Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
Itaewon Class, the currently airing drama based on a webtoon of the same name by Kwang Jin, is the talk of the town. The refreshing development and the sweet chemistry between Park Seo Joon and Kim Dami are captivating the viewers. Recently, the works based on webtoons are getting popular as their intuitive image compositions, unlimited materials, and solid developments are the perfect contents to used in filming.
In the early days, the webtoon-original movies faced many failures, since the forced limitations and over dramatizations in the movie created a huge gap from the original work. There was even a jinx that “the webtoon-original movies are never successful.” However, there are many works based on webtoons and significant results these days that it’s even called the “heyday of the webtoon-original movies.”
How did these works gained such popularity? We look at the 9 box office hits of the webtoon-original Korean movies and find out the reasons for their success.
- The Neighbors (Audience: 2.43 million, Box Office: 32 million USD)
This movie is based on the webtoon of the same name by Kang Pool. The Neighbors revolves around the neighbors who struggle to stop the serial killer from targeting a middle school girl living in the same apartment. The webtoons written by Kang Pool were made into movies several times because of his huge popularity, but the success did not meet expectations. However, The Neighbors broke the jinx and brought in 2.43 million people from across the country to make a hit. Many say that the cast of the movie properly suited the characters, creating a similar atmosphere of the original work. In particular, the scene where Ma Dong Seok, who played the role of a loan shark, defeated Kim Sung Kyu, who performed the role of serial killers, gave a great sense of satisfaction.
- 26 Years (Audience: 2.96 million, Box Office: 17 million USD)
The movie talks about the five people who get together to assassinate “the man” responsible for the massacre of innocent civilians in Gwangju in May 1980. The Gwangju massacre is one of the most tragic and critical events in South Korean history. The film is also based on Kang Pool’s webtoon and was decided to turn into a movie for its thrilling developments and heart-throbbing episodes. When the production faced hindrance due to its sensitive content, people longing to see the movie made small donations to complete the film. The 11 minutes long ending credit with the names of 15,000 sponsors is touching.
- Start-Up (Audience: 3.31 million, Box Office: 24 million USD)
Based on Jo Geum San’s webtoon, the movie revolves around a rebellious teenager, Taek Il, who runs away from home and meets Geo Seok, a mysterious chief, as he learns the true meaning of life. There was a lot of interest in who will play the role of Geo Seok, who leads the play. When actor Ma Dong Seok was announced to play the role, he made the headlines, raising the expectations. With the unconventional bobbed hair and heavy action, he boasted a high resemblance to the original character. The movie had concerns as it released around the same time as ASHFALL and Forbidden Dream, but it surpassed the break-even point with 3.31 million viewers.
- Moss (Audience: 3.35 million, Box Office: 22 million USD)
When Hae Gook arrived at a country village after hearing his father’s death, Mayor and other residents seem disapprovingly of him. From there out, the movie introduces thrilling and haunting tension as Hae Gook finds the shocking truth behind his father’s death that involves the Mayor and the village. The film, which is directed by Kang Woo Suk, is based on Yoon Tae Ho’s webtoon of the same name. In addition, Jeong Jae Young presented overwhelming performances by playing the role of an older man, way above his actual age, with his makeup and bold acting. Moss became a hit, attracting 3.35 million viewers in 2010, when most of the webtoon-original films barely showed any success.
- Steel Rain (Audience: 4.45 million, Box Office: 32.8 million USD)
A coup in North Korea forces agent Eom Chul Woo to defect to South with unconscious “Number One.” As operatives from North hunt them down, Eom works with Kwak Chul Woo, the senior secretary to the President for Foreign Affairs and National Security, to stop the nuclear war. Director Yang Woo Suk, also a webtoon writer, directed the film based on his original work “Steel Rain.” Since there have been significant changes in inter-Korean relations between 2011, the year the original webtoon was published, and 2017, when the movie was released, the story has changed a lot with only a few settings left from the original work. Jung Woo Sung and Kwak Do Won presented a hot bromance, and their intense portrayal of sensitive inter-Korean affairs and international affairs received favorable reviews. Following the success of Steel Rain, director Yang, and the two actors have come together for Summit: Steel Rain, which is set to be released this year.
