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Okja: A Beautiful Farce Of The Genetically Modified Foods Industry

Bong Joon-ho’s latest work is the perfect balance of satire, blockbuster and comedy

Photos: Netflix/ Lee Jae Hyuk

Netflix has been breaking new grounds lately, especially with scripts that tackle controversial topics like suicide and the supernatural — think 13 Reasons Why and Sense 8.

Likewise, Okja is another gem that will leave you hooked.

While the international collaboration and finalist at this year’s Cannes Film Festival did not win any awards, it received a four-minute ovation.

Directed by Boon Joon-ho, the script was written by him and Jon Ronson in a blend of satire and blockbuster comedy that will leave you clinging to your seat.

A plus point? Local actors helped ensured the movie flowed smoothly, language wise, as the scene moves from countryside Korea to urban New York.

Okja starts off with lush scenic views of the hills and mountains that populate Korea’s countryside, introducing us to Mjia and her beloved albeit huge pet, Okja.

It turns out that Okja is a super-pig part of a marketing ploy and the company that created it wants it back.

As the movie picks up pace, the story moves to New York for even more thrilling and action-filled scenes punctuated with jokes that border on the satirical.

The cast is also pretty international in itself, with the likes of Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Paul Dano making up the English-speaking cast, alongside Korean actors including Yoon Je-moon, Byun Hee-bong and Ahn Seo-hyun.

Differentiating between right and wrong

In this story, villains are aplenty.

Is it Tilda Swinton, who plays Lucy, the CEO of Mirando Corporation who works towards genetically modified food?

Or is K, who mistranslated the conversation between our Korean heroine and the leader of an animal activism group?

If you’ve watched Bong’s previous films like The Host or Snowpiercer, you would have experienced the same complex morality that exists in today’s world.

Bong’s films are never about drawing the line between good versus evil. Instead, there’s a prevailing heroic sense of triumph that lies in each character that draws you further into the story.

Bong shares more about why he gives his characters more ambiguous motivations and drives.

He says, “The characters I create; they aren’t clear-cut supervillains or superheroes, they’re all residing in the grey area.

“Maybe that’s why a certain amount of optimism or pessimism mixes into my films. I do feel, however, that’s more realistic and more reflective of how society is, and how life is. If everything is clear-cut and residing in one direction, it might feel a bit forced.”

Making a statement

Okja is so much more than just a blockbuster; it is also a farce of the genetic modified foods industry.

The director explains, “I don’t expect the entire audience to convert to veganism after watching the film.”

A peek into meat-processing factories is nothing new, but the fantastically grotesque scenes displayed in 4k high definition will certainly have your stomachs churning for a while.

To him, it’s more about raising awareness.

“I don’t have a problem with meat consumption itself, but I do want my audience to consider, at least once, where the food on their plate comes from. And, if one is to do that, I believe the level of meat consumption will gradually decline.”

This idea is quite ironically presented in the film: While Mjia loves Okja and refuses to let her become sausage, she has no qualms about eating any of the chickens running amok in her farm. Her favorite food is chicken stew, for goodness sake.

Okja is currently streaming on Netflix.