(2nd LD) 'Okja' director throws jab at Cannes for abrupt rule change
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By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, June 14 (Yonhap) -- South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho on Wednesday threw a jab at the organizers of this year's Cannes Film Festival, saying that it should have fixed its rules regarding streaming-only films before inviting his Netflix movie "Okja."
"It would have been preferable if the Cannes festival would have put the rules in order before inviting us. Inviting us and creating a controversy, what an embarrassment," Bong told reporters at a media event for "Okja" in Seoul.
The Netflix film about the friendship between a genetically modified "super pig" named Okja and a farm girl was among 18 titles chosen for the main competition lineup for the 70th edition of the festival last month.
The cast of the Netflix film "Okja" and director Bong Joon-ho (R) poses for the camera during a press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in northern Seoul on June 14, 2017. (Yonhap)
Cannes changed its rules to exclude films without a commitment for a French theatrical release from next year, facing strong protest from the local film industry against the Netflix movie's advance to the Cannes' competition category.
"There were two Netflix films at this year's festival. We directors are busy people producing films. I don't think we can afford to study France's domestic laws while making movies," Bong said.
Co-written by Bong and Jon Ronson of "Frank," Okja follows a girl from a rural town who risks everything to prevent a multinational company from kidnapping her close friend and super pig named Okja.
The sci-fi film was co-produced by three Hollywood studios -- Plan B, Lewis Pictures and Kate Street Picture Company -- while Netflix covered the film's entire budget of US$50 million.
It stars Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal of "Nightcrawler" and "Everest," and Paul Dano of "Love & Mercy" and "12 Years a Slave," and has Korean actors such as An Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Choi Woo-shik and Yoon Je-moon among its cast.
The film isn't without controversy at home though. Simultaneously with its June 28 release on Netflix, the U.S. streaming giant promised that it will make the movie available at South Korean theaters as well. But the country's three major multiplexes -- CGV, Lotte Cinema and Megabox -- are refusing to show the film unless guaranteed a minimum three-week holdback on streaming.
So far the film has secured about 70 independent cinemas for its theatrical showing.
"The controversy was caused due to my cinematic selfishness. I am the one who provided the cause," Bong said, explaining that he envisioned the movie being shown on the big screen, alongside being released on Netflix.
Bong said he fully understands both sides of the row and expressed hope that "Okja" would become a "signal flare" in establishing new rules relating to similarly produced films.
"I fully understand the multiplexes asking for a minimum three-week hold back. Netflix's principle for a simultaneous release should also be respected."
Tilda Swinton, the British actress who plays the CEO of a company that creates Okja, said the movie in many ways is about "growing up."
"When you grow up, whatever age you're at, you don't have to give up love, you don't have to give up sense of family. ... I think that is the suggestion of the film," Swinton said.
The movie was filmed part in Korean and part in English, with a setting that spans from rural mountainous farmland in South Korea to New York. Concerns have been raised of humor and subtle nuances distinct to the respective cultures possibly being lost in translation.
But actor Steve Yeun, the Korean-American actor who plays an animal rights activist, said such nature of the film prompts audiences to focus on the "non-language relationship" between a girl and her animal friend.
"All the things that do get lost in translation kind of force, in a beautiful way, people to focus not on the extra little tidbits here and there, but it forces you to engage in the main core story, which is this non-language relationship between an animal and some girl."
Bong Joon-ho, South Korean director of the new Netflix film "Okja," speaks to reporters at a press conference for his movie at the Four Seasons Hotel in northern Seoul on June 14, 2017. (Yonhap)