Okja is Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s new dystopian movie, wherein a new breed of pigs are genetically modified to help feed the planet in a more sustainable way. The brainchild behind this revolutionary project is Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) of the Mirando Corporation. Ten years ago, a number of these pigs were sent to remote locations around the world to be raised lovingly by farmers. One of these superpigs is Okja, and she is farmgirl Mija’s (An Seo-hyn) best friend.
As is the usual case for farmanimals, Okja is fated for a tragic end and when the ten years are up, representatives of the villainous conglomerate (think Monsanto) come to collect one of the company’s best superpigs. However Mija, a stubborn and brave young heroine, goes on a quest to rescue her beloved friend from commercial exploitation and eventual slaughter. With a stubborn set to her jaw, she breaks open her piggy back and runs to Seoul, determined to bring Okja home.
There’s a bizzare host of characters, including Jake Gyllenhaal’s celebrity zoologist (Steve Irwin on crack) and the head of the vegan militia (Paul Dano) who’s commitment to anti-violence is questionable at times. There’s a magnificent road chase through the city of Seoul that is just as exhilarating as any blockbuster action movie and there’s beautiful cinematography that makes you wish you were at your local cinema instead of curled up on the couch with your laptop teetering on your lap (the film will not see a theatrical release in Ireland).
It’s over the top and wacko at times and then flinchingly realistic at others. Most importantly, it is truly thought-provoking. Moments of comedy and delight are overshadowed by deeply unsettling scenes of factory farming. When you walk away from this movie, the moments of comedy will fade fast, but the image of a superpig pushing her baby piglet under the electric fence of the slaughterhouse to the escaping Okja & Mija will remain.
It’s a film with a message, but whether that message will be enough to make viewers stop and think next time they’re making a beef sandwich is anyone’s guess. Some might say the film is brazen, aggressive even, in its messaging but it’s not that simple. The film seems to be daring us to look at the blood on our plates, but even our heroine Mija seems to contribute to the meat industry (her favourite food is chicken soup). The director himself has said the film is not supposed to oppose meat, but to help the audience understand the “state of capitalism today” and how animals are treated in the world of mass meat production.
In an idealistic world, Okja would have the power to turn every watcher vegetarian if not vegan, but in reality, Tilda Swinton’s character sums it up in the end when she asserts that the people won’t care what their meat is or where it comes from; “if it’s cheap, they’ll eat it.”
Streaming on Netflix now