Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja will be available to Netflix users in 190 countries as well as South Korean moviegoers June 28 (June 29 Korea time), when it will be simultaneously revealed through the online streaming giant as well as Korean cinemas, the makers of the film told reporters in Seoul on Monday.
This will be shortly after the film premieres in competition at the Cannes Film Festival this month.
“Okja will open in South Korean theaters on June 29 (June 28 in the U.S.),” said Woo Taek Kim, CEO of NEW, one of Korea’s four major investor-distributors that will handle the theatrical release of the much-anticipated sci-fi drama. In terms of screening dates, he emphasized it would be “unlimited.” The number of screens are still under discussion.
As for North American and European screenings, Ted Sarandos, COO of Netflix, said Okja will be available in select U.S. and U.K. theaters. “We will have the film in theaters in select locations, as well as a qualifying run in London.”
“Netflix is extremely proud of making this film for not only Korea but also for the world,” he said.
The exec added that Netflix wishes to coexist with cinemas, not compete against them. “We’re not against movie theaters or mean to harm them in any way. I would actually like all our films in theaters,” Sarandos said, adding, “The idea of holding movies doesn’t seem like a good trade for most movie lovers. I want to give them an abundance of films [to watch].”
About the film’s debut at Cannes, he said, “This is the first time a Netflix film is competing at Cannes. It is a great honor and a great thrill to do this with Director Bong. And then six weeks later it will be available to everybody in the world.”
In the meantime, the creators of the film said that the dispute between French distributors and Cannes Film Festival over the inclusion of Netflix movies in the fest lineup has been resolved.
“Cannes is a place that celebrates art. We believe that our involvement in Okja is a celebration of art as well. Change is very difficult [in terms of distribution channels]. I would mostly like to thank Thierry [Fremaux, director of Cannes fest] for being innovative and he [invited Okja] because it’s a great film,” he said, “with very little regard for how it is distributed.”
Bong agreed, and further discussed the great amount of artistic freedom he had for the project.
“I entered the project under the condition that the film would be released through a wide distribution channel. Film distribution is, of course, important but as a writer-director I am first and foremost interested in creative freedom.… It is rare to have had this much creative freedom, for such a big-budget film anywhere in the world, a privilege only allowed to those godlike filmmakers like Spielberg or Scorsese,” said the filmmaker. “But it’s scary, too, since it means I am 100-percent responsible. Any flaw or negativity in the film would be 100-percent my fault.”
Okja cost $50 million to produce, making it the most expensive Korean-language film ever. This film backed by Netflix and Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment topples the prior record held by Bong’s 2013 Snowpiercer from CJ Entertainment, which cost $42 million and earned $86 million worldwide.
Sarandos highly praised the film, and said he sees Okja as an example of Netflix’s global initiative rather than simply a means of expanding into the South Korean market.
“We invested in this movie because it’s a great project.… It’s very heart and soul Korean, but it’s a global movie. It’s a Bong Joon Ho world’s creation, transcending language and culture,” he said. Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Dooho Choi, Woo-sik Seo and Bong Joon Ho are producers on the film. Okja is a Plan B, Lewis Pictures and Kate Street Picture Company production.
Kleiner, co-president of Plan B, said Okja was the ideal project for himself and Plan B. “Bong is one of the great artists working the medium of film, and my partners Brad (Pitt), Dede (Gardner) and I are big fans. I don’t know what the Korean translation for stalking someone is, but we’ve been [keeping track] like that with Director Bong. And when we read the screenplay for Okja, it was extremely funny, extremely visual, extremely emotional and a universal story about childhood and adulthood,” said Kleiner.
“And to create an original creature not based on a book or remake, but something that comes out of Bong’s brain and heart…[It’s like a] unicorn. [We at Plan B try to do a] film that feels like one-of-a-kind, doesn’t feel like a copy, one that is wholly original that expresses the individual voice of an artist. Brad has shown himself to be a patron of that artform as an actor and producer. [Netflix’s] War Machine is also part of this equation [and discussing it led to talks on Okja.] We needed a secure partner [for Okja], and Netflix was that partner,” said the producer.
Kleiner said Pitt read the script and visited the set of the Okja, and has been very enthusiastic about the project. Bong said the Hollywood actor-producer visited the filming in New York, and said, laughing, “At 50 he still has this sharp jaw line.” (Laughs.)
Written by Bong and Jon Ronson (Frank), Okja follows Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multinational company from kidnapping her best friend, a massive animal named Okja with whom she has lived for a decade. Young Korean actress Seohyun An, cast by Bong through an extensive series of auditions, has the lead role opposite Tilda Swinton, who plays the CEO of Mirando Corporation, a bio food corporation that wishes to use Okja for its top secret “super pig project.” In addition to the company, other sources of “obstacles” in what Bong says is “essentially a love story” between Mija and Okja include a zealous zoologist (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) and an animal rights organization with ulterior motives.
Other castmembers include Paul Dano, Lily Collins (To the Bone), Devon Bostick (The 100), Byun Heebong (a regular in Bong’s films including The Host), Shirley Henderson (Anna Karenina), Daniel Henshall (The Babadook), Yoon Je Moon (Mother), Choi Woo Shik (Set Me Free) and Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead).
The film’s mountainous Gangwon Province, Seoul and New York settings were shot extensively in parts of Korea, Canada and the U.S. Oscar winner Erik-Jan De Boer (Life of Pi) supervised the visual effects, in particular the mysterious and much-anticipated titular animal that Bong describes as being a combination of a manatee, pig and hippo.