To date, I’ve seen two of Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s movies: The Host and Sbnowpiercer. He’s a hard filmmaker to pin down in many ways, though maybe that comes from me being an American not quite getting his contemporary Korean sensibilities.
His most recent, a movie in both Korean and English, is Okja, and it’s now available on Netflix.
What is Okja? Well, Okja is a “superpig”. International corporate giant Mirando is looking to “feed the world” by breeding something called the superpig. Under the direction of new CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, who also plays Lucy’s sister Nancy, both of whom seem to be channeling different aspects of Hilary Clinton), the idea is to feed the world with a naturally bred animal that is big enough to provide a lot of food for a slowly starving world. The company announces it has 26 such animals, each of which will be sent off to grow up in one of the 26 different countries that has a Mirando branch office to be raised under traditional methods by a local farmer. One of these superpigs goes to South Korea, where she is named Okja and raised largely as a giant pet by a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), an orphan who lives with her grandfather (frequent Bong collaborator Byun Hee-bong). Mija loved Okja.
And why wouldn’t anyone love Okja? Looking like a hippo with a dog or rabbit’s face (not very pig-like in many ways), Okja is big, lovable, and actually pretty smart in many ways. In fact, I would be inclined to think Bong is looking to promote vegetarianism, but Mija states her favorite meal is fish stew, so clearly she doesn’t have a problem with eating animals. But there’s something more going on.
What is going on? Well, it’s been ten years and Mirando is coming to collect its superpigs for a “best of” contest, and Mija loves Okja so very much, and she’ll stop at nothing to get her animal friend back. That, more than anything, is the thing that drives the film. Mija doesn’t seem to care that other superpigs are going to be made into sausages. She just wants hers back.
The movie seems to be something of a satire, and despite appearances, isn’t for kids. Swinton dropping a major swear word in her opening scene should be a clear clue on that, but given the movie deals with food production with potentially intelligent animals going off to die, I wouldn’t let a kid watch this one. The English-speaking cast is a bit all over, with Swinton pretty much on-target while an animal activist played by Paul Dana is dreadfully serious and earnest while Jake Gyllenhaal just plain old chews the scenery as the host of an animal-themed TV show turned self-centered corporate spokesperson. There are visual references to the bin Laden raid, for crying out loud. If you’re looking for a clearer satire, this may not be the movie for you. As it is, let’s say eight and a half trashed underground shopping malls out of ten.
Though given the clear Hilary parallels, I do wonder how long this movie was in production…