Korean Movie Review – Hwayi – A Monster Boy (화이: 괴물을 삼킨 아이)

Much like Yoo Ha’s 2012 film “Howling,” Jang Joon-hwan’s “Hwayi: A Monster Boy” (2013) is a film that sits firmly in one genre, but subverts audience expectations by dabbling in the conventions of another. “Howling,” for example, used horror film iconography to lead viewers to believe that something supernatural was afoot, adding an extra layer of mystery to an otherwise generic crime thriller. A similar thing happens in “Hwayi,” with the opening scene showing a terrified child being stalked by some kind of large-toothed beast. The audience can’t help but question the reality of the scene — whether it’s real, or whether it’s a foreshadowing of something greater to come.

Fast-forward 12 years and that same child, Hwa-yi (Yeo Jin-gu), is now part of a crime ring run by five of the men who kidnapped him as a preteen. Having never received any ransom money in exchange for his life, the five captors, rather than kill him, begin calling themselves his father and raise him as one of their own to be the perfect criminal. But in an even more sinister twist, there is something not quite right with Hwa-yi. Does it have anything to do with the beast that appears to be following him?

After a job goes wrong, Hwa-yi is forced to make his first kill. This sets off a chain of events that leads Hwa-yi to use the skills his fathers have taught him in a bid to get revenge and kill all of the members of his dysfunctional family.

Once the film finally arrives at its main character arc, it picks up the pace and becomes a pretty decent, if not generic, Korean crime thriller. By that, I mean violent and brutal with a tense, dramatic finish, lots of tears and buckets of blood.

The real draw, however, is Kim Yun-seok (“The Chaser,” 2008), who stars as the gang’s vicious leader, Seok-tae. A lesson in subdued characterization, he conveys more in one stare than most actors can say in a monologue. He is vicious and cold, yet somehow complicated in his feelings toward Hwa-yi. Kim’s Seok-tae is the embodiment of evil and his performance alone makes the film worth watching.

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