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Korean Bookstores Dominated by Screenplays and Scripts




“Do you stop reading screenplays after watching movies in Korea?”
“It’s out… ‘in the fullness of time.’”
“The ‘unparalleled’ screenplay that I made a ‘decision’ to buy.”
“This is the only way to read the best screenplay. What else can I do?”
- Comments by fans of the movie “Decision to Leave” on their expectations for the screenplay publication parodying the movie’s lines


The movie “Decision to Leave,” released last June, is the most recent movie written by Chung Seo-Kyung and directed by Park Chan-Wook. It won the Best Director Award at the 75th Cannes Film Festival. The movie’s popularity was not as high as expected soon after its release, but the share of “en cha gamsang (n차 감상, or “n-th watcher”),” who watch the same movie several times, was as high as blockbuster movies. Thanks to its strong fandom, the film was able to run for a long on theater screens. Based on its popularity, Decision to Leave: Screenplay Book (Eulyoo Publishing Company)’s pre-orders exceeded 6,000 copies in a day and became #1 among the bestsellers. Since then, the piece has defended its position on the weekly bestsellers’ list of major online bookstores for several weeks.
The charms of screenplays, as shown in Decision to Leave: Screenplay Book, are that scenes and lines omitted or expressed differently after recording and editing are closer to their original idea before being made into the movie. For example, the main character Seorae’s (acted by Tang Wei) green note was a manuscript of Classic of Mountains and Seas, one of the oldest myth collections in China, which took several generations to complete. Her grandfather, who participated in the independence movement in Manchuria, relayed on to write the later part of the book from his imagination when transcribing it. And following him, Seorae added an autobiographical tale to the story. The presence of the book, which plays a critical role in understanding the character Seorae, appears to be more powerful in the screenplay. One can guess its importance only by seeing the cover of the screenplay, which has a page of Classic of Mountains and Seas transcribed by Seorae on a sheet of white “hanji (traditional handmade paper in Korea made from mulberry trees).”




Decision to Leave: Screenplay Book, a shot from the movie “Decision to Leave” ⓒ CJ ENM



Reading screenplays can also revive the fun and lingering impression of the movie. As “Decision to Leave” features events taking place in the unfillable gaps between languages and love throughout the movie, it is compelling to find missing emotions from the movie as you read through the delicately-woven script. The old-fashioned written language that Seorae uses, such as “in the fullness of time” and “unparalleled,” is phrasing not in everyday use and acts like a secret code of love between the two main characters. Here, her use of classical language can be explained by the background settings where Seorae learned Korean through historical dramas. The old-fashioned word choices of Seorae leave a long-lasting impression even in text. The Chinese lines show the original texts together, giving the reader a deeper understanding.
With the popularity of Decision to Leave: Screenplay Book, screenplays written by Chung Seo-Kyung and Park Chan-Wook in the past have also been highlighted. According to online bookstore Yes24, in the fourth week of July, when Decision to Leave: Screenplay Book was published, Thirst: Screenplay (That Book) and The Handmaiden: Screenplay (That Book) recorded high sales growth of 520.0% and 423.1% respectively compared to the previous week. Released in 2016, the movie “The Handmaiden” is almost the origin of the craze over screenplays. After The Handmaiden: Screenplay was published following fans’ feverish requests, many movies or dramas published their screenplays and scripts after their release. scriptwriter Chung Seo-Kyung said, “Young women who liked “The Handmaiden” taught me that you can ‘communicate’ with the audience,” in the preface of The Handmaiden: Screenplay.
It is no exaggeration to say that screenplays and scripts now dominate bookstores. The globally popular drama “Extraordinary Attorney Woo”’s script sold more than 5,000 copies in a day as soon as its pre-order began in August. The script of the drama “Our Beloved Summer,” beloved for its delicate dialogue, sold more than 100,000 copies following its release in February this year. Under this trend, the script of the drama “My Mister,” released four years ago, was recently published and gained much attention as well.




Thirst Screenplay and The Handmaiden: Screenplay





Script Extraordinary Attorney Woo (Gimm-Young Publishers), Our Beloved Summer (Gimm-Young Publishers), and My Mister (Segyeasa Contents Group)



Major online bookstores also picked hype over screenplays and scripts as one of the leading hot issues of bookstores in the 1st half of this year. This is a phenomenon unique to the Korean publishing market. Publishing company Maeum Sanchaek’s director Jeong Eun-Sook highlighted the unprecedented phenomenon in a column. She wrote, “I feel the difference from the trend of screenplays being sold well. Screenplay publication was a rarity in the publishing industry around a decade ago. At least, screenplays and scripts were not made to be read by the general public.” She points out that the phenomenon comes from the emergence of “Yeolhyeol Dokja (열혈 독자, or “avid readers”)” who want to learn everything about the piece they like and the writer. Now the scope of “Deokjil (덕질, or “enthusiastic fan activities”)” is expanding to books.
As shown in her analysis, the hype over screenplays and scripts is closely related to the remarkable growth of K-content and fan culture. So, what is happening in the book industry?


