South Korea's 'Okja' Distributor Enters Cinema Business

Courtesy of Netflix

Jake Gyllenhaal (Dr. Johnny Wilcox) in 'Okja'

Next Entertainment World unveiled the news not long after major local theaters boycotted the Netflix film.

Next Entertainment World (NEW), the South Korean investor-distributor that handled local distribution for Bong Joon Ho's Netflix film Okja, unveiled Thursday that it is entering the exhibition business.

NEW will begin operating its first Cine Q theater on Aug. 24 in Gyeongju, a southeastern city known for being home to South Korea's top historical attractions.

NEW plans to open a second Cine Q theater in Gumi in the country's North Gyeongsang province by the end of the year, followed by other locations across the country in the near future, including Sindorim, Seoul; Chungju, North Chungcheong Province; as well as Mokpo and Namyangju in South Jeolla Province.

Cine Q Gyeongju will serve as the city's biggest multiplex, housing six screens and a total of 773 seats. According to NEW, the cinemas feature latest laser projection technology and seats that are about four to six inches more widely spaced out than conventional theaters.

For six days beginning on Friday until its official launch, it will offer free screenings for NEW's top titles including Okja, the Netflix film by South Korean auteur Bong Joon Ho. The film starring Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal had sparked debate on simultaneous releases in South Korea, as well as in France when it competed for the Palme d'Or at Cannes.

While NEW is among the country's top four investor-distributors, it has been the only one not to operate cinemas. Major South Korean exhibitors had boycotted the film. Bong told local reporters at the time that he hopes the film could help set rules on simultaneous screenings.

Okja nevertheless debuted at No. 4 in the local box-office ranking during the weekend of June 30-July 2 and garnered a cume of more than $2.1 million as of Thursday, according to the Korean Film Council's KOBIS database. This was in spite of the fact that it was showing on about one-tenth the number of screens as its competitors that ranked ahead of it during its opening weekend.

"Having amassed much experience and meticulous planning, we were able to branch out," said NEW CEO Kim Woo-taek. "By expanding our platform we plan to stabilize our business and also enlarge the scope of NEW's diverse media content."

Since launching as an investor-distributor in 2008, NEW has expanded its foothold in the entertainment industry with arms in music distribution, audiovisual content production and sports-related endeavors.