Top S. Korean cinema chain threatens Netflix film boycott

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A top South Korean cinema chain said Thursday it would not screen a Netflix-backed blockbuster if the US streaming giant insists on releasing the film online simultaneously.

The movie, “Okja,” directed by South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, sparked controversy at this year’s Cannes film festival and triggered a similar row over distribution between Netflix and French cinema owners.

The $50 million action flick starring Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton was one of two Netflix-backed movies to premiere at Cannes this year and competed unsuccessfully for the Palme d’Or at the world’s top film festival.

Netflix wants to screen the film in cinemas in the US, South Korea, and Britain from late June and release it online simultaneously.

But CGV — the South’s top cinema operator — said it would not screen the highly-anticipated film unless Netflix agrees to not immediately offer the movie to its online subscribers.

“If Netflix wants to screen its project in movie theatres, it has to respect the rules and values of the film industry’s ecosystem,” a senior CGV official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The chain, which runs nearly 1,000 theatres, or about 40 percent of cinemas across the country, notified Netflix of its position, he said.

“We are still waiting for their answer, but the prospect of screening Okja in our theatres looks slim for now if Netflix sticks to its original stance,” he said.

Other South Korean cinema chains have not publicly said whether they plan to screen the film.

Netflix has a policy of releasing its films online on the same day that they start showing in cinemas — which triggered the row in France, which does not allow online streaming until three years after a film’s release in theatres.

Angry protests by French cinema owners even forced Cannes to change its rule to require every film in competition to be shown in French cinemas afterwards — a rule that will apply from next year, potentially preventing future Netflix films from competing for prizes.

The move angered Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who slammed what he called the French cinema establishment for “closing ranks” against the US streaming service.

Netflix is also locked in a similar battle against big US cinema chains. In 2015, most major multiplex chains refused to screen the long-awaited Netflix-made sequel to martial arts blockbuster “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”

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