|Director Bong Joon-ho, center, is seen during the filming of "Okja," set for release on Netflix, June 29. Courtesy of Netflix
Nation's largest cinema chain refuses to screen ‘Okja'
By Kim Jae-heun
CJ CGV, Korea's biggest cinema chain, is waging a struggle to stop Netflix from "disrupting" the local film distribution market.
It has refused to screen "Okja," the Netflix-backed movie by world-acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho.
"Okja," a sci-fi drama starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Ahn Seo-hyun, will be released on Netflix worldwide and at movie theaters in the U.S., England and Korea on June 29 (local time).
CGV said it will not screen "Okja," as the screening may damage the "distribution order" in the film industry. CGV owns 139 out of 335 cinemas in the country.
To protect the domestic film distribution system, CGV says a Netflix-produced film should follow a three week "holdback period," meaning the U.S. company should release its film for online streaming three weeks after it opens in cinemas.
Other domestic movie theaters are also against screening the film.
Lotte Cinema, the second largest movie theater chain, said it will screen "Okja" only on condition that Netflix does not release the content simultaneously. However, Lotte added that if Netflix continues its stance to release the movie in all formats on June 29, it will only make "Okja" available at theaters later in the form of a "re-release."
Megabox, the third largest local chain, is also against the simultaneous screening of a film that debuts on the streaming service platform at the same time. It added that it will watch developments on the issue before reaching a final decision.
According to Next Entertainment World, or NEW, the Korean distributer of Bong's latest film, Netflix will not change its position on releasing its original content simultaneously online.
Netflix has invested 60 billion won ($53.5 million) in the film with Bong, who is well-known for his previous mega-scale movies such as "Snow Piercer" (2013), "The Host" (2006) and "Memories of Murder" (2003).
At a press conference in Seoul last month, Kim Woo-taek, CEO of NEW, said the film will hit the screens at theaters across the nation on June 29 along with the release online.
"On the biggest issue with screening Okja at theaters, we have closely and confidentially discussed with Netflix and concluded that Okja will receive an unlimited wide release in Korea, and this is not just at a few theaters."
Director Bong, who also attended the media event, also emphasized that he shot the movie anticipating that his film will be screened at theaters.
However, concerns surfaced earlier last month about whether the film could be screened at movie theaters as it will be released in 190 countries online.
Many film insiders expected Bong to face obstacles as this could set an example of breaking the traditional ecosystem of the film industry _ which traditionally releases a movie at theaters first before it is aired on the small screen or on cable TV, and then on online platforms and IPTV.
Korea's major multiplexes have taken dubious positions on screening "Okja" until now.
Last month, Netflix and Bong were challenged by the National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF), which spoke out against inviting the Netflix movie to the Cannes Film Festival.
The principle of the invitational work at one of the top film festivals in France is that the movie has to be screened at local theaters. The Cannes organizing committee later confirmed it would screen two Netflix productions at the festival.
Many wondered whether "Okja" and Noah Baumbach's "The Meyerowitz Stories" would win the most honorable Palme d'Or award for the American streaming service's first original content. The two project films received positive reviews, but did not win any awards.
CJ Entertainment element
Some film industry insiders believe CGV is against screening "Okja" because its mother company CJ Entertainment owns content provider service "t-ving" that is similar to Netflix.
They believe this could be a platform competition between CJ Entertainment and Netflix.
Netflix revealed its decision to simultaneously release the movie at Korean theaters nationwide came from an agreement with a request from Bong. Movie insiders believe that this was an unprecedented decision by Netflix and said it showed its trust and respect in the esteemed Korean filmmaker.
"Okja" is about a country girl Mija travelling to New York to find her lost pet Okja that has been kidnapped by Lucy Mirando played by Tilda Swinton.
Swinton will visit Korea to promote Bong's film, June 13.