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Ko - production in Busan
  • New Platforms and New Sources for New Korean Cinema ③ : Webtoons
  • by HA Jung-min /  Feb 29, 2016
  • A New Style of Content Grabbing the World's Attention
    Among the most popular genres in the Korean content market is the webtoon, for which readers scroll down on their monitors or phone screens instead of turning paper pages. Its copyright market is currently very active, and becoming an important source for film content. However, this popular genre was not so successful when it began.
    Endless Variety in Narrative Styles and Subject Matter
    The Korean print comic market stayed active up until the 1990s, but sharply declined as the Internet became easily accessible in the 2000s. Print comics moved to the Internet, giving birth to a new style of content known as the webtoon. As serialized comics on authors’ personal homepages or blogs became popular, major portal sites like Naver and Daum created specialized webtoon platforms in 2002. In this early webtoon market, anybody had the opportunity to serialize and display their works as long as they satisfied a minimum quality threshold, since most services were free back then.
    Such openness is still maintained today and is the engine for the growth of Korean webtoons, working as an incubating system for new works and artists. Powerful storytelling and diverse subject matters, the strongest advantages of Korean webtoons, stem from this system. Moreover, the advent of smartphones has further boosted the potential power of webtoons.
    As webtoons became popular, the Korean film industry, suffering from its ongoing lack of new ideas, began to pay attention to this genre. The first film to be based on an original webtoon was A.P.T (2006), made from KANG Full’s webtoon of the same title. However, whereas the original webtoon gained popularity as it reinterpreted the ordinary residential space into a horror stage, the film was not. Another webtoon-based film, Dasepo Naughty Girls, released the same year, was also not a box office success.
    Nonetheless, webtoons remained a popular source for films, as KANG Full’s Ba:Bo (2008), Crush On You (2008) and Late Blossom (2011) were all turned into films. The audience for these webtoon-based films increased gradually, and the webtoon became a leading genre for what is known as one-source-multi-use strategy.
    The first webtoon film to achieve significant box office success was Moss (2010), based on YOON Tae-ho’s webtoon of the same name. Moss is a thriller that depicts the cruelty of human nature, set in a small village in the countryside, and is directed by KANG Woo-suk, a major star director in Korea, whose filmography includes Public Enemy (2002) and Silmido (2003). Adapting the powerful characters and narrative onto the screen, Moss attracted 3.35 million viewers nationwide.
    JANG Cheol-soo’s Secretly Greatly (2013), based on a webtoon with the same title, had an even better box office result as it successfully transferred its story to the screen, of a North Korean spy in a neighborhood, disguised as a mentally-deficient young man. With three young movie stars, including Korean Wave star KIM Soo-hyun, the film accumulated 7 million viewers nationwide. The craze for webtoon-based movies reached its zenith with Inside Men (2015). This film is based on a webtoon of the same name by YOON Tae-ho. It is a story depicting corruption, betrayal and revenge among politicians, journalists and gangsters. Despite being R-rated for its intense action and explicit obscenity, it has attracted over 9 million viewers so far.
    Webtoon-Based Film Lineup, Drawing Attention from China and Hollywood
    As webtoon films do well at the box office, it is common to see the movie rights of moderately popular webtoons sold at an early stage. As a matter of fact, many webtoon films are currently in development. Dokgo, which deals with school violence, began production with YEO Jin-gu of Hwayi: A Monster Boy (2013) and Baek-hyun, a member of boy group EXO. With God by JU Ho-min, another star webtoon artist along with KANG Full and YOON Tae-ho, is to be filmed by KIM Yong-hwa, who also directed 200 Pounds Beauty (2006) and Take Off (2009). Korean webtoons are also receiving attention from overseas, as some of Korea’s webtoon films have achieved strong results in the global market. Domestic webtoon service portals including Naver, Daum-Kakao and Lezhin Comics are providing English, Chinese and Japanese translations for the world market.
    Along with webtoon’s entering the global market, the copyright market is expected to be active as well. KANG Full’s Witch will be turned into a film in Korea and China at the same time, as the film rights have been sold to both countries. An episode of Gi- gi-goi-goi also has signed film rights with a Chinese production company. Michael E. Uslan, the producer of the Batman series, is planning to produce Pick, Tribe X and A Watch Repairman into films and TV drama series.
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