Bong Joon-ho may be best known for his insightful yet bleak films portraying the consequences of capitalism, but that doesn’t mean the South Korean director isn’t capable of making something incredibly heartwarming as well. That’s the case with his film Okja, which, make no mistake, still shows what happens when capitalism runs amok but ultimately is more hopeful than his films like Parasite or Snowpiercer. If you haven’t checked this one out yet, make sure to head over to Netflix now to stream it.
Okja may be Bong Joon-Ho’s most optimistic film and it’s now available on Netflix.
While Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite and Snowpiercer heavily focus on themes of wealth disparity, Okja takes on the profit-hungry US meat industry. The film follows a young girl named Mija who raises the titular Okja, who is a genetically modified super-pig. When the pig is taken to the US by the Mirando Corporation, Mija sets out to save her from mistreatment and abuse at the hands of the meat industry. Along with directing the film, Bong Joon-Ho co-wrote the screenplay with Jon Ronson from a story Bong came up with.
As you might expect, the real star of the show here is the sweet relationship between Mija and Okja, and the film manages to balance its heavy message with a beautiful and engaging story. The film has a dynamite cast too, and child actor Ahn Seo-hyun does a wonderful job leading a superstar-packed ensemble. Along with Seo-hyun, the film stars Byun Hee-bong, Yoon Je-moon, Choi Woo-shik, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Okja got great reviews upon its release and also competed for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, though it would lose to Ruben Ostlund’s The Square. Still, Bong will nab his Palme d’Or later (along with numerous other top awards) for his 2019 film Parasite. The film was also a box office success in South Korea, where it was screened at numerous independent theaters to the tune of around $2.1 million.
Okja centers around a “super pig” and a young child willing to fight a mega-corp over the treatment of her friend.
Of course, Okja never received a wide theatrical release because it was released on Netflix, which funnily got the film some mixed initial reactions at the Cannes Film Festival. When the Netflix logo popped up ahead of the screening, it elicited some boos from the Cannes crowd. The crowd would through in some more boos when the aspect ratio of the film was incorrectly projected for the first seven minutes of the film.
However, the technical glitch would be fixed, and Okja ultimately won over the crowd at Cannes, earning a four-minute standing ovation and the aforementioned Palme d’Or nomination. The film also recently entered the Criterion Collection in 2022. The one caveat of watching this amazing film is that you might want to prepare to not want meat for a while.
Bong Joon-ho and producer Dooho Choi went through a similar experience when doing research for Okja, as both became temporary vegans after visiting a Colorado slaughterhouse to prepare for the film’s slaughterhouse sequence. As co-writer Jon Ronson says, “I think the movie will turn people vegetarian.” He may not be wrong about that, as the film’s depiction of the meat industry and the mistreatment of animals that can happen at the hands of that industry will, at the very least, remind people to think about how their food is made.
Never released theatrically in the United States, Okja went straight to Netflix, where it was an immediate hit with critics and fans alike.
While it does feel a little strange to call Bong Joon-ho a “sci-fi director,” Okja is arguably a sci-fi film, as is his 2013 film Snowpiercer. If you enjoy both of those, then you’ll likely be excited to learn that Bong is returning to that genre yet again in his next film, which is titled Mickey 17. After the massive worldwide success of Parasite in 2019, Mickey 17 might be Bong Joon-ho’s most anticipated film yet.
Bong Joon-ho is directing, writing, and co-producing Mickey 17, which is based on the novel Mickey7 by Edward Ashton. Like Okja, the film has a star-studded cast that includes Robert Pattinson, Toni Collette, Namoi Ackie, Steven Yeun, Mark Ruffalo, Holliday Grainger, and Chealsea Li. We can expect to see that film on March 29, 2024.
March of next year is a long wait for a film. So, make sure to go check out Okja on Netflix while we wait for it to come out. We’ll keep you updated on Mickey 17 and other upcoming sci-fi projects in the meantime.