Bong Joon-ho, the South Korean director whose “Okja” stirred intense debate at Cannes because of Netflix’s release plans, sounded a diplomatic note Wednesday. He said that he wanted to see his film screened in theaters, but that he respected the streaming giant’s right to do as it wanted.
Bong made his comments at “Okja’s” official press launch in South Korea, even as it remained unclear whether his film would be shown widely in his homeland. The country’s top exhibitors have said they would not release “Okja” as expected on June 29 if Netflix insists on releasing the film online on the same day instead of waiting at least three weeks, which is standard practice in South Korea.
“South Korea has been a special territory for ‘Okja’ since the beginning. And I am the one responsible for the current fuss,” Bong said at the press launch in Seoul. “My cinematographer and I always thought this film should look great on the big screen, and I told the distributors and Netflix that I want it to open in as many cinemas as possible in the U.S., U.K., and Korea.”
The film was set to release theatrically in South Korea through distributor Next Entertainment World. But following the tough line taken by French exhibitors angry at “Okja’s” inclusion in official competition at Cannes last month, Korean theater operators have hardened their own positions. South Korea’s three largest theater chains – CJ-CGV, Megabox, and Lotte – have all indicated that they would not show the film if it is simultaneously released online. However, all three exhibitors have kept open the door to further negotiations.
“Multiplexes want a three-week hold-back, which I understand because that’s what is natural for exhibitors. On the other hand, Netflix has its simultaneous release policy, which I also respect,” said Bong. “New rules are being made because of these controversies.”
Bong has previously praised Netflix for financing the film, which is one of the largest-budget Korean pictures of all time, and for giving him creative freedom. On Wednesday he again underlined the rights conferred by ownership. “Netflix Originals are funded by Netflix users’ subscription fees. We cannot deprive them of their right to access the film first,” he said.
In a lighter moment, Bong suggested that he provided a necessary talking point at the Cannes Film Festival this year. “Issues and controversies are essential to film festivals. We had to do it this year because Lars von Trier was not there this time,” Bong joked.