Directed by Bong Joon-ho, Okja is the brilliant movie that follows the bittersweet bond between a little girl and her beloved companion pet that is destined to be on your dinner plate. This 5/5 star movie pulls at all the right heart strings. It is a tale of the childhood innocence being confronted by the greed of a corrupt corporation. The real gut wrench is that this evil corporation is too enabled by the cognitively dissonant public.
The movie opens with the extravagant PR event of Mirando Corporations’s new Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), revealing about their plans to breed a super pig they have created. The year is 2007. She says that 26 off-springs will be sent to locations around the world, and 10 years later, one will be crowned the ‘winner’. Her closing sentence is “..and it better fucking taste good” which implies the fate of this super pig ‘winner’.
10 years later in South Korea, a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives in the countryside with her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) who is a local farmer and the super pig, Okja. Mija has asked her grandfather to buy Okja from Mirando Corporation so that Okja doesn’t have to go back to New York.
One day Mija and her grandfather are visited by Mirando spokesperson and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), who declares Okja is the best super pig and she will go back to New York. Mija who doesn’t speak English doesn’t understand what is happening. Mija’s grandfather coaxes her to visit the graves of her parents. There he gives her a solid gold pig and tells her that he couldn’t buy Okja so he bought her the gold pig instead. Feeling betrayed, Mija runs back home only to find that Okja has already been taken away.
That evening Mija she runs sets out on a mission to find Okja. She goes to the Korean office of Mirando and finds Okja being loaded onto a truck headed to the airport. Mija manages to chase down the truck which is eventually intercepted by an Animal Liberation Front (ALF) truck.
In the resulting chaos Mija and Okja run away causing chaos though an underground mall. They are eventually saved by the ALF. Jay (Paul Dano) the lead ALF member, tells her about their plan to put a hidden camera in Okja’s ear and return Okja to Mirando Corporation. Through the hidden camera footage they want to expose the animal cruelty at Mirando Corporation. Jay asks Mija’s permission to use Okja for their plan. Mija tells them no but the translator, K (Steven Yeun), lies so the group believe Mija has consented. Okja is recaptured by Mirando and sent to New York.
Meanwhile, footage of Okja and Mija running through mall has gone viral on youtube. In order to do damage control, Lucy pays for Mija to come to New York to be reunited onstage with her Okja at a mega PR event. Dr. Wilcox doesn’t like this idea and gets upset with Lucy for trying to overshadow his fame.
Okja is taken to the laboratory where Dr. Wilcox tries to forcibly breed her with another super pig. Dr. Wilcox is drunk and says “I am suppose to be an animal lover” while he extracts bits of meat from Okja for a taste test. Members of the ALF are watching the whole ordeal through the hidden camera in Okja’s ear. K feels guilty and tells the group he lied about Mija’s consent to use Okja. Jay gets upset, punches K and bans K from ALF.
Devastated Mija arrives in New York with Mirando representatives. She learns bits of English to avoid being betrayed by a translator again. She was told to get ready for her stage appearance. When she goes into her room, Jay comes out from behind the curtain. He apologises to and say they are planning to rescue Okja.
Mija is reunited with Okja on stage. The hidden camera footage of animal cruelty is played on the big screen for the public to see. Mija and the ALF attempt to escape with Okja, but Lucy’s twin sister Nancy (also Tilda Swinton) is back from London and takes over the Mirando Corporation and keeps Okja with Mirando Coporating. The ALF members were beaten and arrested by the police. However Jay is assisted by K to escape the arrest. Jay, K and Mija go to the Mirando’s slaughterhouse to find Okja who was next to be killed.
Mija runs up to the slaughter-man and show a photograph of herself with baby Okja. The man seems moved, but Nancy arrives and tells to keep the production line going. Before the slaughter-man continue, Mija offers the golden pig to Nancy in exchange for Okja’s life. Nancy agrees to the deal. Jay was finally arrested.
Mija and Okja leave the slaughterhouse passing the feedlot with thousands of super pigs awaiting slaughter and some were forced into the slaughter ramp. A pair of super pigs push their baby through the fence. Okja hides it within her mouth to take it away.
The movie ends with the final scene back in Korea with Mija, her grandfather, Okja & the baby pig living their pre-existing life.
In a post-credits scene, Jay is released from prison and gets on a bus with K and the other members of ALF, who reveals that they are attending a major meeting involving all of the Mirando shareholders. Then, they all put on their ski masks.
