Koreans dodge online hurdles to see ‘Interview’

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Koreans dodge online hurdles to see ‘Interview’

“The Interview,” the controversial movie most loathed by North Korea’s leadership that attracted tremendous public interest in the United States and worldwide, is now rampantly circulating in South Korea via illegal streaming sites and pirating operations.

Despite the large-scale cyberattack on Sony Pictures - which the Federal Bureau of Investigation concluded was orchestrated by Pyongyang - “The Interview” grossed more than $1 million upon limited release at the box office in the United Sates.

The hacking incident hampered a more traditional release of the film, though its opening on Christmas Day drew sell-out crowds.

South Koreans’ curiosity was also piqued by the frenzy of media coverage and U.S. President Barack Obama’s staunch support for the movie’s release. But unlike American viewers - who can watch the movie via Google Play, YouTube Movies or Microsoft Corporation’s Xbox Live - international consumers have more limited options.

Most have turned to other outlets to see “The Interview” - either for free or for a fee.

That includes downloading the film via peer-to-peer file-sharing methods, such as torrents, or even easier, illegal online streaming sites. One low-quality version of the movie uploaded on a streaming site with full Korean subtitles had more than 250,000 views as of Sunday.

The action-comedy is the brainchild of Canadian actor Seth Rogan, in which he stars with James Franco, and centers on two tabloid TV journalists who are recruited by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

As of Sunday, the film had exceeded 1.5 million downloads on a popular free torrent website.

“I downloaded [the movie] via a Korean ‘torrent’ website - the ones where you pay for points to download material, whether it be media or computer programs,” said Brita Hong, a 29-year-old Korean-American musical actress.

Such websites are still illegal despite the fact that users must pay a fee to download media content. They are not associated with film distributors and often take media content that has been collected illegally to enable easier downloads for users.

Hong, who watched the movie with her husband and friends, added, “I learned that the movie was very successful after its online release, but I do honestly think most people, including me, watched the movie due to the hacking controversy.”

She called the movie generally “distasteful” and that “North Korea could only react in such a way because it belittles and humiliates North Korea.”

But movie viewing hasn’t just been limited to tech-savvy youths. The older generations have also gotten their hands on it.

Because of the ease of sharing links over SMS services, such as KakaoTalk, and the availability of the movie - which has already been fully subtitled in the Korean language on low-quality streaming sites - even those without access to computers have had an easy time finding the film.

“Actually my mother sent me the streaming link for the movie,” admitted Kim Jae-eun, a 25-year-old teacher in Seoul.

She added that her mother got it from her friends, who are in their mid-50s.

However, she has yet to watch the movie despite her curiosity from the hype.

“I’m willing to wait to see if it comes out in theaters,” she said.

BY SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]
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