Bong Joon-ho has been making movies for the last 17 years, becoming one of South Korea’s most recognizable filmmakers across the world. But his popularity in his home country isn’t going to be enough to get his new movie, the Netflix fantasy adventure “Okja,” into theaters.
Lotte Cinema and Megabox, South Korea’s second and third largest theater chains, are refusing to screen the movie over the same Netflix controversy that was the talk of Cannes earlier this month. The country’s top theater chain, CJ CGV, backed out of releasing the movie earlier this week, meaning “Okja” will not be allowed to screen in 93% of South Korean theaters, according to Variety.
The controversy at Cannes was due to the fact that neither of Netflix’s competition entires, “Okja” and Noah Baumbach’s “The Meyerowitz Stories,” had French theatrical release dates. The festival ended up changing its rules to state that any future film that wants to compete at Cannes must be released in French theaters.
The decision in South Korea is rather similar. Netflix’s day-and-date release strategy, in which “Okja” would open in theaters and also be available to stream on Netflix, violates the country’s three-week window between theatrical release and streaming availability. The major theater chains take this window seriously, and it’s the driving force behind rejecting “Okja.”
Given Bong’s popularity in his home country, “Okja” was expected to be one of the biggest releases of the summer in South Korea. The movie is scheduled to open June 29, and now local distributor Next Entertainment World will be looking for other options of opening “Okja” in theaters. One possibility is targeting South Korea’s independent theaters, but they only account for 7% of the total screens in the country.
Most critics who have seen the film agree the big screen is the way to go, which makes the loss of the country’s three biggest chains a massive blow to South Korean audiences. We can only hope most people have Netflix and will be able to support Bong Joon-ho either way.