This movie makes you want to eat a massive salad. Or some lentil stew. Or really just about anything without meat, because if you have a heart that beats, you felt it bleed during this film.
The Love Between A Girl and Her Pig
Though I’m not a movie reviewer by any stretch of the imagination, and I originally had no plans to see this movie, after a friend mentioned seeing it last weekend I decided to look up show times at my town’s cinema. I’m immensely glad I did; tonight I ate steamed carrots & vegetable curry over rice. In Okja, the main topic is society’s compassionate consumption, or lack thereof, in modern meals. Sound boring? Well, the story line follows an evil company (Monsanto, anyone?) which sends GMO piglets around the world to be raised by local farmers over the course of ten years.
A little Korean girl, played by 안서현 (Seo-Hyeon Ahn), raises her animal with love until both the pig and her innocence are snatched away from her in one fell swoop. You know the trope. She then follows her best friend-slash-pet to Seoul, runs into some well-intentioned kidnappers, and eventually makes it all the way to New York City to recover Okja. I’ll leave you to uncover the rest of the story on your own, but suffice it to say that my eyes were glued to the screen the whole time.
A Korean Movie for the World
With everyday citizens ignorant of what they’re eating and where it came from, other than the presence of a lifelike pig-hippo hybrid, this is absolutely the kind of publicity stunt that I could see Americans falling for or just apathetically going along with. You believe what you want to. But the director (Bong Joon Ho (봉준호)) is from Korea, so about a third of the movie’s dialogue is in Korean, and most of the scenes were filmed in my province of Gangwon.
So it’s a Korean movie with American themes, filmed largely in Korea for American audiences. Though it was made available on Netflix internationally, including in Korea, and released in cinemas only in Korea and a few select American theatres. Unfortunately for me, in theatres here there are (logically) no subtitles for the Korean part, which made it difficult to understand the elderly grandfather character. He got lots of laughs, however, and overall the other people in my small town theatre with me really seemed to enjoy the movie.
Mountainous Gangwon Province, South Korea
Okja cinematically combines the two sides of Korea which I’ve been living in for the last year, with quick cultural snapshots of the America I grew up in. You see sweeping aerial views of nature from my province; it’s beautiful, but quite common in my town. It was actually filmed in Samcheok, Gangwon-do, about an hour from where I live and an hour from where the Olympics will be held next year. It shows off the mountains of Korea that half of the population here grew up in, but which rarely become the focal point in modern Korean productions.
Seoul and New York City are much more highly-regarded for filming, but this movie only shows them through the lens of a little girl experiencing the griminess which inevitably accompanies millions of people all living in one sprawling metropolis. Hopefully this will entice other filmmakers to show off more of the world’s natural beauty, and convince more people to go meatless for dinner, if only for the night.
Trigger Warning for People With Eyes
Some of these scenes are really tough to get through, both as an omnivore and as a woman. While some people may not feel as inclined to have sympathy for animals and the situations they are put through, the humanity you see in Okja’s actions, and the intelligence in her eyes, is hard not to sympathize with. Again, I don’t want to reveal too much about the story line, but there are some scenes featuring Okja which you will see coming, but unless you know a lot about the meat industry, might be hard-to-believe and distinctly harder to stomach. There are so many close-up shots of her eyes, so closely resembling human eyes, because they tell you her feelings. She doesn’t speak, but her eyes do, and every viewer can hear what they say.
Have you seen Okja, yet? What did you think?