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Korean comic artist makes Hollywood breakthrough

“How would you feel if your work was being made into a movie?” cartoonist Hyung Min-woo asked at a press conference in Seoul on May 23.

A movie based on a comic by Hyung, 37, was released on May 13 in Hollywood and has made $24.4 million within 10 days of its release. With foreign sales combined, the total has already reached $62 million, exceeding the production costs of $60 million.

The movie, “Priest,” is the first Hollywood adaptation of a Korean comic book series. The original version of “Priest” is a bestselling series of 16 volumes, with sales of 500,000 copies in Korea and 1 million copies abroad.

Hyung expressed his enthusiasm at the press conference in Wangsimni, Seoul before the domestic release. “I’m very excited and nervous at the same time,” he told reporters. “I’m honored to have a press conference like this and thrilled to have a movie made out of my comic.” 
Hyung Min-woo (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)
Hyung Min-woo (Chung Hee-cho/The Korea Herald)

The movie is slightly different from the original work, with the appearance of vampires and the change of the time period. The movie is set in a future world where the world is controlled by God’s rules. The protagonist, the Priest (played by Paul Bettany), defies God’s rules and starts on a journey of revenge. If the comic books are described as “classic,” the movie is more “modern” with an added touch of science fiction.

When asked how he felt about the movie differing from the original, Hyung said, “I’m not the producer, I’m just a manhwa (Korean cartoon) artist. If I had the authority, I would have fought for the same setting, but I thought Hollywood would have its special knowhow and decided not to intervene.”

Why was Hollywood attracted to Hyung’s works? “I think ‘authenticity’ is the key. There’s no answer to what attracts Hollywood, but I think being ‘you’ is important. It’s important to solely focus on your own works. ‘Being you yourself’ is what makes you global, I think.”

When asked about how he felt about Koreans’ progress in Hollywood, Hyung said, “At first I was pessimistic about Korean work that reached Hollywood. I think I underestimated their potential. Now, I’m confident that Korean work can make a strong impression abroad.

“I also know that Korean cartoonists are under much difficulty. I feel sorry for receiving all this attention,” he said.

Hyung began his career as a cartoonist when he was 22, after receiving a runner-up prize for a cartoon entry at a comic magazine in 1994. He began to receive interest after releasing a comic strip about King Gwanggaeto the Great which is waiting to be released in June as a TV series.

The supernatural action film, “Priest,” is to be released in Korea on June 9.

By Yun Suh-young (syun@heraldcorp.com)
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