Novels in the Age of One-Source Multi-Usage (Late 1990s-Today)

In this age that we call the post-capitalism age, where art is diffused into as many different forms as possible and where art is transformed into a speculative commodity, at a time when the crisis of literature and the death of literature is constantly being discussed, ironically, the demand for novels as original stories for films is now greater than ever.


From the mid-90s up to now, out of the newly coined phrases to appear during this period, the most culturally relevant phrase, is probably “one-source multi-usage.” The phrase describes a phenomenon where one cultural item becomes reinterpreted and disseminated into different formats and genres. A good example: the play Yi was turned into a film, and the script for the play was used for the film version as well. Strictly speaking, this unfamiliar and foreign term is related to a process that is normally referred to as an adaptation. Adaptation usually involves a single process; for example, a play gets turned into a movie, or a novel is adapted into a film. On the other hand, with the phrase “one-source multiusage,” the focus is on the word “multi.” In other words, the idea is to disseminate a single artwork into as many different genres as possible. In this age of post-capitalism, where the value of cultural content is evaluated in terms of investment and profit, it’s necessary to make the most out of a single source.

This phenomenon coincides with the advent of the “10 million film,” a film that attracts over 10 million viewers. The success of director Lee Joon-ik’s King and the Clown (2005) was unexpected and came as a surprise to everyone. Worth noting here is the fact that this film is an adaptation of the play Yi. A film adaptation of a play becoming successful has its precedent in director Bong Joon-ho’s Memories of Murder (2003). Based on Come to See Me, a play by Kim Kwang-lim, this film was successful in defining the 80s as an age of ignorance and violence.

Since both the play and the film were based on actual events.the Hwaseong serial murder case of the 80s.after the success of Memories of Murder, its relationship with the play Come to See Me didn’t get much attention. On the other hand, the fact that the author of Yi contributed a great deal to director Lee Joon-ik’s film version is quite well known. Other examples of plays becoming popular films include The Big Scene by director Jang Jin, who directed the original play as well; and Welcome to Dongmakgol, director Park Gwang-hyun’s film adaptation of Jang Jin’s play. The popularity and critical success of films based on plays is one of the unique trends of the new millennium.

A notable trend of the 90s Korean literature scene is the advent of female writers in their mid 30s, and a new form of feminist literature that appeared as a result. Writers such as Eun Hee-kyung, Jon Kyongnin, and Gong Jiyoung awoke women from their slumber of motherhood and wifedom and pulled them out of their domestic setting. The best example of this is Ardor (2002), director Byun Young-joo’s film adaptation of Jon Kyongnin’s novel A Special Day That Comes in My Life. Gong Ji-Young, the author of Mackerel and Go Alone Like Musso’s Horn, and Shin Kyong-sook, the author of Deep Sorrow, both became bestselling authors and many of their novels were adapted into films. The feminism of Gong Ji-Young and Jon Kyongnin is different from the feminine sensibility displayed in Shin Kyung-sook’s novels. But what these authors all share in common is the fact that they created a new type of femininity with the support of a female readership.

In discussing film adaptations of novels after the mid-90s, one phenomenon we can’t leave out is the adaptation of online novels. The first online novel to reach the big screen was The Soul Guardians (1998). This fantasy adventure film, which was serialized on Hitel, an online portal site, holds an important place in Korean cinema history. My Sassy Girl didn’t just treat this phenomenon as a mere fad but fully embraced it. It became a huge hit and was enthusiastically received by not only fans of the original but the general movie-going public as well. My Sassy Girl (2001), titled The Bizarre Girl in Korean, was also a popular online novel before it was made into a film. At the time, Korean popular culture was obsessed with all things “bizarre.” Before, “bizarre” was an adjective used only to describe murder or heinous acts, but after the success of My Sassy Girl, the Korean word for “bizarre” became a word that described anything that was either strange or peculiar. Befitting the Guiyeoni-mania of this period, Guiyeoni’s novels were turned into films three times: Romance of Their Own (2004), which helped actor Kang Dongwon become a heartthrob, Doremifasollasido (2008), and He Was Cool (2004). Despite questionable literary and ethical values, due to their online popularity, these stories were quickly adapted into films. What’s rather problematic is the fact that, excluding My Sassy Girl and Romance of Their Own, film versions of online novels didn’t fare too well at the box office.


Welcome to Dongmakgol (2005)                                                                                              ⓒ SHOWBOX

By the mid-90s, anxiety over the future of literature reached a boiling point. Faced with the onslaught of new mediums, literary magazines were quick to discuss the diminishing stature and the death of literature. But ironically, as a source of dependable original stories, novels were becoming increasingly important to the film industry. Sometimes the film proved to be more popular then the original story; a good example is director Park Chanwook’s second film JSA: Joint Security Area, which was based on DMZ, a novel by Park Sangyon. In Park Chanwook’s film, a uniquely Korean condition.the divided distilled into an image of physical and ideological borders, and by doing so, the d...