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Hwayi: A Monster Boy - Movie Poster
Original Title:
Hwa-i: Goi-mool-eul Sam-kin A-i

South Korea 2013

Thriller, Drama

Jang Joon-hwan

Yeo Jin-goo
Kim Yoon-seok
Jo Jin-woong
Kim Seong-gyoon
Jang Hyeon-seong
Park Hae-joon
Nam Ji-hyeon
Lim Ji-eun
Woo Don-gi
Moon Seong-geun
Lee Kyeong-yeong
Seo Young-hwa
Yeo Jin-goo

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Hwayi: A Monster Boy

Story: Seok-tae (Kim Yoon-seok) is the leader of a gang of robbers that is keeping the police busy. They are known as the "Daybreakers" because they are committing their crimes, like robbing and killing, in broad daylight and yet never get caught. The police are without a clue and don't even know where to start their investigation. The group is very disciplined in the execution of their robbings and even fabricates their own fireweapons. During a kidnapping and the handover of the ransom things don't turn out as planned, though. The police set up a trap, but Seok-tae and his men manage to escape. After that they discuss whether they should let their kidnapping victim, a small boy, live or not. They decide to bring the boy up on their own.
Fourteen years later the boy, who the five men named Hwayi (Yeo Jin-goo), is grown up and has been taught everything by his foster fathers they know. But Hwayi wants to attend an art university where he can deepen his drawing skills and a few of the men are even willing to send him there. However, Seok-tae has different plans and forces Hwayi to commit his first murder. Eventually, Hwayi finds out about the identity of his victim and after that he takes a stand against his fathers.

Review: It has been ten years since director Jang Joon-hwan has brought a movie to screen in the shape of "Save the Green Planet". Since his debut work he has only worked on the omnibus "Camellia". After his small masterpiece you at least would have expected to find something innovative in "Hwayi", but the film's biggest problem is in fact its unoriginality. It seems as if Jang tried to make his movie for a wide audience, in order to avoid bringing a financial bomb to the screen as with his debut work. Accordingly, you can't fight the feeling that the director is holding back all the time and makes use of only a fraction of his imagination. This doesn't make "Hwayi" a bad movie, but it nonetheless lacks something essential.

Hwayi: A Monster Boy - Film Screenshot 11

The movie's premise seems original, though. A boy, five gangster fathers. But there isn't woven anything exciting around this material. You just get a fuzzy picture of how Hwayi has been brought up. Has he been abused? In some respects. Has he been loved? That too. Had this kind of upbringing some kind of influence on his psyche? There is none to make out. He might resign himself to his fathers commands but he isn't really afraid of them. If there is any it's Seok-tae he is afraid of, but especially when it comes to the relationship between this father and his foster son, there could have been done a lot more with the premise. Apart from that Seok-tae remains a very odd character construct, too. He is very quiet and there isn't really something evil surrounding him as others are stating about him constantly. However, he is without a doubt unpredictable, which makes the movie lack some sort of red thread, too.

Hwayi: A Monster Boy - Film Screenshot 12

The motives of the fathers aren't developed in the slightest. It seems as if the thriller wanted to take a closer look at the evil within humans. But that's just where nothing actually happens in the end. Why the men have become thugs and killers remains a mystery. Seok-tae even states in one scene that he doesn't know himself. That's simply a little bit too easy of a way out. Accordingly it is also very difficult to somehow relate to the characters as at least some sort of antiheroes. Only one of the fathers has a likeable core. But it's a shame that Kim Yoon-seok ("Punch", "The Yellow Sea") hasn't been used more meaningful. His character remains mysterious and only towards the end Kim is allowed to show what what we expect of him acting-wise. Still, it doesn't follow any sort of logical reasoning which individuals he kills and which he lets live. Nothing really fits together here.

Then there is also the theme of the monster. A nice idea that would have had potential. But it isn't made use of in a profitable manner. Hwayi more and more frequently sees a computer-animated monster that is a product of his imagination. Does it represent the oppression by Seok-tae? Later, there is a twist that makes the monster's presence appear in a completely new light, but the motive still doesn't work as well as it was supposed to. Furthermore, the twist at the end is rather unspectacular, too. Even more problematic is that Hwayi maybe is even less fleshed out as a character than his fathers. Actor Yeo Jin-goo acts with a wooden face most of the time and has only few moments, in which he can show a little bit more of himself. It would have worked wonders if his role had had a few pecularities.

Hwayi: A Monster Boy - Film Screenshot 13

These aspects put aside the movie also disappoints when it comes to being thrilling. Additionally, the drama in the film should have been developed further, too. Moreover, there is a clear lack of action. There are a few scenes, like a car chasing scene or a nice shootout in a warehouse that whet our appetite, but apart from that there isn't anything that could excite. Particularly the showdown is a letdown. And all this even though the thriller is very dark and the amount of blood and violence also adds to a tense atmosphere. No doubt about it, you can tell that Jang is a director who knows his craft, but "Hwayi" is contradictory in many respects and doesn't manage to sell this as something good or at least as a signature. Instead the thriller is just a neat addition to the genre that sadly remains rather predictable. Even without expectations because of the director involved this is simply not sufficient.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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