July 21, 2015

Hwayi: A Monster Boy: Save the Green Mobster-in-the-Making

A crazily brilliant, intentionally twisted logic informs the mob pic Hwayi: A Monster Boy, an off-kilter sensibility that I was pretty sure I recognized about 15 minutes in. At least I hope I recognized it. I mean, could it really be that the creator of my beloved Save the Green Planet! had finally made another movie after all this time? Had that elusive director I'd long credited for my love of Korean movies finally reappeared? And is it truly possible to recognize an auteur's style that fast, based on one movie alone? Happily, the answer to every question here is YES.

Ten long years after Save the Green Planet! rocked the midnight screening of my soul, Jang Joon-hwan has returned with an exhilarating coming-of-age mafia movie in which the heir apparent (Yeo Jin-gu) must off his various adopted dads to rid himself of his inner demons. Each dad has something that makes him special: Seok-tae (Kim Yun-seok) is all tough love, Ki-tae (Jo Jin-woong) gives him driving lessons that include outrunning the police. Each dad loves Hwayi in his own special way but they’re also carrying a terrible secret, one that will make the son quite a bit less thankful for the sacrifices made.

Hellbent on uncovering that secret is a wily detective, who – much like his counterpart in Save the Green Planet! – may be the smartest guy in the room but he also as no idea that the room he's about to enter is a chamber of Hell. It’s as if Jang is saying that even when a representative of The Law is working at the top of his game with the best of intentions, the cards are stacked against him. The survival of the fittest is not the survival of the smartest. Darwinism has nothing to do with being ruthless or crafty – as one mobster (Yoo Yeon-seok), one masseuse (Woo Dong-gi), one minister (Lee Kyeong-yeong) and one mayoral candidate (Moon Seung-geun) are about to learn in short order. Life's a total crapshoot. Or better yet, a game of roulette. And in Jang's case, that's Russian roulette, my friend.


  1. Big fan of this website, but I missed your original review of Save the Green Planet. What a movie! If it's true as somebody said (you?) that the serial-killer movie is to Korean film what the musical is to American, then this is, what, 42nd Street? I wish you would compile a top-10 list for beginners.

  2. This might be a good place to start if you're looking for a top ten list of Korean movies: http://koreangrindhouse.blogspot.com/2008/12/best-korean-movies-of-2008-sort-of.html