Why is Bong Joon-Ho’s new monster movie a game-changer for Netflix?

11.10.15 2 years ago

Right now, I'm about six episodes deep on “Master Of None,” the new Netflix series from Aziz Ansari, and I'm dying to see both “Jessica Jones” and “With Bob and David” later this month. The original programming on Netflix has been getting better and better, and they seem serious about becoming a real alternative to broadcast networks and cable alike.

I still have to catch up with “Beasts Of No Nation,” the Idris Elba film they released last month. That film reportedly cost less than $10 million, and even so, seemed like a pretty major use of resources by the company. Today, though, there's word of an upcoming Netflix film that makes it sound like they're serious about movies in the same way they're serious about television shows.

Bong Joon Ho, director of films like “The Host” and “Snowpiercer” is set to direct “Okja” for the online service. Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Bill Nighy and Kelly Macdonald are all set to appear in the film, along with the magnificent Tilda Swinton, whose work in “Snowpiercer” is so deliciously weird that I hope she works with Bong Joon Ho forever. The  most remarkable thing is that Bong says he needed a huge budget and total control, and Netflix offered that to him. That's pretty amazing, and I hope he genuinely does have the total freedom he craves as an artist.

I'm still not sure I understand just how deep Netflix's pockets are at this point, or how they count something as a win or a loss. After all, even if a show doesn't have an immediate pop with viewers, there's no air date. People come to things in their own time, especially when you consider the whole “binge-watching” phenomenon, and over time, I would imagine many of their shows have people continually discovering them and trying them out.

I'm intrigued by the description of the film, which makes it sound like a Miyazaki film in live-action. While early descriptions called this a monster movie, Bong says it's different than what viewers might expect. As Bong said to Variety, “It is a bulky animal, but with a mild and kind spirit. The film is about a warm friendship between a country girl and a brute with stories. To me, the crazy world surrounding Okja and the girl looks more like a monster. I want to depict the two characters' bizarre journey and adventure across the tough world in an original fashion.”

Like “Beasts Of No Nation,” this will also be released to theaters, but I hope Netflix works on how they handle their theatrical releases. Right now, they haven't made a case for why people should see something theatrically if they know full well that it's waiting for them at home on Netflix at the same time.

One thing is certain… when Netflix first began, the last thing I would have expected was a service like this, both producing content and serving as a catch-all for other companies and their film libraries. There are still plenty of things that drive me crazy about Netflix, but when the company's name has become so common-place that a phrase like “Netflix and chill” works its way into the cultural vernacular, it's obvious that they've made an impact.

And “Okja” seems to indicate that the future is plenty bright.

“Okja” should hit theaters in early 2017.

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