The “n-th Watching” Culture Drives the Hype over Screenplays and Script


The “n-th watching” culture, which drove the success of “Decision to Leave,” is not limited to movies. In the past, a drama’s popularity dwindled rapidly after it ended. Now, people can watch their favorite drama anywhere, anytime, which helps maintain fans’ passion even after the drama has concluded. In addition, it became a common practice to publish a script as the “n-th watching” culture became customary, which enabled fans to have a deeper appreciation and understanding of popular dramas.
The 1st half of this year especially had many quality dramas encouraging people to watch it “n-th times.” Major online bookstores’ popular selling scripts for the first six months included “Our Beloved Summer,” a drama on youth that took the first place in sales, crime drama “Through the Darkness,” and BL (boys’ love) drama “Semantic Error.” The drama’s popularity naturally led to scripts seeing high sales. According to Korea’s online bookstore Yes24, the total number of script book types in the last three years increased from 6 in the 1st half of 2020, 17 in 2021, and 21 this year. Sales also rose 108.1% compared to the 1st half of last year.




Scripts of Through the Darkness (Book21) and Semantic Error (blackD)



An official of Yes24 said, “Along with the demand to revive the touching feeling and lasting impression felt in dramas through text in a richer way, the need to own the drama, physically, was the driver behind its popularity.” There are also cases of people buying more than 1 copy of the script. The share of book buyers who purchased two or more copies of the same book among Yes24’s Top 100 bestsellers was 3.22% in the 1st half of this year. In comparison, the share of people who bought two or more copies of the popular drama “Semantic Error”’s screenplay was 7.9% during the same period, far exceeding the average by two times.


Books as a New Form of Merchandise for Fandoms of Video Content


Why do readers buy several copies of the same book? Purchasing several copies of an item is common in the fandom culture. However, the extent is not as great as something called “album kkang (앨범깡, or “buying a bunch of the same album”),” where idol fans buy albums in large volumes to get a photo card they want or to raise the possibility of being invited to a fan signing event. Similarly, people who do deokjil tend to buy two or more copies of relevant products by so they have one for actual use and one for their collection.
Kyobo Bookstore proposed that video-related publications are becoming a type of merchandise for fandoms. In the past, book-originated dramas or movies became popular first, and then their original books saw an increase in sales. But now, scripts and photo essays of video content going viral become bestsellers. Many people pick COVID-19 as the turning point for the trend. In early 2020, when COVID-19 started to spread, the movie “Parasite” won four Academy Awards, and The Screenplay and Storyboard of Parasite (Plain Archive) also saw a boost in sales. So, the movie was the herald of the hype over screenplays and scripts.



The Screenplay and Storyboard of Parasite



OTT services, including Netflix, Watcha, Wavve, Disney+, Apple TV, and other content services, peaked during the COVID-19 pandemic. A person from Kyobo Bookstore stated, “The growth of the content market, including OTT services, snowballed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The trend led other content to be born in diverse forms in the book market.” He added, “Also, from the perspective of ‘fighting each other to be consumed by users’, the traditional rivals – the book and content markets – seem to have become inseparable, creating a synergy effect during the pandemic period.”
Unlike when books were made into films and dramas, the number of books deriving from films and dramas has increased. It shows that video content is now in a higher position, and some parties in the publishing industry express concern that books may be considered an offshoot of original content.


With the rapid growth of the Korean content market,
other content is born in diverse forms in the book market.


For video content to exist, though it may not be a complete book, it is necessary to have a text-based screenplay or script. The question of whether a text or a film / drama comes first feels similar to the question of whether a chicken or egg comes first. The readers of screenplays and scripts include not only zealous fans of video content but also those who desire to feel the sensation they couldn’t feel in movies through texts. Some even read the books first before watching the videos, be they films or dramas.
The One-Source-Multi-Use (OSMU) strategy, which refers to the utilization of one engaging content IP in all sorts of formats, is becoming common. Each content seems to be partnering with other industries in an increasing variety of ways. So, while it is crucial to develop the book market’s original content, we should not turn away from the new and passionate readers who choose books to enjoy unique worldviews in the era of video content. The publishing industry may find hints of its future from people who cherish experiences provided by books while enjoying video content.



Written by Kim Hye-Gyeong (Journalist at Readernews)



Kim Hye-Gyeong (Journalist at Readernews)

#Script#Screenplay#Decision to Leave#K-content#Video Content
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