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“The maverick outlaw and master magician Hong Gildong is not only the Korean Robin Hood but he is a genuine Asian superhero,” notes historian Minsoo Kang. Kang recently translated the long version of the The Story of Hong Gildong into English, making it available to American readers for the first time.

The cover may seem surprising for a classic work believed to date back to the late 16th century (though recent scholarship suggests it only dates back to the 19th century), but the story has been influencing Korean pop culture for a long time. The name “Hong Gildong” is the functional equivalent of “John Doe,” even as the character is as ubiquitous in Korea as Superman is in the US. The covers of the “Hong Gildong” comic books from the 1960s, for example, were created by the pioneering comic artist Shin Dong Wu.

In 1967, Shin Dong Wu’s brother, Shin Dong Heun, made a film version of the comics, which was the very first full-length animated movie in the history of Korean cinema.

The story of Hong Gildong, a boy who becomes a bandit, punishes the corrupt, and eventually becomes a king, is so popular that it even inspired a North Korean movie made in 1986. Apparently a big hit in Eastern Europe, the entire film is available for viewing on YouTube (with English subtitles).

 

In South Korea, the story inspired the TV drama, “Hong Gildong the Hero,” which ran in 2008. The female lead is Sun Yu Ri, a former member of the K-pop group Fin.K.L.

In 1935, a silent movie version of the story was announced in the Korean newspaper, Donga Ilbo.

Described as “half fairy tale, half protest novel,”The Story of Hong Gildong has endured a long time. Gene Luen Yang will soon be giving us a Chinese Superman in the form of Kenji Kong from Shanghai, who will inherit the powers of the Man of Steel. In the meantime, should you be looking for a Korean version of the stalwart superhero, why not give Hong Gildong a try? (Thanks to Minsoo Kang for links to these historical images.)

1 Comments

  1. It’s an interesting idea for a Penguin Classic release but the real story here is that there is not a single copy of the original 1967 movie anywhere on earth! Yep, so lowly thought of was the ROK’s animation back in the 70’s that nobody bothered to store a copy of the film and so, as far as is known, it doesn’t exist anymore.
    I learnt of this because I collect original South Korean animated film posters for which sadly, there’s the same problem- not a single original poster for the film anywhere.

    Now, if by chance you hear of an original copy of the film being stored in someone’s dark and dank basement, I reckon you’ve struck gold and should offer to clean their basement out for them!
    I reckon a copy of it would be worth at least a million $ to the South Korean government who would buy it, restore it over 2 years and then re-release it.

    Yeah, and if you find an original copy of the film’s poster, do let me know as I’ve searched long for this around South Korea- I reckon it’d be worth around $10K to the right collector.

    Hmm, the Korean animator Kim Chong Gee also made an animated version of Hong Gil Dong in the 90’s. He signed an original poster from the film for me and I also manged to collect an original script from his version which was cool, as it is a total homage to the lost orginal from Shin Dong Heun.

    Oh, and I saw Shin Dong Heun walking around SICAF in 2002 wearing a black beret. I was going to say hi but my Korean was limited and I decided it was better not to stress the old man out.