You’ve seen the film, now read the book

Literature adapted in Korean film

The Korean Film Council recently publicised on its website the new “Book to Film” initiative aimed at bringing together the film and the publishing industries.

Of course, the practice adapting a book for the big screen is almost as old as the movie industry itself, and some of South Korea’s most successful movies have been adaptations of everything from serious novels to internet stories. A list of such films would go on for rather too long. This post is designed to list out some of those films where the original novel is available in an English translation.

With Korean cultural contents, consumers in the west are more likely to come across a work of Korean literature through film rather than through reading the book in translation. But seeing the film can often make you want to read the book. And while Korean translated literature is by no means mainstream, it can be found, with more becoming available all the time.

Over the years, I’ve been jotting down all the films where I’m aware that the screenplay is based on a Korean (or sometimes Japanese) novel which is available in an English translation. I recently lost those notes, and am now painfully reconstructing them. But here’s a start, in the hope that others will contribute. I know I’ve probably missed some really obvious ones. I’ll certainly add to the list below as I come across new examples or if ever I find my notes.

In no particular order:

Director Film Author English title Availability
Song Hae-sung Boomerang Family Cheon Myung-kwan Modern Family White Pine |
Lim Woo-seong Vegetarian Han Kang The Vegetarian Portobello Books |
Im Kwon-taek Seopyeonje Lee Cheong-jun Seopyeonje – the Southerners’ Songs Peter Owen |
Im Kwon-taek Beyond the Years Lee Cheong-jun Seopyeonje – the Southerners’ Songs Peter Owen |
Im Kwon-taek Taebaek Mountains Jo Jung-rae Taebaek Mountains Forthcoming
Im Kwon-taek Genealogy (Jokbo, 1979) Kajiyama Toshiyuki The Clan Records University of Hawai’i Press | | LKL review
Im Kwon-taek Village in the Mist (1983) Yi Mun-yol An Anonymous Island New Yorker Magazine (subscribers only) | LKL review
Im Kwon-taek Hwajang / Revivre (2014) Kim Hoon From Powder to Powder, in Land of Exile Routledge / ME Sharpe | | LKL review
Shin Sang-ok My Mother and Her Guest (1961) Chu Yo-seop Mama and the Boarder (1935) (in A Ready-Made Life: Early Masters of Modern Korean Fiction Ed Kim Chong-un & Bruce Fulton) University of Hawai’i Press |
Im Sang-soo The Old Garden Hwang Sok-yong The Old Garden Seven Stories Press | | LKL review
Jeong Ji-yeong White Badge Ahn Jung-hyo White Badge Soho Press |
Jang Sun-woo Petal Choe Yun There a Petal Silently Falls Columbia University Press | | LKL essays
Yu Hyun-mok Kim’s Daughters Park Kyung-ni The Curse of Kim’s Daughters (1962) Homa & Sekey |
Yu Hyun-mok Martyrs (1965) Richard E Kim The Martyred (1964) Penguin (2011) | | LKL review
Yu Hyun-mok Descendants of Cain (1968) Hwang Sun-won Descendants of Cain (1954) ME Sharpe (1997) |
Jeon Soo-il My Right to Ravage Myself (2003) Kim Young-ha I have a right to destroy myself Harcourt | Amazon | LKL Review
Byun Hyuk The Scarlet Letter Kim Young-ha Photoshop Murder (and Meditation on Mirror – not yet translated) Jimoondang |
Yu Hyun-mok Son of Man (1980) Yi Mun-yol Son of Man Brother Anthony’s site
Jang Yoon-hyeon Hwang Jin-yi Hong Seok-jung Hwang Jin-yi (excerpt published in Literature from the “Axis of Evil”) Words Without Borders |
Lee Man-hee The Road to Sampo Hwang Sok-yong The Road to Sampo and Other Korean Short Stories Pace Pub |
Kim Su-yong Mist (1967) Kim Seung-ok Record of a Journey to Mujin (In Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology, 1908-1965)
Ko Young-nam The Shower Hwang Soon-won The Shower (In Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology, 1908-1965); also available separately online on Brother Anthony’s website Brother Anthony |
Han Hye-jin and An Jae-hoon Leafie, a Hen into the Wild (2010) Hwang Sun-Mi The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly Penguin, 2013 | | LKL Review
Song Hae-sung Maundy Thursday (2006) Gong Ji-young Our Happy Time Short Books, 2014 | | LKL Review
Choi Ha-won Trees on a Slope (1968) Hwang Sun-won Trees on a Slope (1960) Univ of Hawai’i, 2005 |
Kim Ho-Seon Yeong-Ja’s Heydays (1975) Cho Seon-jak Young-ja’s Heyday (1973) in The Preview and Other Stories Jain, 2003 |
Park Chong-won Our Twisted Hero (1992) Yi Mun-yol Our Twisted Hero (1987) Hyperion, 2001 | | LKL review

5 thoughts on “You’ve seen the film, now read the book

  1. You have listed White Badge, and there are two other novels by Ahn Jung-hyo, written in both Korean and English by the author, that have been filmed. The first to be filmed was Silver Stallion (1991), directed by Chang Kil-soo, and the third, which I haven’t seen, was Llife and Death of the Hollywood Kid (Chung Ji-young, 1994).
    Ahn Jung-hyo translated Kim Sung-dong’s novel Mandala, which was filmed by Im Kwon-taek, with Ahn Sung-ki, in 1981.

  2. On second thoughts, I suspect there’s no English edition of “Hollywood Kid”. Certainly I’ve never seen a copy, and I can’t find any reference to one on the internet. I have read Silver Stallion in English, and I see it’s on Amazon.

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