ENTERTAINMENT

Future of ‘Okja’ uncertain in Korea

By Rumy Doo

Clash between online streaming giant Netflix and cinemas spreads

  • Published : Jun 5, 2017 - 16:48
  • Updated : Jun 5, 2017 - 16:48
The future of Bong Joon-ho’s much-anticipated Netflix-backed fantasy flick “Okja” has become murky in Korea, as the local cinema industry begins to mirror the conflict between online streaming and theatrical screenings that took center stage in Cannes last month.

Last Friday, Korea’s largest cinema chain CGV announced it would not show “Okja” in its theaters unless Netflix agreed to postpone online streaming until after the film’s theatrical debut. Other major cinema chains, Lotte Cinema and Megabox, have since been deliberating over whether to show the film, they said. Final decisions are to be announced some 10 days before the film’s release, the two companies said.

“The simultaneous online and theater release goes against the order of the global film industry’s distribution structure,” CGV said in a statement. “It not only destroys the ecosystem of the film industry, it is not in accord with fairness in regard to other film businesses and could cause severe confusion,” said CGV, criticizing Netflix’s staunch stance.

Still from “Okja” (NEW)

There is no regulation in Korea concerning the timing of release of films in theaters and other platforms.

The cinema giant, which operates some 39 percent of the country’s film screens, added it would not collaborate with Netflix on any type of marketing, including advertisements, for “Okja.”

The clash between the world’s largest online content streaming service -- Netflix boasts some 98 million subscribers worldwide -- and the film industry began ahead of this year‘s Cannes Film Festival, which ran from May 17-29. Netflix announced it would not seek wide theatrical releases for its submissions -- “Okja” and “The Meyerowitz Stories” -- in France after the film fest. The country’s cinema purists rose in uproar against the online giant for undermining the big-screen cinema experience, and Cannes hastily implemented a new rule stating only movies planned for theatrical release in France would be able to compete at the film fest in Cannes starting from next year.

Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos addressed the conflict at Cannes, saying, “The culture is changing and we listen to our 100 million customers. ... I think we all have to come to grips with where technology takes us.”

“Okja” has drawn attention in Korea since its inception, with $50 million in backing from Netflix, actor Brad Pitt as one of its producers and Hollywood stars Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal among its cast.

For now, “Okja” is slated to open simultaneously in Korean and North American theaters, and on Netflix’s streaming service in some 190 countries on June 29. The film will be shown in 10 theaters in the UK on June 23.

Next Entertainment World, the film’s theatrical distributor here, is in the process of revising the marketing and screening schedule for the film since CGV’s boycott announcement.

By Rumy Doo (doo@heraldcorp.com)