Taking their cues from everything from Hollywood blockbusters to 17th-century poetry, K-pop acts have reinterpreted a large range of novels, films and TV shows through the years. Join us on a run-down of K-pop’s 12 most imaginative fiction adaptations so far.
Influenced by “Chunhyangjeon”
Perhaps one of Korea’s best-known folk tales, historians say that the story of Chunhyang, the heroine of “Chunhyangjeon,” may date back as far as the 17th century, although its exact origins are a source of dispute.
What is sure is that the story is one of the most beloved of Korean tales – the original film adaptation was released in 1935, and was the first Korean movie to feature sound. Several versions have been released since then, including a 2000 version starring Cho Sang Hyun.
But it is probably the 1961 version, named “Seong Chun Hyang,” that had the biggest influence on After School star Lizzy’s solo debut concept. The makers of “Not an Easy Girl” successfully recreated the hyperreal color themes and vivid costumes of the film.
The story, originally told in pansori (vocal folk music) form, tells the dramatic tale of love between a former courtesan’s daughter and the son of a powerful government official.
Influenced by “Alice in Wonderland”
The list of musicians who have taken inspiration from Lewis Carol’s timeless 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is almost endless. However, K-pop acts in particular seem keen on this as a theme, and who can blame them? With bewitching characters such as the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat and the Queen of Hearts, the book is brimming with imagery just begging for K-pop reinterpretation. Boyfriend has taken the concept in a dark and mysterious direction with its latest track “Bounce,” a release from the tellingly titled “Wonderland” album.
The music video features an eerie take on the Mad Hatter’s tea party, as well as all sorts of assorted Alice-related fun. Other acts that have used imagery from the book include Son Dam Bi’s “Queen.”
And there is also Seungri’s “VVIP,” where the BIGBANG star appears as an interesting take on the Mad Hatter.
Influenced by “Black Swan”
This atmospheric ballet-themed fantasy movie was perhaps something of a brave choice for a girl group to attempt, but one that is given credibility by that the fact that member Woori is actually a trained classical dancer. Rainbow had previously toyed with the ballet concept with the “To Me” dance routine (3:16 in the video below).
But this ambitious take on Darren Aronofsky’s schizophrenic 2010 film was maybe just a tad too ambitious for most K-pop fans, and Rainbow’s talent agency decided to stop promoting the song just two weeks after it was released.
Still, the video and the choreography feature clever explorations of the contrast between innocence and corruption – a theme explored in depth in the film. It was probably a bit too cerebral for a girl group concept, but an interesting one nonetheless.
Influenced by “The Adventures of Sherlock Homes”
The music video for this SHINee hit was a thing of joy not just for the group’s fans, but also for anyone addicted to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novels, or one of the hundreds of films, TV shows and comics they have spawned.
The boys scan high and low for clues, a mysterious woman stalks around near faux gaslight streetlamps and the dancing and singing is intercut with scenes that hearken back to Victorian London. Benedict Cumberbatch fans will be disappointed that the “Sherlock” star did not make a cameo appearance, but SHINee’s sleuthing antics make you wonder who might star in a Korean version of “Sherlock Homes.”
Influenced by “Kill Bill”
Deadly female assassins? Ultra-violent Quentin Tarantino movie about a badass lady out for vengeance? Dastardly side-kicks? Power-hungry big bosses? Eye patches? Brown Eyed Girls decided that they liked this edgy concept, and even threw in a creepy tarantula scene for the full seven-plus minute version of the music video.
Influenced by “Paradise Lost”
It seems that Brown Eyed Girls are not just movie buffs – they are also bookworms. Or at least Ga In is, anyway. Perhaps the most ambitious concept on this list, Ga In took inspiration from John Milton’s classic 1667 work of the same name.
The book takes the form of an epic poem, telling the tale of how the angel Lucifer fell from grace and became the king of the underworld. Although the book has retained its popularity, few have ever attempted to dramatize it. There was talk a few years ago of a Hollywood movie adaptation by Alex Proyas, the director of “The Crow,” but it seems that was given the heave-ho, possibly because it is such a hard ask to turn a poem full of religious symbolism into a 90 minute-or-so film. However, if you are looking for a K-pop star who can pull off a difficult concept like this, look no further than Ga In. The “fallen angel” K-pop concept has been tried (often unsuccessfully) in the past, but Ga In has managed to blend sexiness with some very dark things-that-go-bump-in-the-night themes for her latest release.
