Okja

10 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Okja’

10 Things Parents Movies

Okja movie poster

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.

 


Click here for more details about these scenes, but with spoilers.

There are two scenes in particular involving Okja that may be particularly disturbing, even to adults. One takes place in a lab with other superpigs: you get glimpses of many superpigs that didn’t turn out quite right, and one violent one is brought out to mate with Okja, which plays out like a rape scene. Most of it is off-screen and implied, but you can hear Okja’s squealing and see the characters react as they watch. The scene in the slaughterhouse shows superpigs being processed (but in reverse, as Mija enters from the back of the factory): Mija sees the packing plant, a man hosing vast quantities of blood down the drain, a dead superpig hanging from a hook being sliced in half, and then superpigs entering the facility and being shot in the head.

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.

Okja and Mija
Okja with Mija (An Seo Hyun) enjoy a quiet moment together. Image: Netflix

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.

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11 thoughts on “10 Things Parents Should Know About ‘Okja’

    1. Sorry, so far all I’ve seen from Netflix is the US and Korean release, with no info about Canada or other countries yet.

  1. Thanks for the heads up. Just found this movie this morning. The rating and very brief description of the film in Netflix aren’t very helpful, but your article was! I think this film would definitely upset my daughter based on your description of language and the factory scenes.

    1. You’re welcome! I think there are definitely some kids who would be able to enjoy it (if they and their parents are okay with the language) but I would recommend some sort of warning or preparation for that slaughterhouse scene in particular.

  2. I was looking for rating info and found your description. Exactly what I was looking for, thanks!

  3. FYI, in addition to the slaughter house scene, there is the forced mating scene which is very disturbing

    1. Yes—I didn’t want to give too many details but I did mention there are scenes in the animal lab—mostly heard and implied but not seen directly.

  4. My kids LOVED it, but we were all taken aback and uncomfortable with the MANY D-Link that seemed to serve no purpose. It is acted and directed as a kids movie and would do better without the cussing. If they took the cussing out, it would be the perfect family movie for all ages.

  5. I’m a 10 year old, am I old wnough to watch this? I think this will be a very heartwarming,action filled,but violent, movie.

    1. I would ask your parents—it definitely has a lot of swearing, and there are at least a few scenes that are violent or gory that may be a bit shocking.

  6. This movie should be watched by everyone over 12 years old. There are squeamish and uncomfortable scenes but that’s the reality of the world we live in.

    “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”

    This is the problem with society. The fact that this movie is so parallel to our reality yet you’re just willing to look away. This movie ABSOLUTELY should connect between our meat industry and if you haven’t made that connection then you MUST see what goes on behind the scenes of the current meat industry.

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