Okja’s theatrical release made headlines again, with a controversy that hit South Korea, home of the film. The top three movie chains are refusing to screen the film, at the same time that’s debuted in Netflix.
Film director, Bong Joo-ho, talked about the situation and also addressed Cannes Film Festival’s rules regarding streaming only films.
Okja’s theatrical release has been boycotted
Netflix‘ $50 million action adventure film is having a hard time when it comes to a theatrical release.
The film starring Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton was expected to be screened in the largest movie chains. However, it will only be shown at a handful of small independent movie theaters across South Korea; beginning June 29.
The move comes after the tough line taken by French exhibitors, angry at Okja’s inclusion in Cannes last month. Korean theater operators have hardened their own positions.
Theaters such as CJ-CGV, Megabox, and Lotte, are refusing to screen the film. Said theaters control 90 percent of screens in the country. However, the Asian movies are offered on online platforms about two to three weeks after their big-screen debuts. On Wednesday, director Bong Joon-ho opened up on the controversy at a press conference in Seoul.
The director assumed responsibility for the fuzz in Korea. “I think (this situation) has arisen from my cinematic ambition. Netflix hasn’t tried to push through with theatrical releases (abroad) but Korea is a unique case.
“I fully understand the position of Korean multiplex theaters. … But I also think Netflix’s principle of simultaneous streaming should be respected. ‘Okja’ has been made with the subscription fees of Netflix viewers and we cannot tell them to wait until after (the movie) has screened in theaters. I respect that.”
The director expressed hope that necessary regulations and systems would be put in place as a result of this controversy. “I think this film arrived too early before the rules have been put in place. I hope it will mark the first firing shot of (the implementation) of relevant rules.”
What happened at Cannes?
Last month, the 70th Annual Cannes Festival faced backlash for a rising controversy regarding streaming services productions and a sudden change of rules.
The festival invited Netflix’s ‘Okja’ and ‘The Meyerowitz Stories‘ to compete for the Palme d’Or this year. And then it announced that movies not planned for theatrical release in France would not be eligible for the award starting 2018.
This came after the local film industry protested against Netflix movies not premiering in theaters. However, the screening in French theaters was quite a difficult move for the film. French laws stipulate movies must wait three years after theatrical release before they can be made available online.
This explains why the two Netflix films were not planned for theatrical release in France. In fact, Korea, the UK, and the US were the only countries where they are set to premiere. Both theatrical and online releases.
On Wednesday, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho threw a jab at the organizers of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. He said that the Festival should have fixed its rules regarding streaming-only films before inviting his Netflix-produced movie ‘Okja’.
“It would have been preferable if the Cannes festival would have put the rules in order before inviting us. Inviting us and creating a controversy, what an embarrassment,” Bong told reporters at a media event for ‘Okja’ held in Seoul.
“There were two Netflix films at this year’s festival. We directors are busy people producing films. I don’t think we can afford to study France’s domestic laws while making movies,” Bong said.
Multiculturalism and humanity in Okja
The sci-fi film directed by Bong is a part family movie and part political fantasy. Talking about the relationship between human and animals in capitalist society. The movie was well received by critics.
Co-written by Bong and Jon Ronson of the film ‘Frank’, ‘Okja’ follows a girl from a rural town who risks everything to prevent a multinational company from kidnapping her close friend and super pig named Okja.
It was produced by Brad Pitt on Netflix’s $50 million budget, Okja features Tilda Swinton, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano. Along with Korean actors such as A Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Choi Woo-shik and Yoon Je-moon among its cast.
According to British actress Tilda Swinton, who stars as CEO Lucy Miranda, the film suggested optimism for human growth.
“(There are) two young creatures at the heart of the film. In many ways, it is about growing up. It suggests that when we grow up, we don’t have to give up love, the sense of family, trusting each other, (and) the idea that it’s possible not to tell lies … and survive.”
Giancarlo Esposito, who stars as a top associate in the Mirando corporation, said the film was about “wonder and enchantment” for him.
“Visionary movies allow you to… look deeper inside yourself, and how you want to be toward the world around you. There’s hope, reverence for the grand architect of the universe who created this wonderful space for us to play in,” he added.