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:

DirectorFilmAuthorEnglish titleAvailability
Song Hae-sungBoomerang FamilyCheon Myung-kwanModern FamilyWhite Pine |
Lim Woo-seongVegetarianHan KangThe VegetarianPortobello Books |
Im Kwon-taekSeopyeonjeLee Cheong-junSeopyeonje – the Southerners’ SongsPeter Owen |
Im Kwon-taekBeyond the YearsLee Cheong-junSeopyeonje – the Southerners’ SongsPeter Owen |
Im Kwon-taekTaebaek MountainsJo Jung-raeTaebaek MountainsForthcoming
Im Kwon-taekGenealogy (Jokbo, 1979)Kajiyama ToshiyukiThe Clan RecordsUniversity of Hawai’i Press | | LKL review
Im Kwon-taekVillage in the Mist (1983)Yi Mun-yolAn Anonymous IslandNew Yorker Magazine (subscribers only) | LKL review
Im Kwon-taekHwajang / Revivre (2014)Kim HoonFrom Powder to Powder, in Land of ExileRoutledge / ME Sharpe | | LKL review
Shin Sang-okMy Mother and Her Guest (1961)Chu Yo-seopMama 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-sooThe Old GardenHwang Sok-yongThe Old GardenSeven Stories Press | | LKL review
Jeong Ji-yeongWhite BadgeAhn Jung-hyoWhite BadgeSoho Press |
Jang Sun-wooPetalChoe YunThere a Petal Silently FallsColumbia University Press | | LKL essays
Yu Hyun-mokKim’s DaughtersPark Kyung-niThe Curse of Kim’s Daughters (1962)Homa & Sekey |
Yu Hyun-mokMartyrs (1965)Richard E KimThe Martyred (1964)Penguin (2011) | | LKL review
Yu Hyun-mokDescendants of Cain (1968)Hwang Sun-wonDescendants of Cain (1954)ME Sharpe (1997) |
Jeon Soo-ilMy Right to Ravage Myself (2003)Kim Young-haI have a right to destroy myselfHarcourt | Amazon | LKL Review
Byun HyukThe Scarlet LetterKim Young-haPhotoshop Murder (and Meditation on Mirror – not yet translated)Jimoondang |
Yu Hyun-mokSon of Man (1980)Yi Mun-yolSon of ManBrother Anthony’s site
Jang Yoon-hyeonHwang Jin-yiHong Seok-jungHwang Jin-yi (excerpt published in Literature from the “Axis of Evil”)Words Without Borders |
Lee Man-heeThe Road to SampoHwang Sok-yongThe Road to Sampo and Other Korean Short StoriesPace Pub |
Kim Su-yongMist (1967)Kim Seung-okRecord of a Journey to Mujin (In Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology, 1908-1965)
Ko Young-namThe ShowerHwang Soon-wonThe Shower (In Modern Korean Literature: An Anthology, 1908-1965); also available separately online on Brother Anthony’s websiteBrother Anthony |
Han Hye-jin and An Jae-hoonLeafie, a Hen into the Wild (2010)Hwang Sun-MiThe Hen Who Dreamed She Could FlyPenguin, 2013 | | LKL Review
Song Hae-sungMaundy Thursday (2006)Gong Ji-youngOur Happy TimeShort Books, 2014 | | LKL Review
Choi Ha-wonTrees on a Slope (1968)Hwang Sun-wonTrees on a Slope (1960)Univ of Hawai’i, 2005 |
Kim Ho-SeonYeong-Ja’s Heydays (1975)Cho Seon-jakYoung-ja’s Heyday (1973) in The Preview and Other StoriesJain, 2003 |
Park Chong-wonOur Twisted Hero (1992)Yi Mun-yolOur 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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