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Webtoons emerge as source for dramas, films

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Park Hae-jin, left, and Kim Go-eun in
Park Hae-jin, left, and Kim Go-eun in "Cheese in the Trap" / Courtesy of tvN

By Baek Byung-yeul

After the huge success of "Misaeng," a 2014 TV drama based on cartoonist Yoon Tae-ho's comic of the same title, "webtoons" or online comics have emerged as a major source for films and dramas.

Recent examples of this include "Cheese in the Trap," a television drama based on cartoonist Soonkki's webtoon of the same title, and "Inside Men," a film remake of another of Yoon's cartoon creations.

First aired on Jan. 4 through cable network tvN, "Cheese in the Trap" has become one of the most popular dramas, starring popular actor Park Hae-jin and actress Kim Go-eun.

The drama set a record earlier this month as a weekday cable TV drama with a viewer rating of 6 percent. In its eighth episode last Tuesday, the drama took 7.1 percent of viewers, becoming the highest-rated program to air between 11 p.m. and 12 a.m.

Lee Byung-hun in a scene from
Lee Byung-hun in a scene from "Inside Men" / Courtesy of Showbox

The political thriller flick "Inside Men," starring Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, was also received well last year. Based on Yoon's incomplete cartoon work of the same title, the film has garnered more than 7 million viewers since opening on Nov. 19. The director's cut also hit the screens last month and sold more than 2 million tickets.

With the series of successes of these dramas and films based on webtoons, more content creators are trying to bring cartoon work to the small and big screens. According to data from the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), publication rights of 73 cartoon works have been sold for dramas, films and performances as of December 2014.

The reason why webtoons have been in the limelight is probably because of their irresistible fancifulness and themes rooted in reality.

For instance, the webtoon-turned-TV-drama "Orange Marmalade" is set in a world where humans and vampires coexist, and in another webtoon-based TV drama "The Girl Who Sees Smells," actress Shin Se-kyung features a girl with a particular ability to visualize smells. "Misaeng" revolves around interns at a company, reflecting the realities of the current high youth unemployment rate. Creating webtoon-based content also has additional advantages as it can take over the spotlight the original work received.

Webtoons are not limited to dramas or films; they can are also transformed into musicals -- a musical version of "Secretly, Greatly," a webtoon-turned-film, will hit Seoul's stages on Feb. 13.

Though filming or dramatization of webtoons can bring the whole cartoon world to life, there are also limitations to the medium. For instance, star cartoonist Cho Seok's comedy webtoon "The Sound of Your Heart" is being adapted into an episodic TV drama, but it is uncertain how the show can convey the comic version's humor.

Baek Byung-yeul

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