Netflix and Korean Cinemas at Standstill Over ‘Okja’

South Korean Cinemas Refuse to Screen Boon Joon-Ho's 'Okja'


With just a day remaining before the June 28 EST release of Okja the Netflix backed film by Snowpiercer and The Host director Boon Joon-Ho continues to be blocked from theatrical release by the three biggest theater chains in South Korea, CJ-CGV, Megabox, and Lotte that control about 90% of the market.

‘Okja’ tells the story of a young South Korean girl and her giant pet pig, “Okja”. Okja is stolen and her owner will stop at nothing to bring her pet back home. The rescue mission finds the two “caught in the crossfire between animal activism, corporate greed and Scientific ethics.”

With these hot button topics it is easy to see how the film could be controversial. However, the contents of the film are not the issue, but how the film is going to be released to the public.

Netflix announced plans to simultaneously release ‘Okja’ on its website and in theaters. While release of film titles in theaters and on online platforms is not a new concept, the furor comes down to profits.

In South Korea films are customarily made available for viewing on internet-connected devices and streaming services about three weeks after their premier in movie theaters.

South Korean cinemas fear that the simultaneous release will cut into their profits and more troubling, can lead to a trend that may upend local and established movie distribution practices.

Since its inception Netflix has disrupted the traditional modes of entertainment consumption. For a subscription fee members rent DVDs or stream TV shows and movies from any internet connected device. This business model has proven to be massively successful and tapped into the growing market of obtaining products on demand at the leisure of consumer’s schedule. By the beginning of 2017 Netflix had 98.75 million subscribers.

In 2013 Netflix moved from a digital streaming and renting service to making and producing their own original content. This includes the award winning series ‘House of Cards’, ‘Orange is the New Black’, and full length films that span the genres or satire, action, and animation. All of their series and film have appeared on Netflix for paying members to access and the same privilege of viewership is expected of ‘Okja’.

Boon Joon-Ho revealed on a June 14 press conference in Seoul that the current tension between Netflix and the South Korean could be blamed on him. Boon had spoken to distributers and Netflix about wanting the film to be shown in as many theaters in the U.S., U.K., and South Korea.

Although the three major theater chains have refused to release the movie on June 29 KST along with the premier of the film on Netflix, they have left the door open for further negotiation.

Unless talks open between the two parties it is expected that the film will only be show in small chain theaters or independent cinemas.

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By O.C.