Korean filmmakers have always sought inspiration in Korea’s long literary tradition. This article compares three recent films—Shin Han-sol’s Karujigi (2008). Kim Dae-woo’s Pangja-jŏn (2010), and Choi Dong-hoon’s Chŏn Uch’i (2009)—with their inspirations from premodern Korean literature and examines how these traditions have been reimagined for modern Korean audiences. Karujigi retains one of the main characters of the original, Pyŏn Kangsoe, but replaces his female counterpart with a much more demure and innocent love interest. The film is notable for its inversion of gender roles, but it focuses solely on the first half of the original work, and so much has been lost thematically from the original work that it is almost unrecognizable. Pangja-jŏn takes Korea’s most famous love story, the tale of Ch’unhyang, and puts forth the servant instead of the master as Ch’unhyang’s lover. As a result, the idealism of the original is replaced by a more cynical and realistic depiction of Korean society at the time, a depiction that is perhaps more suited to a modern audience. Chŏn Uch’i is the most faithful to the themes and ideals of its inspiration. Through magic and wizardry, it brings its premodern characters into modern Seoul, showing that, in fact, some things never change, and some themes and principles stand the test of time. The tactics adopted by these writer/directors met with varying degrees of success at the box office, but they show that interest in Korea’s literary traditions is still alive and well in Korean film.
II. KARUJIGI: A HERO TORN BETWEEN LOVE AND LIBIDO
III. PANGJA-JŎN : THE SERVANT TURNS THE TABLES ON HIS MASTER
IV. CHŎN UCH’I : A CHOSŎN WIZARD IN MODERN SEOUL
V. TRADITION REIMAGINED