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Special Section
Vol.14 Winter 2011 (Page 17-19)
From Print to Screen and Back Again
by Yang Sunghee

My Sweet Seoul (2008)
  The Dramatization of Novels, the Novelization of Dramas

Hollywood is well known for its heavy dependence on bestsellers for interesting stories, and a large number of Japanese films and dramas have their roots in comic books and novels. Likewise, Korean television dramas are always on the lookout for fresh stories. As we can see from the success of the Harry Potter movie franchise, quality works of literature are increasingly proving themselves to be a great source for multimedia adaptation, a trend that is now prevalent in Korea as well. Television drama writers are constantly searching for material gleaned from stories in novels, and likewise popular dramas are commissioned for novelization. Such practices are part of a natural progression of the contemporary
entertainment industry, which seeks to maximize profits through the multimedia adaptation of a single content source.

The Dramatization of Novels

In Korea, novels that are adapted for television dramas are, for the most part, genre fiction. Many of these works by new or unknown writers that have been picked up by small to medium-sized publishers have been adapted into huge hits.
      The most notable recent drama adaptation is “The Deep-Rooted Tree,” (2011) a period mystery drama based on Lee Jung-myung’s novel of the same title about King Sejong, the king who created Hangul, the Korean alphabet. Lee, who is famous for period fiction with creative plotlines, successfully reconstructs the development process of the Korean writing system and imagines what conflicts might have surrounded it, digging deeper than what appears in the annals of the Joseon dynasty. Shedding new light on King Sejong, the most revered monarch of the Joseon era, is the story’s other main focus. The participation of the screenwriting duo Kim Young-hyun and Park Sang-yeon of “The Great Queen Seondeok” fame has also created a great buzz for the drama.
      “The Painter of Wind” (2007) is another drama adaptation of Lee Jung-myung’s work based on the provocative assumption that Shin Yun-bok, a brilliant painter from the Joseon era, was in fact a woman. Moon Geun-young, beloved as “every Korean’s little sister,” assumed the role of Shin Yun-bok in the drama as a woman who disguises herself as a man, which earned her the nickname of “every Korean’s little brother.” The idea that Shin Yun-bok was in fact a woman was also used in the film “Portrait of a Beauty” produced at approximately the same time as the drama.
      The drama “Sungkyunkwan Scandal” (2010) is based on Jeong Eun-gwol’s period romance about four teenagers from the Joseon era, The Days of Sungkyunkwan Confucian Students. The story is about a girl from a ruined noble family who disguises herself as a boy and becomes a Sungkyunkwan pupil. Based on the “girl disguised as a boy” plot device, the drama tells the coming of age story of four Sungkyunkwan pupils, poking fun at the patriarchy that dominated society and contemplating a new era with the reformist King Jeongjo. Thanks to the great popularity of the cast including Song Joong-ki and former TVXQ member Park Yucheon, the drama also enjoyed great popularity as a part of Hallyu, the Korean Wave. The girl disguised as a boy and fictional history (faction) devices are currently the hottest tropes in Korean dramas. The girl disguised as a boy motif represents a catalyst that challenges the fixed paradigm of patriarchy and heterosexuality and upsets the existing order. A fictionalized history reflects the shift in social perception that allows history to be the subject of light-hearted and playful reconstruction instead of being heavy with the weight of the past.
      Other notable Korean dramas adapted from novels include “My Lovely Sam-soon” (2005, original story by Ji Su-hyeon), a Korean version of Bridget Jones’s Diary; “Coffee Prince” (2007, original story by Lee Seon-mi), a romantic comedy based on the girl disguised as a boy plot with a touch of homosexuality; “Gyeongseong Scandal” (2007, original story by Lee Seon-mi) used the politically oppressive Japanese colonial period as a unique backdrop for romance; and “Rooftop Room Cat” (2003, original story by Kim Yu-ri), a romance  
My Lovely Sam-soon (2005)
featuring a female leading character who comes from a humble background but is full of positive energy. The huge popularity of “Rooftop Room Cat,” the first drama adaptation of an Internet novel, bolstered the popularity of commercial fiction as a source material for dramas.
      With the exception of “Gyeong-seong Scandal,” every drama mentioned above is a typical romantic comedy featuring a romance between a rich man and a girl from a humble background. However, they were successfully able to avoid becoming cliches by creating confident and guileless female leads. For instance, “My Lovely Samsoon” featured Kim Seon-ah as a likable pastry chef with plain looks and “Coffee Prince” featured Yoon Eun-hye as an energetic girl from a humble background who disguises herself as a boy in order to get a job at a coffee shop with an all-male staff. In both dramas, the good-looking but bratty rich boys fall hard for the female character’s guileless personality, stroking the ego of female viewers.
