Using webtoons as source for movies can be double-edged sword

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Using webtoons as source for movies can be double-edged sword

In recent years, the story lines of popular webtoons, or web cartoon series published online, have been the to-go choice for filmmakers when they find themselves short of fresh material to put on the big screen.

However, using webtoons as a major source of films is considered a double-edged sword. The films are easy to publicize, but they have a high risk of becoming box-office failures if they can’t provide viewers with something more than the original webtoon.

A webtoon titled “Apartment,” written by first-generation webtoonist Kang Full, was the first to be made into a horror movie of the same name, starring Go So-young as the lead actress in 2006.

Kang Full, whose real name is Kang Do-young, has written numerous cartoon series online covering diverse genres such as humanism, thrillers and horror.

Kang’s webtoons and his fan base were attractive enough to draw the attention of Korean filmmakers.

Many films, including “Babo,” “Hello, Schoolgirl,” “Pained,” “The Neighbor,” “I Love You,” and “26 Years,” have been based on Kang’s works.

Currently, director Byun Young-joo is working on another work of Kang’s titled “Lamp Shop.”

Kang Woo-seok, who directed the hit films “Silmido” and “Public Enemy,” also used stories from webtoons to create “Moss” and “Fist of Legend.”

Director Jang Cheol-soo’s film “Secretly, Greatly,” starring heartthrob Kim Su-hyun, was also based on a webtoon by webtoonist Hun.

Currently, “The Fives,” directed by Jeong Yeon-shik, who is also a webtoonist, is in theaters throughout the country.

There are many more that are currently being filmed or in various stages of production, and the list keeps growing.

No matter how much popularity an original webtoon might enjoy as a cartoon, the fate of webtoon-based films seem to stand on their own.

The first webtoon-based film, “Apartment,” was the talk of the town when it cast actress Go, however, it only appealed to 540,000 viewers, while “Hello, Schoolgirl” in 2008 reached 730,000.

Films like “The Neighbor” and “26 Years,” which garnered 2.4 million and 3 million viewers, respectively, helped raised profits for the film companies.

However, two webtoon-based films from director Kang Woo-seok didn’t perform as well as expected.

Meanwhile, “Secretly, Greatly” has set new records for webtoon-based films, attracting about 7 million viewers, thanks to actor Kim Su-hyun playing the main role of a North Korean elite spy Won Ryu-hwan.

The movie, which was released in June, broke box-office records at the time, becoming the first Korean film to sell 3.49 million tickets in just five days.

Film critic Jason Bechervaise said that in order for webtoon-based films to succeed, “there needs to be something better in the movie than the webtoon to actually draw the young viewers, which are its main viewers, into the cinemas.”

Moreover, since webtoon users are young, Bechervaise says the use of casting is very important.

“In that sense, ‘Secretly, Greatly’ has done a good job in casting Kim Su-hyun because that casting itself attracted so many viewers into watching the film,” said Bechervaise.


BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]
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