- Secretly Greatly (Audience: 6.96 million, Box Office: 43.5 million USD)
Won Ryoo Hwan, a North Korean elite agent, is carrying out a mission in South Korea disguised as a fool. Based on a webtoon of the same name published by Hun in Daum, actor Kim Soo Hyun plays the main character Won Ryoo Hwan. With the popularity of the original work and the fact that Kim, who made a hit with his previous works, including Dream High and Moon Embracing the Sun, confirmed his role, the film made headlines even before the official release. The expectations were directly linked to the box office, which showed a drastic increase in number in just a few days within the release. Although the movie premiered on a weekday, it recorded 490,000 viewers on the first day, breaking the record for the largest number of viewers on the first day of release (for Korean films). From then on, the film surpassed 1 million, 2 million, and 3 million viewers “records” in the shortest time frame, attracting a total of 6.96 million viewers. People say that the movie proved the popularity of Kim, who received recognition even on the big screen.
- Inside Men (Audience: 9.15 million, Box Office: 61.7 million USD)
Another webtoon of Yoon Tae Ho, writer of Incomplete Life and Moss, has been made into a movie. The movie revolves around the connections among political gangster Ahn Sang Gu (Lee Byung Hun), who has information about the slush fund of the conglomerate, prosecutor Woo Jang Hoon (Cho Seung Woo), who wants to use the fact for his own success, and a chief editor Lee Gang Hee (Baek Yun Shik), who needs to cover up any information about the slush money. While the original webtoon has stopped as unfinished work, the film added the character of the prosecutor Woo to give a satisfying ending. The movie indeed went beyond the original work to provide its own charm. The ensemble presented by the three actors was also impressive. The film also portrayed the absurdities of those who hold power behind the Korean community, sending a critical message to society. Despite being rated R, the movie attracted a total of 9.15 million viewers, including 7.07 million viewers of the original movie and 2.08 million viewers of the director’s version. Inside Men still holds the highest box office in R rated Korean film.
- Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days (Audience: 12.27 million, Box Office: 98 million USD)
- Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (Audience: 14.41 million, Box Office: 109.4 million USD)
“Along with the Gods” series is considered one of the most successful webtoon-original movies. This is because not only did it make a hit with a great box office success but also had a positive impact on various sectors such as adaptations, CGs, and production methods. Based on a series of webtoons published by writer Joo Ho Min, the movie depicts the three guides, Kangrim (Ha Jung Woo), Duckchoon (Kim Hyang Gi) and Haewonmaek (Ju Ji Hoon), leading the dead to the trials held in hell with the purpose of reincarnation. The original webtoons of “The Underworld” and “This World” were each turned into “The Last 49 Days” and “The Two Worlds” and have taken in an unconventional way of filming by filming two films simultaneously. While this method reduced the filming period and production cost, it was also a risky production method.
Before the release, there were more worrisome responses than expectations. This soon became a reality. Originally, Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds was supposed to be released in the summer of 2017, but ended up being delayed to December due to last-minute production problems. Also, when the trailer was released, most fans were enraged as the popular character, Jin Gi Han, from the original work, was missing. However, despite all the issues, the movie continued to be a box office hit after its release. It attracted 2.72 million viewers during the first weekend after its release and surpassed 10 million viewers in 16 days. Also, the movie attracted 14.41 million viewers, earning the entire budget (33.00 million USD) of the two movies with just Along With the Gods: The Two Worlds. This is the first webtoon-original movie to attract more than 10 million viewers and surpassed Inside Men to top the box office of webtoon-original films.
The second series, Along with the Gods: The Last 49 Days, was also a huge success. Following the first film with 12.27 million viewers, the second film also surpassed the 10 million mark, becoming the first Korean film to hit double 10-million-viewers movies with both series. Ma Dong Seok, who made a surprise appearance in the first film, joined the second film in earnest. Also, the exciting story that links the three guides’ past fates was unfolded, grabbing the attention. With the success of the first two series, expectations are high for the upcoming sequel; the production team confirmed their plans to film the next two series simultaneously once again, hoping to release them in the following year.