      Although not so common as genre fiction, literary fiction is also being adapted into TV dramas and films. “The Immortal Yi Sunshin” (2004) focused on the private side of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, based on Kim Hoon’s The Song of the Sword and Kim Takhwan’s The Immortal Yi Sun-shin. A journalist turned novelist, he writes exquisitely about the individual’s struggle against dominant social  discourse or pressure to protect his or her identity. Kim Hoon’s portrait of Yi Sun-shin in The Song of the Sword shed Yi’s image of being a national hero and revealed his private side, gaining a huge following and enjoying a popularity rivaling that of the novel itself. In addition to The Immortal Yi Sun-shin, Kim Takhwan’s I, Hwang Jin-i was made into the drama “Hwang Jin-i” (2006). Hwang Jin-I is a historic figure from the Joseon era who, despite her position as a gisaeng, or courtesan, defied the limits imposed upon her by feudal society with her beauty, talent, and spirit. In the drama, Ha Ji-won assumed the title role and conveyed the image of a strong independent woman who defies her destiny.
      A passionate writer who abandoned the security of a tenured professorship to focus on his writing career, many of Kim Takhwan’s novels have been popular for adaptations. Following the dramatization of The Sound of Thunder, The Immortal Yi Sunshin and Hwang Jin-i, early this year The Secret of the Virtuous Widow was made into the hit film “Detective K: the Secret of a Virtuous Widow.” Another film based on his novel Gabi the Russian is awaiting release under the title “Gabi,” and the film rights for A Court Lady from Joseon in Paris, The Banggakbon Murder Case, and The Arrest of the Ghost by a Buyeo County Official have already been sold.
      In another example, Jung Yi-hyun’s My Sweet Seoul was adapted into a drama of the same title in 2008, a romance portraying the love life of young urban ladies. The actress Choi Kang-hee, who is renowned for her great sense of fashion among young women, received critical acclaim for her portrayal of a modern woman.
      The greater popularity of genre fiction for drama adaptation, compared to serious literary fiction, can be explained by literature’s slow response at incorporating changes in social conditions and lifestyle that TV dramas are required to incorporate almost instantaneously. Korean literature, however, has been a greatresource for Korean film, now enjoying its second golden age. “The film My Wife Got Married” (2008) featuring Son Ye-jin as the female lead, adapted from Park Hyun-wook’s novel of the same title, created a sensation when it was released. The story revolves around a woman who dares to have both a husband and a lover.
      Many works of popular writer Gong Jiyoung have been made into hit movies including “Our Happy Time” (2005) and “The Crucible” (2011), proving her novels’ strength as original stories. “Our Happy Time,” featuring Kang Dong-won and Lee Na-young, looked into the issue of capital punishment and triggered an anticapital punishment movement. The most recent film adaptation of her work, “The Crucible,” starring Gong Yoo, is a story about heinous sexual abuse that occurred at a school for children with disabilities and the corrupt and broken system that ignores such injustices, addressing the serious issue of child sexual abuse. A writer representing the 386 generation (referring to the generation of Koreans who were born in the 1960s and attended college in the 1980s when the military dictatorship collapsed), Gong’s work has been frequently made into movies including “Go Alone Like a Rhinoceros Horn” (1993). A strong focus on social issues and intense drama based on true stories makes her work great for screen adaptation.
      In recent years graphic novels have been sought after for TV and screen adaptation. Kang Full and Huh Young-man are among the most popular. The great popularity of Kang Pool’s work and the humane messages of many of his stories led to screen adaptations of five of his graphic novels: “APT” (2006), “Innocent” (2008), “The Fool” (2008), “I Love You” (2010), and “Pain” (2011). The popularity of his graphic novels, however, did not translate into screen success, making his work one of the toughest original stories for adaptation.
      In contrast, Huh Young-man’s works have enjoyed great success both at the box office and in TV ratings, including the top grossing film of 2006, “Tazza: the High Rollers” starring Jo Seung-woo and Kim Hye-su. “Le Grand Chef” has also been adapted into two commercially successful feature films (2007, 2009) and a hit TV
drama (2008).
      One emerging graphic novel artist of note is Yoon Tae-ho. The screen adaptation of his work “Moss” (2010) by director Kang Woosuk highlighted his great ability for strong plot. Won Su-yeon is another graphic novel artist whose work has been adapted television dramas, mostly romantic stories such as “Full House” (2004), starring Song Hey-kyo and Rain, and “Marry Me, Mary” (2010), starring Moon Geun-young and Jang Geun-suk.

