Okja, the wonderful tale a girl and her genetically altered pig…
A stunning new film from director Bong Joon Ho was released on June 28, 2017 to Netflix. The latest high-profile film from the network is a South Korean/English creation, described as a mash up of Babe, E.T., and My Neighbor Totoro, Okja is the story of friendship between a unique creature and young girl, of the evil of corporate villainy, and the question of sentience. Written by Bong Joon Ho and Ron Johnson the visuals from the beautiful mountains of South Korea, to the teeming streets of Seoul and on to warehouse districts of New Jersey, the film’s visual scope is global, and was produced on a mere $50 million-dollar budget.
Okja deftly segues between an adventure, comedy, drama, action, and even horror. There is an emotionally charged suspense and tragic bittersweet end that will have audiences both applauding and crying at the same moment. It is the style of Bong Joon Ho to inject deadly threats into his action sequences, while balancing the touching expression of his porcine CGI star, Okja, and Miija, played by child actress, Ahn Seo-Hyun.
Seo-Hyun has an impressive acting history for a 13 year old, beginning in 2008 with 10 film credits and 16 television credits to date. Paired with the incomparable Tilda Swinton, with whom the director has such a close working relationship that he calls her a collaborator as well as actor and a wild, weird performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox, an animal show host and conspiratory mouthpiece for the corporate villains, is fittingly exaggerated, and may be his best role to date. The result is a genuine thrill ride of feelings, from the sense of wonder, beauty, and love, mixed with cruelty, heartbreak, and loyalty that knows no bounds.
Debuting in a controversial fashion at the Cannes Film Festival on May 19th, Okja battled the festival’s officials who decided it should not be shown due to a rule stipulating that films cannot be shown that will release on DVD or streaming platforms [home viewing] within 36 months of theatrical release. But after deliberation, Okja, which is deservedly worthy of the big screen, and sister film, The Meyerowitz Stories, also a Netflix production, did indeed show as planned at Cannes.
Some weeks past the screening, Ho now said, “I understand the content of the controversy, but myself, and filmmakers such as Noah Baumbach, are merely creators, and we have never studied French law,” he says via translator. “So if there was anything that needed to be solved logistically, it should have been done before we were invited.”
Netflix is becoming an industry power player putting up money for directors’ daring passion projects. They are filling the void between the superhero-infatuated major Hollywood studios and the financially challenged indie outfits, they are quickly becoming the place to be for world’s most interesting, eclectic filmmakers.
Regarding studio resistance Ho states, “The story was like that from the get-go. I never tried to feign or fake some type of children’s fable and then try to break boundaries and turn it into something explicit,” he confesses. “There were push-backs from traditional studios where I originally pitched the film; they were always asking about the slaughterhouse and whether I was going to keep it in. However, Netflix never asked such questions—they were completely positive and very open-minded about it.” After a long time pitching his script in Hollywood, Ho says,
“Netflix, on the other hand, okay’d the budget. And not only did they okay the budget; they guaranteed 100 percent freedom,” he says. “They said you don’t need to change one word of the script, you can just do whatever you want. They supported my vision completely, so I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again Netflix at all.”
Netflix continues to expand:
The streaming network is doing business with the likes of directors Martin Scorsese, Jeremy Saulnier, Duncan Jones, Mike Flanagan, and David Ayer, among others.
For 10 idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja – a massive animal and an even bigger friend – at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where an image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission.
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Written by: Bong Joon Ho (screenplay), Bong Joon Ho (story by)
Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Lily Collins
Kate Street Picture Company
Plan B Entertainment
VFX: Method Studios