Film Review: Okja

1 November 2017
By Shelby Storey

Last week ShARC held a screening of the Netflix original movie, Okja.

Okja is about a 14 year old girl Mija and her relationship with Okja, the ‘super pig’. The film opens in what appears to be a rundown warehouse, where CEO of Mirando Corporation, Lucy Mirando, reveals to the media that her organisation has discovered a new pig-like species in Chile, which they intend to put into production for meat starting 10 years from the present day, 2007. Lucy claims that this new species is superior to all others in existence, as this super pig will reproduce through unforced and natural mating, will leave a minimal footprint on the environment as they will require less feed, and in her words, “most importantly, they need to taste fucking good”.

The pace of the movie changes drastically as we first meet Mija, her grandfather Heebong, and Okja in 2017. The scenery in South Korea is absolutely stunning, and the introduction of Okja into this environment seems serene and beautiful. The viewer immediately recognises the tight bond between Mija and Okja- it appears that Mija talks to Okja, who in turn seems to understand what she says.

Mija soon learns that Okja is to be taken away to New York for the “Best Super Pig Competition”, despite her grandfather previously assuring her he had bought Okja from the Mirando Corporation. Mija collects her savings from a ‘piggy bank’ and rushes to Seoul where Okja would be kept overnight before being flown to the USA, in an attempt to halt the transaction. It is in Seoul that Mija first meets the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), who also endeavour to protect Okja from the fate which awaits her in New York. As a plan to expose Mirando’s true intentions (which they claim are to create GM animals who would be subject to unspeakable factory farm conditions), the ALF allow Okja to be taken captive and transported to the USA, with the aim of capturing footage from inside the lab where she would be taken with a device hidden inside her ear.

As a way to improve PR for their organisation after media footage of Okja and Mija trying to escape transportation vans in Seoul is released, Mirando pledge to fly Mija to New York -first class- for an emotional reunion at the Best Super Pig Competition celebrations. The ALF assure Mija that they have a plan to rescue Okja on the day, and warn her not to look back at the screen showing footage of Okja’s ordeal in the laboratory. What follows is a struggled attempt to rescue Okja so that she doesn’t become the ‘Super Pig jerky’ that spectators of the event are consuming as they watch.

Ahn Seo-hyung (Mija) gave an absolute stand out performance; her interactions with Okja made the CGI Super Pig come to life, and ensured the viewer formed an emotional connection with the character. Mija’s strong will and determination to overcome any and all obstacles to rescue Okja was truly inspiring.

Despite having upsetting themes, Director and Writer Bong Joon-ho made sure to pepper the script with comedy, which I found to be a necessary and welcomed feature. There were numerous tips of the proverbial hat to animal rights movements and ideologies, and inside jokes that felt like the movie was jesting with their animal loving friends. The addition of a token Australian to the ALF and reference to an animal rights book that ‘some guy’ wrote in the 70s was a personal favourite of mine. It seems that one of the main aims of the film was to highlight the corruption in industrialised animal agriculture, and the greenwashing that is ever present in their attempts to drive sales- treating animals as commodities for financial benefit. Okja was certainly successful in doing so, and I’d be truly surprised if any viewer could walk away from having seen this film and not take a serious look at where their food comes from.

The Okja Trailer is available on YouTube.