While the new American film “The Interview” angered North Korea a great deal, and has not yet been released in China, millions of Chinese have seen it so far. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. The day after The Interview was released in the United States (on the 25th, in only 500 theaters and online) nearly half a million illegal copies were downloaded by Chinese and the reviews began to appear on Chinese web sites. Most of these illegal copies had Chinese subtitles quickly added. Most Chinese thought the film was hilarious and a classic. Some Chinese web sites translated the film title to “Assassinate Kim Jong Un,” which was an intentional dig at the North Koreans. A few government owned media “reviewed” The Interview and did not seem as pleased with the film as the average Chinese. One government controlled media reviewer described it as; “senseless cultural arrogance.” Interestingly the Chinese government did not order its two million Internet censors to crack down on these online messages discussing the film or try to interfere with the illegal distribution of The Interview inside China.
All this no doubt angered North Korea even more because China is the only major ally North Korea has. But China has not been pleased with North Korea lately, especially North Korean development of nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles. The Chinese government knows the average Chinese is even less happy with North Korea and allowed this reaction to The Interview to play out in order to send a message to North Korea. This is a common way to send a message in East Asia and North Korea did not show any official displeasure at the disrespect. They go the message, even if they did not like it.
This all began in late 2014 when North Korea was blamed, especially by many media pundits, for the massive hack of Japanese owned Sony Pictures computer networks that removed several thousand gigabytes of data during late 2014. This hack was believed to be payback for Sony ignoring North Korean complaints about the new Sony film (The Interview) that made fun of North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Un. North Korea always denied any involvement in the hack, but did encourage Sony to comply with the anonymous hacker demands that Sony pull the move from circulation permanently. In early Decembert Sony agreed but after massive criticism (both popular and from senior American officials) the Sony senior management (which is Japanese and headquartered in Japan) changed their mind and allowed the movie to screen in over 500 independent theaters willing to do so on Christmas Day while also releasing the film to Internet based streaming (online viewing) sites. By early January these two distribution methods (which were confined to the United States) had brought in nearly $40 million (about 85 percent from online customers). With worldwide release, and all the free publicity, it looks like Sony is going to make a profit on The Interview (which cost $44 million to make and over $20 million to promote). North Korea is not pleased with this outcome either, but is much more upset at the message from China.