South Korea Box Office: Netflix's 'Okja' Opens at No. 4, Despite Exhibitor Boycott

The Bong Joon-ho film showed on fewer than 100 screens across the country but enjoyed sold-out showings.

Bong Joon-ho's long-awaited and much-talked-about Netflix film Okja debuted at No. 4 in South Korean cinemas on Thursday, raking in 7.6 percent of the daily market share according to the Korean Film Council's KOBIS database.

Though the share may appear small, the number speaks quite loudly when examined closely as the film opened on only 94 screens across the country for a total 324 showings. There were 2,575 screens total in South Korea as of 2016, according to the Korean Film Council.

Okja debuted on about one-tenth the number of screens of the three higher-ranking films, which are all handled by major Korean distributors that also own the country's largest theater chains. Megabox Plus M's Anarchists From Colony, a period piece by star filmmaker Lee Joon-ik, topped charts as it debuted on 995 screens on the same day as Okja (44.9 percent of the market share). In second was CJ Entertainment's Real, an actioner backed by Chinese giant Alibaba Pictures starring Asian superstar Kim Soo-hyun and former K-pop singer Sulli, which opened on 918 screens. At No. 3 was Transformers: The Last Knight, which showed on 859 screens via Lotte Entertainment. The Hollywood franchise opened last week in South Korea on June 21, debuting at No. 1 as it showed on 1,739 screens.

The limited distribution is due to how the country's three major cinemas, CJ CGV, Lotte Cinema and Megabox, which are each sister companies of top distributors, refused to show Okja over Netflix's policy of no hold-back time. In South Korea, films are released on streaming platforms about three weeks after their big-screen release. Though the film directed by one of the country's most beloved auteurs enjoyed high critical praise, Okja had also stirred up debates on the "death of cinema" when it premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Nevertheless, Okja's impressive performance can be attributed to a high rate of seat occupancies. According to KOBIS, Okja topped the charts for seat occupancy on Thursday, recording a rare 100 percent. Anarchists From Colony, which topped the box-office charts, came in fifth with a 27.9 percent seat occupancy rate while Real ranked eighth at 20.6 percent.

According to Okja's local distributor, Next Entertainment World (NEW), screenings were sold out even for early-morning ones. "The early bird screenings at Busan Cinema Center in Busan were all sold out, which is the first time this happened at the venue," said a spokesperson for NEW about the cinema that serves as the official venue for the annual Busan International Film Festival. "Pre-sales for Busan Cinema Center screenings were also very high at over 80 percent, while all the screenings at Seoul's The Soop (Forest) Art Cinema were completely sold out. The overall demand for Okja across the country has been quite explosive."

Meanwhile, Okja's presales rate is ranking quite high at No. 5 (11.1 percent), as of Friday 3 p.m. (Korea standard time) according to KOBIS. Fans can also watch the film on the big screen at the upcoming Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, Asia's largest genre event, which is slated to run July 13-23 in Seoul's satellite city of Bucheon.

Exec-produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment, Okja is about a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multinational bio-food company from exploiting her best friend, the massive, titular animal named Okja.

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