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K-drama Flashback: ‘Okja’

An early Netflix hit showed how two species can get along just swine

Debashree Dutta Apr 08, 2022

Photo: Courtesy of HanCinema

Okja, written and directed by Bong Joonho, is a film about love and friendship, human greed, and social awareness. In 2007, ‘Lucy Mirando’, an environmentalist and CEO of the ‘Mirando Corporation’, announced that they had been cultivating a new breed of ‘Super Pig.’ 26 specimens will be sent to farmers around the world, with one being chosen as the best pig a decade later. One of the piglets is leased to ‘Mija’ (Ahn Seohyun) and her grandfather, who live in the remote highlands of South Korea.

In 2017, Okja – the piglet-protagonist – has grown into a giant, and Mija is her best friend forever. The two spend time together and share a beautiful relationship. But their idyllic existence is disrupted when Mirando Corporation names Okja the ‘Super Pig’ of their choice and transports her to New York. Mija is shattered and heartbroken, and her grief is only compounded when her grandfather substitutes Okja with a gold pig miniature. Subsequently, she embarks on a rescue mission to get her BFF back.

Tilda Swinton as the wicked and eccentric conglomerate businesswoman Lucy Mirando, Jake Gyllenhaal as the disturbed zoologist and TV personality ‘Dr. Johnny Wilcox’, and Paul Dano as the earnest animal rights activist ‘Jay’ from ALF (Animals Liberation Front) round out the stellar cast.

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As for Okja, the monster was created by combining elements from a pig, a hippo, and an elephant. According to a piece in The Hollywood Reporter, the creature was initially conceived as a 3D maquette of huge proportions but was later created in CG.

Okja is a dark comedy following the evils of the meat trade. Throughout the plot, there are some entertaining action sequences, some horrifying sights inside the ‘Super Pig’ slaughterhouse, and perhaps some emotional moments. As the plot progresses, we witness Mija, Jay, and ‘K’ (Steven Yeun, an ALF member and translator between Mija and the rest of the ALF members) head to a processing facility in pursuit of Okja and discover that she’s being forced up an incline to be butchered.

Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

To stop the butchery, Mija reveals a photo of herself with baby Okja to a Mirando employee. Nancy (also Tilda Swinton, who plays Lucy’s twin sister, ‘Nancy Mirando’) arrives, and Mija offers the gold pig in return for Okja’s life. Nancy agrees, and has Jay and K detained. While Mija and Okja are hauled away, a pair of ‘Super Pigs’ push their newborn toward Okja to hide and take it away. The former returns to her grandfather with Okja and the piglet in the countryside.

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The film also addresses the dark reality of meat consumption that we often overlook, and gained huge traction and critical acclaim for its theme. It competed for the Palme d’Or in the main competition section of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, in addition to being one of the biggest grossing films of the year. If nothing else, see this movie for the way the story unfolds. An action-adventure movie with cinematic and CGI brilliance; a beautifully emotive and poignant saga about two species who communicate and bond through the language of love.

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