Okja, a Netflix Original Film from director Bong Joon Ho, will be released on June 28. I got access to an advance screener as a member of the Netflix Stream Team. Here’s what you need to know.
1. What’s it about?
The Mirando Corporation had a “Super Pig” competition, in which 26 farmers from around the globe were each given a baby super pig and asked to raise it; 10 years later, the best one would be chosen and revealed to the world. Okja is one such super pig, raised on a Korean mountaintop by young Mija. When Mirando comes to reclaim their property, Mija sets off on a quest to win her back. The Animal Liberation Front get involved, and Okja is caught in the middle of several competing interests.
2. Who’s in it?
Tilda Swinton is Lucy Mirando, head of the corporation, controlling and demanding but also damaged. As always, she is fascinating to watch. An Seo Hyun stars as Mija, and does a fantastic job: she’s somewhat naive and incredibly determined. Jake Gyllenhall is Dr. Johnny, an annoying TV personality with a grating voice—he’s meant to be an irritating character, and I have to say he succeeded. Other actors play several members of the Animal Liberation Front: Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, and Daniel Henshall. Giancarlo Esposito plays Frank Dawson, Lucy’s right-hand man—I wish we’d gotten to see a bit more of him.
3. So what sort of movie is this?
It’s a little hard to categorize, which may be what made it appealing to Netflix, which isn’t afraid to take some risks on movies that don’t fit into neat boxes. It’s a drama, but also has action scenes, as well as a good bit of humor. There are many parts of it that feel like a children’s movie, particularly early on when we see Mija and Okja spending the day together at home, but then there are scenes that are definitely not for kids, too.
4. Where do I see it?
The film had its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, which caused some complaints because it violated French laws stating that a movie couldn’t hit home release until 36 months after its theatrical release. It will appear on Netflix in the US and in South Korea on June 28, and will also have limited theatrical release in NYC and LA (and in South Korea) on the same day.
5. What is it rated?
Okja does not have an MPAA rating, but I would say it would quite likely get an R rating, for language (liberal use of f-bombs, among others) and for a few intense scenes involving an animal lab and a meat processing facility. It’s not a film I would recommend for younger kids or for the squeamish.
6. Will I like it?
I did, but obviously your opinions may vary. Without giving away too many spoilers about plot details, I thought the movie was enthralling and weird. I did feel that both the Mirando Corporation and the ALF were a bit caricatured: these were not nuanced, balanced portrayals of a corporation and eco-terrorists, but more over-the-top versions, made for conflict.
The heart of the movie is really the relationship between Mija and Okja, which is sweet and heartfelt, making it easy to believe that Okja is real. Mija grew up in the countryside, but travels to the big city and then even to New York in order to find her friend.
I’ll also note that there are sections of the movie that are in Korean with subtitles; later on, there are portions that have no subtitles because a character is acting as a translator. If you have trouble with subtitles in movies, you may want to take that into consideration, though the film is mostly in English.
7. How are the special effects?
Great! Okja was animated by Method Studios, which had also done special effects for Bong Joon Ho’s Snowpiercer. There were big “stuffies” made to have a physical presence on the set, controlled like puppets, but then these were replaced with CGI. I was really impressed by how realistic Okja looked and how natural Mija’s interactions with her were—no uncanny valley here, even in the action scenes where Mija herself is probably CGI.
8. Is the film anti-meat?
Well, sort of. The scene in the meat-processing plant is gruesome, but it also is mostly shown as matter-of-fact rather than sensationalized. It’s a bit like watching 101 Dalmations: it’s not necessarily anti-fur so much as it is anti-making-dogs-into-coats. Because of the nature of Okja specifically, it feels more like we shouldn’t be eating the super pigs than that we shouldn’t be eating meat at all. I think you could draw a connection between the super pigs and our real-world meat, but you could also just as easily separate the two.
The Mirando Corporation is portrayed as being pretty much all about profit and image, but the ALF is seen as disorganized and overly idealistic. The film’s message may be more about capitalism and marketing generally, the way that the Mirando Corporation tries to put a happy spin on its products.
9. When’s the best time for a bathroom break?
Hey, you’re probably watching it at home—just pause it and go whenever you want!
10. Is there anything after the credits?
Yes, there’s another scene at the end, so don’t shut it off yet!
Disclosure: I’m a member of the Netflix Stream Team, and was provided early access to this film for review purposes.