SEOUL/SHANGHAI (REUTERS) - Hundreds of thousands of people viewed illegal copies of The Interview in China and South Korea on Friday, just hours after the controversial movie on the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was released in the United States.
Most viewers said they watched the low-brow spoof because of the devastating cyberattack on the Hollywood studio that produced it, Sony Pictures, but they were not impressed.
Even in South Korea, technically at war with the North, viewers panned the movie. "A lot of it is unrealistic and the people who play North Koreans are so bad at speaking Korean," said a viewer on Naver, an online portal. "In the scene where Kim Jong Un gets mad...I couldn't quite understand what he was saying." A blogger on Naver said: "There is no drama and not much fun. It's all about forced comedy that turns you off. Couldn't they have done a better job making this movie?" The United States has blamed the cyberattack on North Korea, but Pyongyang has said it is not responsible.
In China, a copy of the movie with Chinese subtitles has been viewed at least 300,000 times on just one video sharing platform. "It doesn't matter whether the film is any good, it's become something everyone has to see," said one user on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo.
The film, which had initially been cancelled after the cyberattack on Sony, opened in more than 300 movie theatres across the United States on Christmas Day, drawing many sell-out audiences and statements by patrons that they were championing freedom of expression.
The film was available to US online viewers through Google Inc's Google Play and YouTube Movies, Microsoft Corp's Xbox Live as well as on a Sony website, www.seetheinterview.com. It can be seen in Canada on the Sony site and Google Canada's website.
There are no plans yet for an official theatrical release in Asia.
Sony's international executives have previously said the movie was "desperately unfunny" and would have flopped overseas, according to e-mails leaked by the hackers.
China is North Korea's only major ally, but Kim Jong Un is not a popular figure in the country, being widely lampooned on social media as "Fatty Kim." Many viewers said the film was not very good, but the idea it posed any risk to North Korea was absurd. Pyongyang has denounced the film as "undisguised sponsoring of terrorism, as well as an act of war". "An act of terror? I think only Fatty Kim should be feeling any danger," another viewer posted on Weibo.