Although it’s not been officially determined if Sony’s controversial North Korean-themed comedy, The Interview, is directly responsible for the devastating hack attack on the studio, the film will largely steer clear of the Asia-Pacific region. There’s been speculation that North Korea, whose Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un is the subject of an assassination attempt in the film, is behind the attack. The DPRK denied involvement this weekend, but nevertheless characterized it as a “righteous deed.” Although it’s unclear if all release decisions were made prior to the breach, geopolitics was always likely to play a role in the movie’s rollout.
The Interview is not expected to be seen anywhere in Asia Pacific save for Australia and New Zealand. That’s according to the film’s website. There have also been local South Korean reports that say the film will not screen there, and I’ve confirmed that is the case. That’s fairly understandable given the country’s proximity to the DPRK and the fact that Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America: World Police was never released there. That puppet-based satire poked fun at Kim’s father Kim Jong-il, although pirated copies are understood to have made it into the country.
Seo Jeong-nam, a film professor who researches North Korean propaganda at South Korea’s Keimyung University, told Bloomberg this week, “Because North Korea casts Kim as the pinnacle of its dignity and pride, it’s no wonder the regime is acting so violently toward The Interview” which it has called “an act of war” that it would not tolerate. “The biggest headache for Kim is that a memory stick the size of a fingertip can now go into the country carrying a dozen foreign-made films,” Seo said. He added, “North Koreans watching films smuggled from China has become an irreversible trend and it undercuts the cult of personality Kim needs desperately to consolidate his power.”
With China’s rampant piracy, it’s likely the film could make its way into the Middle Kingdom and beyond, but it is very unlikely it would get a theatrical release there. What’s more, if the film were smuggled into North Korea, the curious would have to be extremely cautious — Kim is believed to have executed some officials earlier this year for watching South Korean soap operas.
Deadline’s sister publication, Variety, also reports that Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan today confirmed that The Interview would not be released there. That decision was evidently made prior to the attack. It could be speculated that Japan and North Korea’s fractured relationship over the past 40 years could have something to do with that. In the late 70s and early 80s a disputed number of Japanese citizens were kidnapped by agents of the DPRK government. Some were returned after the turn of the century, but disagreements remain. A recent shift in the relationship saw Japan ease some of its sanctions against North Korea, and Pyongyang said it would reopen the investigation into the abductions. If that’s the case, there would seem little point to ruffling feathers now.
Meanwhile, in China, Asia’s largest box office market, an editorial at China.org today questions the political wisdom of releasing The Interview at all. Wang Junsheng, believed to be a research fellow at the National Institute of International Strategy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Bejing, wrote of his concern over a threat to the planned Six-Party Talks which are designed to resolve the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.
“The film’s producers and the Motion Picture Association of America… are aware of The Interview‘s theme, yet both seem to have turned a blind eye to its controversial content. Their selective ‘ignorance’ is representative of how U.S. society views the DPRK,” Wang says.
He adds, “Admittedly, Kim’s foreign policy, including making more nuclear threats, is far from flawless. The international community, including China, has already imposed sanctions on the DPRK for its wrongdoings. But one of the unspoken diplomatic rules of bilateral relationships is that no group or country should demonize a country’s leader like The Interview does.”
Bloomberg points out that North Korean children grow up watching animations depicting the U.S. as evil and vicious while the nation’s multimedia agency has produced YouTube videos showing President Obama, U.S. troops and Manhattan in flames over the years.