South Korea’s largest exhibitor boycotts Netflix’s Okja, in latest flare-up in distribution battle

Exhibitor refuses to screen Bong Joon-ho’s latest movie because of plan to stream it online while it’s in cinemas – and other chains in the country may follow suit

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 12:16pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 12:17pm

Bong Joon-ho is one of South Korea’s most successful directors, but his latest film is running into major obstacles in his home country.

South Korea’s largest cinema chain, CJ CGV, is refusing to screen Bong’s Netflix-produced sci-fi drama Okja over Netflix’s plan to stream the film online simultaneously with its cinema release, according to The Korea Times. The country’s second- and third-largest chains are also weighing boycotts.

The moves come just weeks after Okja premiered at the Cannes International Film Festival, where its inclusion in the line-up, along with Noah Baumbach’s Netflix-produced The Meyerowitz Stories, stirred controversy among some cinephiles who view the rise of streaming services as an existential threat to the traditional movie business.

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Should the majority of South Korean cinemas refuse to screen Okja, which is set to open June 29, it would deliver a significant blow to its overall box office. Bong’s last film, the 2014 dystopian sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer, was a major hit in South Korea, taking roughly US$60 million there while earning less than US$5 million in its limited US release. His 2006 monster movie, The Host, was an even bigger smash in his home country, taking more than US$64 million.

But despite the pressures to create a window between cinema and online releases, as Amazon typically does with its films, Netflix seems unlikely to budge from its distribution model.

In an interview with The Times last year, Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos insisted that the company’s streaming-centered approach offers films like Okja the chance to reach the widest possible worldwide audience.

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“I think movies are special because of how well they’re crafted, how well they’re acted and shot – not because of the room that you saw them in first,” he said. “I don’t believe it’s sensible to hold back 81 million people from watching a movie so that a couple of hundred people can see it in a theatre.”