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Ko - production in Busan
  • The Web Fictions: the New Source of Inspiration for Korean Cinema
  • by KIM Hyung-seok /  Jan 12, 2017
  • Following the Web Comics, Web Fictions become the New Reservoir of Original Plots

    Korean film industry has started scouting the web for fresh ideas since the late 1990s. The Soul Guardians (1998), directed by PARK K.C, was based on the novel of the same name that has been published on a PC communications network, and was promoted as a ‘Korean Blockbuster’. But the trend really started out with My Sassy Girl (2001), which is the adaptation of a novel by the same title created on internet. 

    After the film became a huge hit not only in Korea but also throughout the Asian continent, filmic adaptations of internet novels continued with movies such as My Tutor Friend (2003) and Romance Of Their Own (2004). And then web comics took over in 2006 with A.P.T (2006), based on KANG Full’s web comic. Since then, cinematographic adaptation of web comics has been a trend that shows no sign of stopping.

    Web Fictions Adapted in a Wide Range of Different Forms

    Web fictions have become a new source for the movie industry. Unlike the early internet novels of the 2000s, web fictions now have their own specialized platforms and also include some illustrations, and their market in Korea represented in 2016 more than KRW 100 billion (USD 83 million). Moreover, the Korean entertainment industry has now come up with a new strategy called “One-source, Multi-use”. 

    TV series Love in the Moonlight (2016), starring PARK Bo-gum and KIM You-jung, is a good example of that new concept. Author YOON Yi-soo had first published Moonlight Drawn by Clouds on web portal Naver Web Novel, and its 131 chapters had attracted more than 50 million views before it was adapted for television. The same story has also been published as a five-volume paperback version that has been well received as well. 

    The case of another TV series, Moon Lovers: Scarlet heart Ryeo (2016), is a bit more unusual. The original story came from Chinese novel Bu Bu Jing Xin that has been published online by TONG Hua in 2005 before being made into a Chinese TV series in 2011. This series, Scarlet Heart, has been so popular in Korea that it has been adapted again into a Korean TV drama. Other characteristic examples of this phenomenon are web fiction Old Man that was made into a TV series called Mr. Back (2014), and TV series Cinderella and Four Knights (2016), starring PARK So-dam.

    As for web dramas, the process is much more complicated. Each project can become another project’s source material, and an original idea can be developed through different mediums and form a crossover of web comics, web fictions and web dramas. And of course, films are no exception. During more than a decade, a lot of movies have been adapted from web comics, so it won’t be long before web dramas and web fictions move to the big screen. 

    It’s actually now only a matter of time. Naver Books recently hold the first Mystery Novel Competition in collaboration with Showbox and Publisher HAINAIM, and selected three winners, with The Rapture being awarded the Grand Prize. Showbox is already reviewing all entries to find the ones that have the potential to make good film adaptations. 

    Furthermore, web fictions are popular at the BIFF’s Asian Film Market. The Entertainment Intellectual Property Market (E-IP Market) selected ten pitching projects in 2016, and seven of them were related to a web publication, and two were actual web fictions, like in 2015. Web fictions are still not as strong as web comics, but they are constantly highly regarded. 

    CEO H.S KIM of web fiction portal BOOKPAL said that “Film adaptation of web fictions is becoming a thing, like with American film The Martian or Chinese film So Young. Many entertainment companies in China are desperately on the look out for web novels’ IPs.” This suggests that web fictions and the Korean film industry may soon cross their ways.  

    As CEO KIM said, the combination of web fictions and audiovisual productions is happening in many countries, and particularly in China. With the boom of its entertainment industry, led by companies like Tencent and iQIYI, China is seeing a multiplication of web novels being adapted into web dramas, movies, TV series and games.   

    Qualified Content is Now for Screen

    The Korean platforms of web novels are not left behind by the Chinese ones; their sales reached USD 83 million in 2016. Local web series are expected to be a new source of a plenty of cultural products. Popular culture critic KIM Bong-seok said that “Web fictions may have a shorter history than webtoons, but they will be filmed sooner or later.”

    Web fiction is definitely an attractive form of cultural product. Firstly, as part of pop culture, it has a high propensity for producing stories that follow the rules of popular genres. Also, these stories have been read and validated by many users on internet, so the popular success is predictable. On top of that, it particularly has the great advantage of being already narratively structured.
    BOOKPAL’s CEO H.S KIM said that “web fictions have a format very similar to scenarios because they mainly consist of characters’ lines unlike traditional novels, which makes their adaptation much easier. Also, since a typical web fiction unfolds through many conflicts, it keeps the audience in suspense since the dramatic tension lasts to the end.” In other words, web fictions are made up of elements that make them prone to a remarkable success as a popular narrative. 

    The audiovisual prospects of web fictions, today still considered as a “blue ocean”, is about to transcend the boundaries of the computer and the TV to reach a bigger screen. Although there can be a few trials and errors like in the early times of adaptations of webtoons, web fictions are generally expected to pay off in the near future thanks to their great value of their own. In 2016, web novels platforms have started joining film production and publishers. We can expect to see the first results of that in 2017. 
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