Review: ‘Okja’ is genre-defying

Okja” is an immensely inventive sci-fi thriller and Netflix original created by Korean film director Bong Joon-Ho, also known for the films “The Host” and “Snowpiercer.”

The narrative takes place in the countryside of South Korea following a young Korean girl named Mija (Seo Hyun An) and the super pig Okja — a massive animal and even bigger friend. Having cared for Okja since birth and inevitably grown attached to the creature, one significant problem becomes apparent. Okja is one of the 26 genetically modified super pigs sent around the globe from the Mirando Corporation as part of a competition to see which super pig will be the largest after a decade. Following the 10 year competition, Okja is announced as the largest super pig by Miranda Spokesperson and Zoologist Dr. Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal). Consequently, Okja is to be taken to New York City, away from Mija and is destined for slaughter. Anyone familiar with Wilbur from Charlotte’s Web or any story with a human-animal duo knows the tragedy and hardship that typically follows. With a brave soul and unyielding love for Okja, Mija risks everything to ward off multi-national Mirando from kidnapping her best friend.

The ambitious film aims to explore themes of corporate greed: capitalism, horrors of factory farming, animal rights and the connection between a child and an animal who is more than a pet. There aren’t very many big budget movies that highlight the horrors of factory farming, let alone ones which utilize them as the central conflict of the film. By the same token, the number of Google searches including the term “vegan” experienced a 65 percent spike after “Okja” premiered.

I personally believe the movie was so well-received and able to motivate viewers to consider issues of ethics because it exposes the harsh reality of what livestock goes through in the unique presentation of a fictional story rather than the traditional depressing documentary.

The film’s message was not intended for individuals to go vegan. Even so, masses have claimed to have switched to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle after seeing the movie. Joon-Ho states that the movie “was supposed to portray how inhumane and atrocious modern factory farming systems are.” 

“Okja” is far from traditional not only in delivery of its serious message, but also in terms of the casting, creative elements and scene structure. Something worth noting is that “Okja” is one of Netflix’s first productions in Asia. The American film industry is notorious for casting caucasian actors as the lead; however, with “Okja,” we find that the leading character is a 13-year old Korean female. “Okja” also stars Lily Collins, Steven Yeun, Paul Dano, Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal. The animal rights group Animal Liberation Front featured in this fictional film is inspired by the real-life organization of the same name — known for their daring actions to stop animal abuse. And though not made explicit, “Okja” features a gay couple that are members of ALF.

Beyond casting, the film constantly swaps scenes between locations which can be an extremely rigorous and confusing to do, but “Okja” manages to do so exceptionally. Within “Okja” lies jokes and understandings that track across the cultural spheres of Korea and America. This dynamic is amplified when young Mija is faced with the forces of an American corporation led by an image-obsessed CEO in her mission to save her friend. We see transitions back and forth between Korea’s countryside and the streets of New York — each time realistic and organic.

The film holds an important message for humanity, animals and the lifetime relationships we form with them. Alongside comical action scenes and a pure connection between a girl and her larger-than-life pet friend lives a very real, substantial, ecological fable guaranteed to touch hearts and bring out the tears.

COURTESY OF NETFLIX

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