Bong Jun-Ho’s Okja is as heartbreaking as it is quirky. It follows young Mija as she leaves behind her life in the countryside of South Korea to travel to New York city to retrieve her best friend Okja (a genetically modified ‘Super Pig’) from meat supplier ‘Mirando Corporation’.
Okja highlights the disconnect that exists between consumers and the animals they consume for food. Not only this, but the film comments on the poor relationship society has with food. The process of harvesting livestock for consumption may not seem humane but is a necessary evil to feed the world; an issue stated by Lucy Mirando in the beginning of the film. Throughout the film Lucy also mentions the concerns that consumers have with GMO foods, yet later Nancy overrides this with the comment “if it’s cheap, they’ll eat it”. This reflects the collective attitude of society that GMO foods are harmful, but it is marketing strategies and the price of food are ultimately the deciding factors, while giving the illusion of choice at the checkout.
Nancy Mirando’s thirst for financial gain demonstrates the way in which factory farmers are forced to adhere to the requirements set by the corporations that they supply to. A quality documentary that further explores this issue is Robert Kenner’s Food Inc.
Dynamic camera angles and movement drive the pacing of the story, and bring Okja’s world to life. Working alongside this is beautiful colour grading and sound design; both excelling at setting the tone of the film at any given time.
Ahn Seo-Hyun as the principle actress, gives a stand-out performance in the film. She gives Okja its heart and soul, and there is never a moment in the film where the audience cannot sympathise with Mija’s character. Mija grows up drastically through the course of the film as she comes to learn the atrocities of the adult world, embodied by the deeds of the Mirando Corp. Okja biting Mija’s arm, of which her sleeve was signed by Lucy, symbolic of the blood that has been shed in the name of the Mirando Corp.
Tilda Swinton gives an energetic performance as portraying both Lucy and Nancy Mirando. She captures the psychotic nature of their personalities while maintaining the distinct differences in both characters.
The supporting cast of the film (Steven Yeun, Paul Dano, Daniel Henshall, Lily Collins and Devon Bostick) also shine as the ALF (Animal Liberation Front). The ALF, while not being central characters in the film, serve purpose as being a catalyst for driving the story along, as well as providing a light-hearted juxtaposition to the somewhat heaviness of the tone of the film.
Taking advantage of the beautiful mountain scenery in the first act solidifies the bond that has developed between Mija and Okja. This creates maximum impact in the second act, as the story takes a dark turn. Ultimately, the ending is redeeming and hopeful in tone, with the use of circular storytelling and the added post-credit scene.