the streaming wars

South Korean Movie Theaters Aren’t Okay With Netflix’s Distribution Plans for Okja

Okja in Okja.

After a furor in Cannes over Netflix’s release strategy for Okja, the Bong Joon-ho film has kicked up another controversy in the director’s native South Korea. The film, which stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, and a very cute pig-like creature, goes live on Netflix on June 28, and is slated to open in Korean theaters, via distributor Next Entertainment World (NEW), that same day. According to The Hollywood Reporter, however, NEW, which doesn’t own theaters, is having trouble convincing theater groups — specifically one called CJ GCV — to actually run the the film. After all, if there’s no gap between the film’s streaming and theatrical release, there’s less of an incentive for audiences to get their butts into seats, instead of keeping their butts at home. Still, Okja is a new work from a well-known director (Bong directed international smash Snowpiercer and The Host), and Netflix partisans have argued that the film would still draw audiences in a theatrical release.

The South Korean debate over Okja echoes many of issues that have surrounded Netflix’s release strategies at Cannes and elsewhere. The streaming service’s logo was booed at the French film festival, as local distributors complained that Netflix had no plans to release it or Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories in French theaters. The festival also changed its rules to make a local theatrical release a requirement to earn a Cannes slot starting next year. Then, there’s the larger question of whether Netflix needs to screen its movies in theaters in the first place. On the one hand, that strategy, which Amazon has employed with films like Manchester by the Sea, can build buzz around movies and help with the awards race. On the other, why invest in a secondary distribution plan when most people can directly access your content at home? Plans for Okja’s South Korean theatrical release are still up in the air, but the film will premiere on Netflix and in theaters in the U.S. on June 28.

Netflix’s Release Plans for Okja Spark South Korean Debate