This brilliantly produced movie questions the morality within us all. The most powerful scene is its second last scene when Mija and Okja leave the slaughterhouse passing the feedlot packed with other super pigs. The gravity of the atrocities inflicted toward animals slaughtered in the name of food hits home. That was just pigs – super pigs. Imagine the sheer number of smaller animals, like chickens, that are killed in the name of ‘food’. And we have the audacity to call ourselves “animal lovers”…
The movie covers a very relevant topic, and it does so, so brilliantly. It makes us question how everyday people like us view ‘food’ that once lived. It exposes the standard lies fed to the public. Eco-friendly, non-GMO, carbon-neutral – these are all phrases that are thrown around carelessly and constantly to promote various consumer products, especially food. But in a world where anything goes, how do you know that you are not lied to?
Another aspect of the movie is that it brings attention to the important work animal activists, ALF or any other organisations do to exposes these lies. If you live in any first world country like the US, Australia or many countries in Europe, you’d know the extent the governments and agricultural industries (‘corporations’) are going to stop these activists. Labelling them as “terrorists” and making up laws to criminalise even the most mundane activities like leafleting – ag-gag laws anyone? The activists risk their lives and their freedom to end cruelty. So next time you see the media demonise the activists, ask yourself: who is the real demon here? Is it the person who wants others (human & non-human) to live in peace, is it the corporation trying to maximise their profits, is the government, or is it you – the consumer who create the type of demand that corporations and governments profit off?
The plot is not the only good thing about this movie. The cinematography, especially the lush green scenery of South Koreao is breathtaking. The scenes at the slaughterhouse and the Mirando laboratory eerily terrifying and raises the hair on your back. My favourite though, is the acting because it is done oh-so wonderfully! Tilda’s portray of eccentric Lucy is praiseworthy. Jake Gyllenhall did very well being whimsical Dr. Wilcox and Ahn did such an incredible job of playing Mija. Ahn takes us on a journey filled with raw emotions and true genuineness. We could relate to her feelings as she uncovers the cold truth of the ‘real’ world of which she had been shielded from until now.
Ok, don’t worry. The movie is not all doom and gloom. There is plenty of sarcastic humour embedded within the film. From the very first scene of Lucy’s PR extravaganza it sets the scene for its dark humour which follows throughout the movie. Even the role of the local truck driver is humorous.
In summary, I was very impressed with all aspects of the movie and I highly recommend you watch it if you haven’t done so already.
The shelter kitten who changed my life
I am an engineering professional in my late 20s. I had a pretty ordinary childhood, except during my childhood I was never allowed to have pets. Not because we particularly disliked animals, but because my parents were too busy. Both my parents worked full-time. My mother barely had any maternity leave when she had me and my sister. So I grew up being quite indifferent to animals, even scared of little kittens and puppies.
It wasn’t until my 21st birthday that I ever had a pet. On my 21st birthday my then boyfriend convinced me to adopt a kitten named Winkle from the RSPCA shelter. Winkle changed my life.
Winkle made me realise that animals have personalities; they feel joy, sadness and pain just like humans. And so my transformation began.
Following Winkle, I welcomed Billy, Meg, Lily and Speckles into my life. I have also watched hundreds of foster animals come and go. I called myself an animal lover.
But I felt something was not right. So I started questioning what was so different between the animals we love, like cats and dogs, and the animals we eat, like chickens, cows, pigs, and goats. The answer was nothing.
Subsequently I changed my lifestyle. I stopped consuming and using animals. I felt liberated to finally call myself an animal lover. My actions finally aligned with my values.
I have visited various farm sanctuaries. I have met Heather – a sow rescued from a piggery, Coco – a rooster rescued from a broiler farm, and Mary – a dairy cow who has had her babies taken from her for the majority of her life. My interactions with Heather, Coco, Mary and many of their other friends only confirmed that humans and animals share the same capacity to suffer and enjoy life.
The more I learned about the animal agriculture industry, the more I believed that I have done the right thing by eliminating the consumption and usage of animals. For example, I learnt that male piglets are castrated without anaesthetics and unwanted baby pigs are killed. Apparently this was standard industry practice.
I was heart-broken. I think any person who aspires to being a good, kind and compassionate person would be.
I also read the recently published 82-paged “Life of a Dairy Cow” by Voiceless which reports that the dairy cows are impregnated and their offspring removed within days of birth. The male calves are then killed while their female counterparts are grown to endure the same fate as their mothers.
The way the animals are treated in today’s society affects the way I function my life. This includes my work, what I buy, what I eat and what I do.
Living a life that has no direct contribution to the use and abuse of animals has benefitted not only those animals but also myself. My diet is much healthier now and as a result I am healthier. I am contributing less to adverse environmental impacts by not actively participating in animal agriculture, which causes greenhouse gases, water pollution, deforestation and climate change.
We are privileged to live in a time where there are various non-animal based products available – to eat, wear and use. So if we can thrive without hurting others, why wouldn’t we?
I believe that we should thrive for a world without the use and abuse of other creatures. It will lead to a better future for creatures on earth, including us humans.