Dir. Joon-ho Bong
TV – MA / 1h 58m / Adventure, Drama
This beautiful and special little creature will be a revolution in the livestock industry. The super pigs will not only be big and beautiful, they will leave a minimal footprint on the environment, consume less feed, and produce less excretions. And most importantly – they […] taste fucking good.
Okja (2017) is an amazing story about a young Korean girl and a giant super pig destined to end up on American plates. I almost avoided this film because of the director, Joon-ho Bong, and his most recent film Snowpiercer (2013) that severely let me down. But I was persuaded with the inclusion of 3 of my most favorite actors: Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano.
Immediately, Swinton gives us a character to be on the fence toward – she’s the CEO of a multi-national agricultural company that needed a turn around. She’s bubbly and enticing and someone, honestly, I’d just like to be around. She announces the Super Pig Competition – where she will send 26 mutant pigs to different farms around the world and the largest pig will bring home the bacon.
So then we meet Mija (Ahn) – a Korean girl who has been raising Okja for the last 10 years, free range. They live in the mountains with her grandfather, a chicken farmer. Her grandfather is kind of a huge jerk and liar and just out to make a buck. But Okja is kind, smart, and she understands danger and compassion and emotional meaning. She is protective. She is happy. and she looks like a freakin hippo.
The eccentric Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal in one of his most insane rolls) retrieves Okja – she is rescued by the leader of the Animal Liberation Front, Jay (Dano), and sent on a mission to take down the entire future of super pig farming.
This all sounds like a lot. Because it is. and there’s two languages to follow. and there’s feelings to deal with. If you want an emotional rollercoaster, this is the film for you.
The casting was spot on in all ways – such an amazing and quirky cast for this sometimes quirky ride – the Korean countryside scenery we are given is gorgeous and often juxtaposed with factory farms and over the top American societal norms. Watching this film will not be a problem. Understanding it might be.
I’ve seen a lot of conversation regarding the message Okja. Undoubtedly, the vegans are raising their fists in solidarity in the wake of a film that blurs the lines between companion animals and utility animals – but Okja means differently. Mija and her grandfather raised Okja free range and she is the biggest and healthiest super pig – we know Mija’s favorite dish involves chicken – we see her gather fruit and catch fish for dinner that night. If anything this film is encouraging sustainable farming vs corporate agriculture – and that is something people can get behind.
I think about this film and I am glad that I watched it. Many, many parts were hard for me to swallow as a consumer and often I was putting myself in Mija’s shoes if someone was trying to dish my cat up for dessert – and when Okja came to a close – I don’t think I felt better. This film is strange and heart warming and tear jerking and an intricate think piece. My hope is for everyone to see it and be where I am – just a little unable to move on without making better choices in the future.