aka. Hwayi: a movie even my dad would find too gory
Well, that was intense.
Hwayi may be one of the goriest, most violent movies I've seen in recent memory. It's one of those movies that, even after the credits rolled, made me sit there for a while and think "TF did I just watch."
In a nutshell, Hwayi is about a 16-year-old who snaps and goes on a killing spree. Throw in an actualfax monster and some adoptive father-son dialogue and you've got your movie. And it was a pretty decent movie, all things considered. Either that or I have a strange taste in films. Depends on who you talk to.
Our titular teen, Hwayi (Yeo Jin-goo), was kidnapped as a child as part of a ransom scheme gone wrong and raised by five vicious criminals who kill to get what they want. He calls them his fathers and has learned different skills from each one, be it getting girls, shooting, or driving a getaway truck. The five have raised him to be an assassin, but he is too soft-hearted to shoot another human being.
We begin to see some rips in the thread of Hwayi's sanity when a break-in job goes wrong. The owner of the home returns too early and Hwayi is forced to shoot. He resists at first, seeing the fear in the man's eyes, but as his "father" shouts at him to finish the job his resolve breaks. And once the first bullet leaves the barrel, he can't stop.
Soon after, due to an odd coincidence, Hwayi makes a discovery he would rather have lived never knowing and vows on revenge against his adoptive fathers, using his unique skillset gained from them in order to take them down.
Hwayi is set apart from many killer-teen action films in that it attempts to explore the psychology of how and why the boy snapped. His escalation from haunted boy who yearns for a normal life to deranged, vengeance-seeking psychopath essentially burns down to this: "to stop seeing the monster, he becomes the monster," or so he seems to believe. And yet, no matter how much the viewer disagrees with his or other characters' actions, the film manages to make the characters sympathetic and utterly fascinating.
The only real aspect of the movie that made me uncomfortable was the treatment of women. There are three women in Hwayi, and two are mother figures for the boy. One has helped raise him since boyhood, but she's also been beaten horribly by her husband and walks oddly because he used to keep her feet chained. The other is murdered to help fuel Hwayi's rampage. The girl serves nothing more than a narrative purpose and is a sort-of-almost love interest for him. But other than this, I enjoyed the movie and thought it was well done.
Hwayi is dark and twisted, graphically violent and often difficult to watch, but it somehow draws the viewer in with its unpredictable and tense writing and pacing. The character Hwayi is brought to monstrous and vivid life by Yeo Jin-goo, and the five criminals who raised him are also well-acted. The theme of nature vs. nurture is raised again and again throughout the film, and its unsparing exploration may rear more questions than you would care to think about.