When Bong Joon-ho signed up to make Okja (옥자) with Netflix, one of the conditions he stated is that the film must be released in South Korean cinemas. However, that planned release has hit a road bump as South Korea’s largest cinema operator plans to boycott the film.
CJ CGV told local media late this week that it is not planning to allocate its screens to the fantasy adventure, which had its world premiere last month in the competition of the Cannes Film Festival.
The chain’s main issue is Netflix’s decision to release the film on its streaming services on the same day as distributor Next Entertainment World (NEW)’s planned theatrical release date, arguing that it has a negative effect on the local film industry’s ecosystem. NEW had announced that it was planning an unlimited theatrical release for the film, meaning that it would play as long as there is demand to show it.
The move is also somewhat surprising considering that CGV’s parent company CJ E&M has a long history with Bong, serving as the financier and distributor on most of his films, including sci-fi thriller Snowpiercer (설국열차).
South Korea’s Lotte and Megabox cinema chains have not weighed in whether they will be showing Okja on their screens, though independent venues Seoul Cinema and Daehan Cinema in Seoul have already announced their plans to screen the film on NEW’s planned release date on the 29th.
CGV, Lotte and Megabox account for 91% cinema screens in South Korea.
The CJ ban is the exhibition industry’s latest hit against streaming services like Netflix, who have invested in big-budget original projects that are intended to attract subscribers with simultaneous global releases. Even though Netflix has offered day-and-date theatrical releases in selected territories, major exhibitors in the US refused to screen Netflix’s original films.
South Korea already has a very short cinema-to-IPTV release window, with local releases generally hitting video-on-demand services within three weeks – far shorter than France’s four-month and the US’ 90-day windows.
Also read: The Netflix debate – An Asian perspective