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Hollywood gives Korean graphic novel sci-fi spin

2011/05/24 | 606 views | Permalink | Source

A scene from the Hollywood 3D action film "Priest", which is based on Hyung's graphic novel of the same name. The film opens in theaters on June 9. / Courtesy of SPVB

'Priest' auteur Hyung says local content has strong potential overseas

By Lee Hyo-won

Among anticipated summer box office contenders is the Hollywood 3D action film "Priest", a sci-fi vampire romp based on a Korean graphic novel.

Fans of the internationally bestselling series by Hyung Min-woo may have been surprised to see that bloodthirsty creatures have taken the place of zombies and that the classic setting was shifted to the future.

The artist, however, doesn't seem to mind what the U.S. filmmakers have done to his tale.

"Many people have actually asked if it offended me that the filmmakers changed things in my story, but I asked them back, 'Hey, would you be upset if Hollywood made your story into a movie?'" Hyung told reporters in Seoul, Monday.

This is the first time "manhwa", or a local comic, is being adapted onscreen in the United States. "It's truly an honor", he said.

Since being launched in 1999, the books went on to sell over 1 million copies in 33 countries around the world.

In particular, it won both popular and critical acclaim in the U.S., where it was introduced by famed graphic novel publisher TokyoPop. The company first proposed a screen adaptation around 2002 but the project wasn't confirmed until 2006.

Sam Raimi, best known for directing the three "Spider-Man" films, produced the movie, while Scott Stewart ("Legion"), who worked on visual effects for blockbusters such as "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" before debuting as a filmmaker, directed.

Paul Bettany and Maggie Q star as the titular "priests" or deadly warriors trained to protect humanity from vampires, while Hyung's own favorite actor Karl Urban plays the role of the vampire head Black Hat. An extended preview of the film revealed during the press event featured actors clad in dark, Goth-inspired avant-garde clothing and using high-tech gadgets to fight the undead. But they bear crosses on their foreheads like the characters in the book.

"The futuristic, sci-fi motif is what sets the film apart from the book", said Hyung. The artist nevertheless did put his 2 cents into the production. Filmmakers asked him to provide a template of the new story setting and then further developed it.

"I am very aware of the gaps between the film and the comic. Had I been at the helm of this project I would've stayed 200 percent faithful to the original and even gone further to portray scenes I haven't penned yet. But adapting something onscreen is up the filmmakers who I'm sure take into account what works in the cinema industry. I'm going to view the film as a creation of its own".

The books, which he says "pays homage to underground culture", might have introduced a new genre that fuses Western adventure with gothic horror here, but Hyung says the story's unique Korean values are what appealed to foreign fans.

"The comic's exotic appeal won points from Koreans but overseas, no matter how faithful I am to the genre (of Western gothic horror), it's not my native culture. I tried to refrain from being 'Korean' but I guess it was inevitable. I think foreigners were drawn to the story's inherently Korean drama and sentimental values".

He went on to share positive outlook for homegrown franchises.

"To be honest, I was pessimistic about the potential of Korean cultural content, including the hallyu (Korean Wave) trend. But seeing success cases, including my own, I can't deny (that Korean content sells). I am very optimistic about Korea becoming reputed as a country with lots to offer in terms of cultural content".

But Hyung voiced concern about the struggling manhwa industry.

"Both newcomers and veteran artists are having a difficult time. I feel almost apologetic for being in the media spotlight like this", he said. "While traveling overseas, I noticed how Korean works are receiving a lot of attention but many talented cartoonists are forced to quit. If their work receives exposure in one way or the other I'm certain they will do much better than 'Priest'."

In the meantime, the books remain unfinished since the last volume, no. 16, was published in 2006. The auteur says he plans to resume the story in the near future.

"Priest" the movie opens in theaters on June 9. Distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing Buena Vista.

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