Hwayi: A Monster Boy
“A gritty, action packed thriller... dark and philosophical” James Mudge, BEYOND HOLLYWOOD
In 1998, an infamous gang of criminals orchestrate a blackmailing scheme that goes haywire and leaves them not only on the run, but with a kidnapped child on their hands. Debating on whether to kill or keep him, they ultimately go with the latter, in the hopes that he might prove useful later. And he does: almost 15 years pass, and the kid has grown into a seemingly normal young boy renamed Hwayi (teenage K-drama star Yeo Jin-goo). Except Hwayi doesn’t go to school, and has instead spent the last decade shacked up in the woods, learning how to be a heartless and cold-blooded killing machine. His occasional glimpses of the outside world make him long for a normal life, but overall, the boy’s fate seems locked… and loaded. His five “fathers” — the cold leader Seok-tae (Kim Yun-seok, seen in THE CHASER), the getaway driver Ki-tae (Cho Jin-woong, NAMELESS GANGSTER), the mastermind Jin-sung (Jang Hyun-sung), the gun specialist Bum-soo (Park Hae-jun) and the martial arts expert Dong-bum (Kim Sung-kyun of last year’s SECRETLY GREATLY) — have taught him their respective skills, and are now ready to involve him in his first mission. However, Hwayi’s traumatic upbringing starts manifesting in the form of a recurring, hallucinatory, yet all-too-real monster, and when time comes to pull trigger, an unfortunate coincidence blows the boy’s past wide open. All hell breaks loose and now Hwayi is committed to one idea, and one idea only: revenge.
We’ve all heard the story of the kid raised by wolves. What happens when the wolves are in fact monsters? With HWAYI: A MONSTER BOY, Jang Joon-hwan answers the question in his typically stylized fashion, making his feature-film comeback more than 10 years after the cult classic SAVE THE GREEN PLANET! (2003). With HWAYI, he stretches more dramatic muscles and explores darker territories, in what amounts to a brutal portrait of a family of criminals on the verge of dissolution. An exploration of evil as a trait of character, nature vs. nurture is at the centre of the film’s preoccupations, and in its own way, HWAYI proves as philosophically charged and genre-bending as Jang’s previous effort. A bloody coming-of-age tale, a blend of comedy, high-pitched melodrama and the straight actioner, HWAYI is filled with car chases, shootouts and high octane thrills, marking the unexpected return of Jang on the genre film map.
— Ariel Esteban Cayer