Director takes new route to bring ‘Fives’ to film

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Director takes new route to bring ‘Fives’ to film

The man behind the recently released film “The Fives” has been receiving a little more attention than one would expect for a rookie director.

It’s not that his new thriller is a cinematic masterpiece or has a groundbreaking story line. But Jeong Yeon-shik, 46, is the web cartoon artist, or webtoonist, who wrote the hit web series “The Fives,” from which the film took its story line, making Jeong the first webtoonist turned film director in Korea.

What makes Jeong more interesting, however, is the fact that he released the story of “The Fives” in the form of a cartoon series through Daum’s Webtoon first to make investors and film producers come to him, rather than having him go around knocking on doors.

In recent years, a growing number of Korean films have been taking story lines from webtoons that have enjoyed great popularity online. Kang Do-young, who is more widely known by his pen name Kang Full, is a first-generation webcomic artist whose comics have been turned into films, including “The Neighbor,” “26 Years,” “I Love You” and many more.

Recognizing this pattern while realizing the harsh reality of the Korean film industry, Jeong made a few tweaks to his initial writing, which was written in the form of a screenplay, and began releasing it on Daum’s Webtoon in April 2011.

The 52 episodes of “The Fives” gave Jeong a large fan base - and as he expected - calls from investors and film producers.

Although it seems like Jeong took an easy yet smart way to become a film director, he says it took him 18 years of toil to finally show his work on the big screen.

“It’s not that all film directors sit on a pile of money, and I don’t aim to do so,” said Jeong. “I’m just a good petit bourgeois, an average low-class citizen like the characters in the film. All I want to do is tell the stories of the people like me - who are in the blind spots in this society - through any form of medium I can work with, whether it be a film, a comic series or a television drama series.”

The Korea JoongAng Daily interviewed Jeong last week in Chungmuro, central Seoul. Here are some excerpts from the interview.

Q. It’s interesting how you took the story of “The Fives,” which was first written as a screenplay, then revised it to release it as a comic series, then again turned it into a film. Why did you do that?

A.It’s not that I failed turning the story into a film that made me decide to write the webtoon.

I’ve already tried turning “Moonlight Shoes,” which is my first webtoon, into a film first, but I failed. That was a difficult time for the Korean film industry. Although I was with quite a large production company at the time, the company and many others were hesitant to give opportunities to rookie directors like myself. During that process, I got into a traffic accident and had to spend many days in a hospital. That’s when I wrote many screenplays, and “The Fives” is one of them. But this time, I didn’t want to suffer, having to go around knocking on doors to persuade investors and producers why they had to use my screenplay and use me as a director.

With the plan in mind of attracting them to come to me instead of me going to them, I revised my original screenplay and began writing a comic series on Webtoon. As I expected, I began receiving many phone calls from investors and production companies.

What are the major changes you made when you turned the screenplay into a comic series?

The proper order would’ve been the film first, then a webtoon. A film should have a film-like ending and a story line, while a comic should have more detailed explanations of every character. Even the villain in the story for a comic strip needs to have a sad past that no one knows about. This is unnecessary in a film. So the major change I’ve made is adding flesh to the comic and changing the ending.

This time, when you were turning it into a film again, did you use the initial screenplay you wrote in 2010 or did you revise the story of the comic strip to write a new one?

Of course I’ve changed the screenplay. By following readers’ responses, I’ve thought about what changes to make and rewrote it. In that process, I’ve again received a lot of help from other experts and came up with this new screenplay. The frame is the same, it’s just adding bits and pieces from comic strips for its readers, and changing and taking out a few bits and pieces to tell the story within two hours for a film.

Those who expected a meticulous battle of wits between the people chasing after a serial killer may have been disappointed after watching “The Fives.” The story seems to focus on the desperate life of Eun-ah, the main character.

On the surface, “The Fives” may be just a thriller where a disabled woman gathers four desperate people in need of organs to take revenge on a serial killer who killed her family in front of her eyes.

But it’s really about the life of the good petit bourgeois, or average lower- to middle-class citizens, and what happens to them when their dreams are taken away.

They have nothing, and they are considered as nobodies in society. They try to do something, but nothing seems to work. They run toward something, but always fall. But in their hearts, the love toward their family is very strong. This is the life of ordinary people like me.

It seems like you’ve experienced difficulty in becoming a film director in Korea. How would you describe the Korean film industry for rookie director like you?

It’s like a desert. You have to survive on your own. There are so many people you have to take care of, but at the same time, you have to take them along the way and search for an oasis.

There’s no one who’s there to help while the sun is beating down, and from time to time, sudden sandstorms make you fall on your knees. There’s no refuge, and you are always thirsty.

You’ve worked in various areas. You were a director of commercials, illustrator, painter, webtoonist and now a film director. What work do you find most enjoyable?

You know, I am mostly happy when I write children’s books. I am currently working on it, but I have so many stories that I want to tell children, like my daughter, through story books. But I will get onto that when I have a more stable life, when I don’t have to worry about paying bills or making a box-office hit. I’ve already wrote many stories but just haven’t released them.

“The Fives” has already exceeded 630,000 ticket sales since its release on Nov. 15. It seems like you’ll have a royal road as a film director ahead of you. Will you work both as a webtoonist and a film director?

I’m not late but not early, setting foot in the film industry as a 46-year-old.

My wife and my 11-year-old daughter have waited long years for me to be a decent breadwinner. From now on, I want to grab the opportunities that come to me first, whether it be a webtoon, a television drama or a film.

I describe myself as a shark. I’m not a swan, who looks beautiful on the outside but incessantly paddles underneath the water to stay afloat.

I heard sharks have to swim nonstop in order to stay afloat or else they sink and die. I’m like a shark. I’m ugly with lots of scars.

To survive in this world, I have to incessantly work hard and move forward.

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