“The Boys Who Cried Wolf” – 2016 New York Asian Film Festival Review

Domestic films accounted for 52 percent of South Korean box office tickets sold in 2015, a testament to the quality of local fare over Hollywood productions.  But when South Korean student films start to snatch up major awards at film festivals, it’s a different ball game.  Last month Geon Kim won the Asia International Competition Best Short Award (Governor of Tokyo Award) at the Shorts Shorts Film Festival & Asia 2016 for “Keep Going,” a slick CG-filled effort made while he was a Seoul University of Arts student.  Kim Jin-hwang, a graduate of the Korean Academy of Film Arts, saw his feature debut – his final year undergraduate film, mind you – screened at the 2015 Busan International Film Festival, where it picked up the Directors Guild of Korea Award (alongside O Muel’s “Eyelids”).

That said, it’s very easy to forget that Kim’s “The Boys Who Cried Wolf” (양치기들) is a student film, especially once the plot begins to unravel.  The viewer meanders along with the personal twists and turns of the main protagonist, an unsuccessful actor named Wan-ju (Park Jong-hwan (“Veteran,” “A Violent Prosecutor”)), after his attempts to make it as a stage actor fail and he impulsively quits the troupe.  He tries to hone his thespian ways through other means, primarily as a wingman-for-hire.  However, his brash demeanor that led to his impulsive resignation often gets the best of him, making already dicey situations that much more precarious.

One of these involves a job that he doesn’t clear with his boss.  Breaking protocol when he realizes how much money is involved, Wan-ju accepts his biggest acting role yet from a mysterious CEO who asks him to memorize a script and act as a witness to a murder.  It sounds just as sketchy to Wan-ju as it does to us viewers, but as he gives his statement to the local police, he quickly realizes that the actual circumstances may not be as they were presented to him on paper.  Wan-ju then decides to search for the truth, a quest ensnaring both him and the audience into a dizzying whodunit, and a frantic attempt to connect the dots between chance encounters with acquaintances that could potentially be larger pieces of a more frightening pie.  Park plays his part well, struggling to investigate the truth on his own terms while at times emotionally unable to stop his aggression from bubbling to the surface one too many uncomfortable times.

Once that pie is baked and served, the story sputters a bit in the last few minutes, opting for an open-ended way to tie loose ends rather than just concluding on an even more ambiguous note.  Still, this is a minor quibble in a work that has already established Kim as another filmmaking force to be reckoned with in a country already loaded with talent.

“The Boys Who Cried Wolf” screens on the final day of the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival on Sat., July 9, at 2:15 p.m.  Director, screenwriter, editor and co-producer Kim Jin-hwang will appear at the screening.