Wan-joo (played by Park Jong-hwan) is a failed actor. For political reasons, as is usually the case. It's no coincidence that writer/director Kim Jin-hwang opens "The Boys Who Cried Wolf" up with an audition for Silenced, itself a thinly veiled allegory for the Hollywood blacklist. Once Wan-joo's failure to play by the rules of the game are established, we flash forward some time later, when Wan-joo's job is to use his handsome good looks and power to lie act in the service of making some easy money, which he needs to help pay his mom's hospital bills. From there, it's perhaps inevitable that Wan-joo is offered a dubious yet all too tempting proposal.
"The Boys Who Cried Wolf" is at its most interesting when dealing with Wan-joo psychologically. An essentially pathetic person, Wan-joo is able to use his more attractive personality traits to survive both physically and mentally. Whatever other failures exist in Wan-joo's life, he is so obviously skilled with women that people will pay him money just to hang out at a club and pick up girls. That might not be much, but it's something.
Where the movie is much weaker is when it gets into the actual plot. Wan-joo inevitably starts to investigate the details of his lucrative offer and plays detective. Why? Well, so far as I can tell, because he has nothing better to do in his spare time. Yes, obviously when a person is dead that's a pretty big deal that warrants a little extra research, but even so the central mystery in "The Boys Who Cried Wolf" could easily be condensed into an hour long TV drama without changing very many of the essentials.
Contrast that with the more personal touches. Take Mi-jin (played by Kim Ye-eun), a woman who hires Wan-joo. There's hint of a very potentially interesting backstory when it comes to their relationship, yet there's almost no exploration of the influence Mi-jin has had on Wan-joo's mental state. Her subplot exists, it seems, for the sole purpose of establishing that Wan-joo has been lying acting for so long it never occurs to him when the right time is to stop.
Most of the supporting characters suffer from having personal motivations that are never really explored because the story takes place from Wan-joo's point of view save for the rare instances where it does not. This gives the movie a kind of fragmented effect, where Wan-joo's personal situation and the central mystery are sort of yet not really related to each other beyond Wan-joo's being dragged into the latter story.
For all these thematic issues "The Boys Who Cried Wolf" does tend to succeed with whatever it is trying to do in any individual scene. It just doesn't work that well as a full film. I still feel comfortable recommending it, though, because the runtime is short enough that writer/director Kim Jin-hwang never wears out his welcome. At bare minimum, the characters are intriguing and the mystery is logically enough constructed that I always wanted to see what happened next, and never really lost patience. It's just not art, is all.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Boys Who Cried Wolf""
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