A maligned script, hangul is now hipPearl Buck once said hangul was the simplest and best script in the world. The best-selling nonfiction author Jared Diamond called it “ingenius.” Koreans, however, don’t seem to think much of it.
Long enamoured with the English alphabet, Korean are increasingly turning to their own script to add a dash of decoration to commercials, Internet pages and modern art.
Daetoo Investments & Security led the way with its television commercial, which first aired in early April. The commercial shows thousands of hangul letters rotating and coming together to make up a photo of a human face. Oliver Griem, a media design professor at Hongik University, led the development of the ad.
“Through this project, we learned that the Korean letters were just as great to work with as English letters,” said Jung Won-hwa, a team director at Welcomm Communications.
In an April commercial for Samsung Fire & Marine Insurance, Korean letters fall like raindrops, breaking into white foam as they land on the shoulders of the actor Han Suk-gyu.
“We used a 3-D technique to show how each vowel and consonant broke apart,” said Jang Jong-cheol, vice director of Cheil Communications.
Hangul has proven popular in the digital industry as well. “Mini hompys,” or small templates for personal homepages made by companies such as Cyworld, are creating special fonts of their own.
“Pretty hangul fonts are popular among Internet users because they can use them to express their feelings more freely in their writing,” said Kwon Chang-hyun, a team head at SK Communications, the company that runs Cyworld. Cyworld sells 87 new hangul fonts, including the squiggly “pea font” and the curvy “water drop font.” An average of 20,000 people purchase these new fonts online every day.
The craving for the newer and cooler fonts has gone so far that some Internet sites are offering “celebrity fonts,” which are supposed to imitate the handwriting of one’s favorite star. At first, celebrities like the actress Moon Geun-young and singer Lee Hyo-lee made their personal fonts, and now there are over 20, including the “Yoon Do-hyun font,” “Bi (Rain) font,” and “Son Ye-jin font.”
The fonts, however, don’t actually look like handwriting ― they instead capture the “spirit” of the particular celebrity. The “Moon Geun-young font” is small and cute, what one would expect from the good-girl teenage star. The “Yoon Do-hyun font” is “manly and powerful,” like a rocker should be.
Designers and artists have even turned to hangul to get new ideas. In the artist Kim Ban-seok’s newest work, “Geul Geurim (writing picture),” he used the lines from vowels and consonants to create an image that reflects the title of the work.
In a fashion show in February, the designer Lee Sang-bong introduced a wardrobe that had hangul letters printed all over it. “Hangul is artistically valuable and is very effective at delivering emotion,” Mr. Lee said. “Foreigners feel that hangul has a modern feeling and to them, each character looks like a work of art.”
“Foreign buyers liked the idea so much they asked me to use more hangul on the designs,” he said. “I think I’ll put hangul on neck ties, T-shirts and scarves as well.”
by Jung Hyun-mok