Novelization of Dramas

The novelization of dramas is also increasingly becoming a common practice. This is particularly true for hit dramas, with the majority of popular dramas being adapted into novels. Recently, a graphic novel type adaptation featuring only drama scenes and dialogue is becoming more common.

Sungkyunkwan Scandal (2010)
        Most hit dramas, such as “Secret Garden” (2010) that made Hyun Bin enormously popular, “You’re Beautiful” (2009), famous for making Jang Guen-suk a superstar in Japan, “My Girlfriend is a Nine-tailed Fox” (2010), a drama that once again proved the great sensibility of its writers, the Hong sisters, and “The Greatest Love” (2011), have been adapted into either a graphic novel or novel immediately after they were completed. In some cases a novel adaptation is commissioned in advance based on the synopsis to be
released as soon as the drama goes on air. The novel adaptation of “The Princess’ Man,” a drama about a Romeo and Juliet-like romance during the period of political warfare from the Joseon era, was released as a tie-in with the drama.
      The novel adaptation of a hit drama “The Great Queen Seondeok” (2009) was also published. This drama opened the door for a wave of female-oriented political dramas by focusing on the female character Mishil, a historic figure briefly mentioned in Hwarangsegi. Famous dramas such as “Winter Sonata” (2002), which triggered the Korean Wave, and “Dae Jang Geum” (2003), have all been adapted into novels. Both “Winter Sonata” and “Dae Jang Geum” have been adapted into a novel, musical, animation, and comic book.
      This novelization of popular dramas is becoming increasingly common as a business model for diversifying ways to generate profit from an original content source. The greatest market growth engine for the novel adaptation of hit dramas is a loyal fan base at home and abroad who long to repeat the experience of watching the drama through another medium.
      A case in point is the writer Noh Heekyoung, who has a huge cult following, and has published a collection of her drama scripts as well as novel adaptations of her own dramas. The quartet “The Most Beautiful Goodbye” (1996), which she dedicated to her late mother, is one of the novel adaptations she worked on. She also published original scripts and received great reviews. Noh’s published TV scripts include “The World That They Live In” (2008), a story about life and romance of diverse people working for a broadcasting company starring Song Hye-kyo and Hyun Bin; “Lie” (1998), her career making drama with a searing look at the psyche of a couple in an adulterous relationship; and “Goodbye, Solo” (2006), a story of people who are suffering from a loneliness hard to shake off, whether they are in love or not.
  1. The Painter of Wind (2 volumes)
Lee Jung-myung
Mllionhouse Publishing Inc., 2007, 266p,
ISBN 9788991643260 (Vol. 1)

2. The Immortal Yi Sun-shin (8 volumes)
Kim Takhwan
GoldenBough Publishing Co.,Ltd.
2004, 348p. ISBN 9788982736827 (Vol. 1)

3. The Days of Sungkyunkwan Confucian Students (2 volumes)
Jeong Eun-gwol, Paranmedia
2009, 423p, ISBN 9788963710051 (Vol. 1)

4. My Sweet Seoul
Jung Yi-hyun, Moonji Publishing Co., Ltd.
2006, 442p, ISBN 9788932017150