South Korean filmmaker Bon Joon-ho‘s film Okja, which made its debut at Cannes, is under scrutiny in the filmmaker’s home country.


Three of South Korea’s top movie theater chains, which control 90% of screens in the country, will not screen Joon-ho’s film unless Netflix agrees to delay its streaming debut. Okja was one of two films invited to the Cannes Film Festival backed only by Netflix. But after the fact, Cannes changed its rules to reflect the wishes of the French exhibitors, to have films in competition be screened in French theaters.

“It would have been preferred if Cannes would have put the rules in order before inviting us,” Joon-ho said. “Inviting us and then creating a controversy was an embarrassment to us.” Now the controversy has spread to South Korea, which will only release the film in theaters if it is unavailable for two or three weeks on the streaming service. “Usually Netflix movies have not pushed ahead with theatrical releases in other countries,” he explained. “It was a controversy that started because of me. As a director, it’s natural to have a desire to show the movie both on streaming and movie screens.”

Okja stars Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal and was produced by Brad Pitt on Netflix’s $50 million budget. Netflix has no plans to delay the film from it’s service, which will be available in South Korea on June 28 or 29.

The movie chains, however, will continue to refuse to screen. “It is against the rules of movie distribution system,” said an official at one of the major South Korean movie chains. Independent theaters in the country have already agreed to show the political fantasy film. “It’s a good chance to revisit movie theaters that we have forgotten for a while,” says Joon-ho. “I’m satisfied with the current situations.”

Netflix has little to lose in this scenario. The streaming service is not a popular option in South Korea, but Joon-ho is already a household name, and might bring new viewers to Netflix as a result.

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