Book vs. Movie: Priest
By Russ Bickerstaff
May 14, 2011
In this corner: the Book. A collection of words that represent ideas when filtered through the lexical systems in a human brain. From clay tablets to bound collections of wood pulp to units of stored data, the book has been around in one format or another for some 3,800 years.
And in this corner: the Movie. A 112-year-old kid born in France to a guy named Lumiere and raised primarily in Hollywood by his uncle Charlie "the Tramp" Chaplin. This young upstart has quickly made a huge impact on society, rapidly becoming the most financially lucrative form of storytelling in the modern world.
Both square off in the ring again as Box Office Prophets presents another round of Book vs. Movie.
Inspired by the lead character from a late ‘90s computer game, Korean artist Min-Woo Hyung created a comic book featuring a cursed priest fighting demons with guns in the old west. The series, which started in 1998, ran for quite a few years. The comic book (referred to as a "Manwha" in Korea) was appealing enough on an international level that Tokyo Pop imported the series into an English translation for American audiences. The jump across the Pacific was successful enough that the premise caught the eye of Hollywood.
As early as 2005, Screen Gems bought a script for something of an adaptation of the comic book written by Cory Goodman. Less of an adaptation and more of a story inspired by Hyung’s original work, the film finally gets its release over half a decade after the original sale of the script. (Originally slated to be directed by Adnrew Douglas and starring Gerard Butler, the film that sees release was directed by Scott Stewart and starring Paul Bettany. The release has met a few complications since the completion of principal photography.) The mix of horror/western/action genres that made the original comic book an international success is conspicuously missing in the film. How will the film measure up to the comic book that inspired it?
According to an interview with Min-Woo Hyung found in Volume 3 of the Tokyo Pop presentation of the series, American comic books aren’t terribly popular in Korea. Having an American uncle, Hyung was exposed to American work from a very early age, which developed in him an appreciation for American culture. Various sources of inspiration came together for him in the creation of Priest. A character with a wide-brimmed hat — something of an undead hero found in the 1997 PC game Blood - had caught his eye. In the realm of comic books, Hyung found a great appreciation for Mike Mignola’s Hellboy. Mix those two things with a healthy love of old Sergio Leone westerns, and you have a pretty vivid idea of what Min-Woo Hyung’s Priest looks and feels like.
The story itself isn’t all that good. This is perfectly okay as it’s not all that bad either. It tells the tale of Ivan Isaacs, a priest who was born an orphan. As the story begins, he is something of a tortured Clint Eastwood-type drifting from place to place with guns and a clerical collar. He fights his way through a host of demons in the old west and we gradually discover that Ivan had been researching an artifact for the Roman Catholic church called the Domas Porada - evidently an earthly prison for devils. Things go awry as they usually do with Catholics and devils and before long, Ivan is wandering the west as a half-undead scourge on all things nasty. The priest is cursed. Half his soul is not his own.