hot action set pieces, martial arts and car chases to die for. The film has a few longueurs and might have benefitted from a good 10 minutes of judicious trimming, but this doesn't ultimately detract from its original narrative, unique tone and haunting staying power. It deals with many elements familiar to genre films, but always injects the kind of welcome twists one never expects these days - certainly not from American studio films - and in so doing, the movie delights like few other crime pictures do.

And yeah, there's that goddamned monster.

Hwayi: A Monster Boy enjoyed its North American premiere at the 2014 FantAsia International Film Festival in Montreal.