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Ko - production in Busan
  • Netflix to Re-release OKJA to Select Theaters in the U.S.
  • by Christopher Weatherspoon /  Nov 20, 2017
  • Decision Could Point to Future Netflix Distribution Strategy

    Fans of Okja (2017) were greeted with a message on the film’s official Facebook page: “Missing your super pig best friend? You’re in luck. Okja will be re-released in select U.S. theaters on November 3. Don't miss out!”

    Okja is about the friendship between a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her genetically engineered pet super pig. The film, which carries an environmental message, features an international star-studded cast that includes Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven YEUN, BYUN Hee-bong and Jake Gyllenhaal.

    From BONG Joon-ho, the acclaimed director of Memories Of Murder (2003), The Host (2006) and Snowpiercer (2013), Okja was produced by streaming giant Netflix, and became a hot topic over the controversy regarding the film’s distribution.

    Okja had its world premiere at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palme d’Or. However, despite the film’s pedigree, Okja was only released in five theaters in New York and LA, and at a handful of theaters in South Korea and Japan due to Netflix offering the movie through its own online platform service. Netflix’s decision to open the film to online viewing while it concurrently played in theaters is contrary to the film industry’s "hold-back" practice.

    Hold-back refers to the period during which a film is restricted from being offered in another platform or format, for example, when a movie waits to move from theaters to VOD. Although South Korea has no specific laws regulating hold-back distribution windows, local distributors usually follow a three week hold-back policy. Netflix’s decision to not follow hold-back policies created distribution issues for the film in multiple territories worldwide. The French theater association also opposed the screening of Okja on the basis that it would not adhere to their four-month hold-back period. 

    In addition, many attending the Cannes Film Festival debated whether or not a movie made for online streaming could be considered a film. On the other hand, Netflix’s disruption of distribution windows and content consumption raised the question of whether traditional ‘old media’ establishments were keeping up with current film trends.

    Many see the recent announcement of Okja being re-released in theaters as a sign of Netflix’s intention to enter the theater distribution business. Though it may only see a limited re-release, if ticket sales are strong for 'Okja', which collected 320,000 spectators despite it only being offered on a small number of screens the last time around, Netflix may decide to re-release more of its in house produced content to theaters in the future. Netflix, which boasts a production war chest of US $6 billion has become a major player in film industry. With its ability to wield enormous influence in Hollywood, the world’s largest film market, the ripple of effects of Netflix’s disruptive behavior will no doubt be felt in the Korean domestic film distribution market.
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