The 2016 NYAFF is here and the first film that I had an opportunity to view was writer/director Kim Jin-hwang’s The Boys Who Cried Wolf. This South Korean almost noir/thriller is a mixed bag that will certainly divide audiences.
The film follows Wan-joo (Park Jong-hwan), a failed actor who refuses to play the political game of acting in Korea. Once he quits his job as an actor, Wan-joo picks up a gig that plays right into his ability to act well, he acts as an escort/wingman to help others look good. While not fulfilling, it helps pay the bills, especially his mom’s hospital bills. One day a murder occurs in his neighborhood and initially he pays it no mind, but soon a woman offers to pay him handsomely if he gives a witness statement to the police. Wan-joo eventually decides to do it but soon realizes he may have helped incriminate an innocent man and the son of a friendly shop owner. The film follows Wan-joo as he tried to figure out what exactly happened that night and why it’s trying to [potentially] be covered up.
Kim Jin-hwang’s film is good in the sense that it keeps your attention. He is able to string you along for the entire duration, hoping that you’ll eventually get to understand everyone’s motives and to find some closure with the main plot. It’s what kept me going even with the side-plots that seemed to go nowhere. Nearly the entire film’s sole focus on Wan-joo’s character is what intrigued me the most because even when other characters came in, we predominantly only learned things from Wan-joo’s point of view. The psychology of his character is the heart of the story but, unfortunately for us, we only get to tap into that occasionally because he doesn’t know when to break his act. The movie is all about him slowly peeling his fake skin away to finally reveal the person he should or, rather, wants to be.
That being said, there are a lot of things that bothered me about The Boys Who Cried Wolf. Firstly, I mentioned above that we only tap into his psychology and past. There are some sections that deal with a woman from his past who he pretended not to know. We get some closure about who she is and why he acted the way he did, but how did this section of the plot help propel the film’s story forward. It was nonsensical and didn’t fit into the overall puzzle. Also, a lot of the side-characters had their own agenda but, again, we simply skim over those attributes instead of diving deeper. While I understand that this entire film is almost entirely from Wan-joo’s point of view, not all of it was so why not explore the logic or rational for the way some of these characters responded to the events that transpired.
SPOILER This leaves me with the ending, Wan-joo investigates all these different people, seemingly gets to the bottom of the case and then without finding out how everyone truly responds to the minimal exposure, he just goes off and does his own thing. The audience doesn’t get any closure from the various lines that were thrown out and we’re left wondering “why did we follow this guy for the entire film just for him to not truly close the case?” END SPOILER. On the one hand not everyone is meant to be a hero, some people get bored and know when to quit, but this approach just felt a little lazy.
The Boys Who Cried Wolf is pretty short so while I wouldn’t dismiss seeing it outright, even after all my negative comments, I can only imagine there are better choices out there when it comes to choosing your fest line-up. This was, in fact, the first film I screened. Here’s to hoping for some more worthwhile gems.