Influenced by “Crows Zero”
Not only is ZE:A’s “All Day” one of the group’s stand-out songs, it is also a boon for fans of the Japanese “Crows Zero” series of movies, which tell the story of turbulent goings on at Japan’s most violent high school. Almost as action-packed and tense as the films themselves, the music video for “All Day” is a mini epic in its own right, culminating in a dramatic gang brawl, and is jam-packed with nightclub scenes, screeching motorbikes and tense stand-offs. This is a video for action movie fans – laced with flying kicks and knockout punches, as well shots of the boys themselves looking impossibly moody and cool in school uniform.
Influenced by…scores of film noir movies
Hollywood in the 1940s-1950s was a dark, mysterious and sexually charged place, full of fast-talking, square-jawed, hard-boiled detective types, as well as seductive, destructive gals with hidden agendas. Then there were the costumes: long gloves, pin-striped suits, sharp trench coats, veils, hats, figure-hugging dresses and silk stockings.
Secret had previously visited the roaring forties with the “Madonna” concept in 2010, and also returned to the 1940-50s Americana concept with “Shy Boy,” but this was the theme that worked the best for me: a carefully executed fusion of the cinematic noir motifs with a high-tempo dance number.
Echoes of films like “Kiss Me Deadly,” “The Postman Always Rings Twice” and “The Maltese Falcon,” as well as many others, can be felt throughout.
Influenced by “The Dark Knight”
Block B is responsible for some of the best videos in the whole K-pop game (“NILLILI MAMBO,” anyone?). And Christopher Nolan represents one of the best Hollywood movie directors of the modern age. So you know you are in for a treat when Block B tries its hand at a music video inspired by “The Dark Knight,” the second installment of the most recent “Batman” film series.
The chaotic bank scenes in the music video are an amusing take on the opening of the film, replete with clown masks, explosions, and shotguns.
It is not only the Block B boys who have explored “Dark Knight”-related themes in their music videos, though. In one memorable scene in Troublemaker’s “There’s No Tomorrow,” Hyunseung experiences a burst of existential angst that involves the BEAST star transmuting into Batman’s arch-rival, the Joker, in another imaginative interpretation of the seminal movie.
Influenced by “Batman Returns,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Catwoman”
AOA channeled the Elvis Presley concert movie “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite” concept for the costumes in group’s the aptly titled debut “Elvis.”
But the girl group’s latest comeback took a more recent (also “Batman”-themed) turn, focusing on the intriguing and highly sexualized character of Catwoman.
Featured in several Hollywood movies, including “Batman Returns,” “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Catwoman,” the character has been played by Hollywood heavyweights the likes of Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry and Anne Hathaway, as well as jazz legend Eartha Kitt. Catwoman is notoriously a fan of tight leather outfits, feline mannerisms and dastardly criminal plans. Deciding that there was just too much fun to be had with this concept, and AOA decided not miss out on a moment of it. Meow.
Influenced by “Amadeus”
A breathless reinterpretation of the classic 1984 movie “Amadeus,” ToppDogg revisited some of the best motifs of this landmark classical music-themed film. “Amadeus” is a fictionalized recreation of the real-life bitter rivalry that existed between composers Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Antonio Salieri. The ToppDogg video begins with the rousing tones of Mozart’s “Symphony 25,” setting the tone. The costumes and hairstyles are also a tribute to some of the outfits in “Amadeus.”
Particularly reminiscent of the movie are sections where B-Joo and Hansol square off for a tense conduct-off that takes its cues from the movie’s own crescendo. Honsol said that the group had “watched Amadeus over 50 times” in preparation for the shooting of the music video.
Influenced by “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers”
Nobody – just nobody – would think of a “Power Rangers” concept for a K-pop girl group release. Nobody except Crayon Pop, that is. Cue white gauntlets, matching PVC tracksuits, cod-kung fu moves, garish graphics sequences, puffs of colored smoke, and gnarly-looking hog-creature bad guys equipped with plastic swords, just like the TV series.
There are even a few “Sailor Moon” references thrown in for good measure. My personal favorite moment is when the girls join forces to create an all-conquering Megazord.
Utterly weird. Utterly Crayon Pop. Utterly brilliant.
Well, now you’ve read our list, Soompiers. Now it’s over to you. Which K-pop act pulled off the most successful movie, film, or book tie-in? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
timmydee is a music geek with a penchant for pop, an enthusiasm for electronica and a hankering for hip-hop. When he isn’t writing for Soompi, he is remixing your favorite K-pop tracks – with sometimes astounding (but often catastrophic) results.
*The views expressed in this article solely reflect those of the author and do not represent Soompi as a whole.