South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho has no shortage of imagination. His wildly entertaining movies The Host and Snowpiercer jammed together genres delightfully to tell their stories, and now he’s back with the tale of the superpig, Okja.
That’s right, Okja is a superpig. She was created by the Mirando corporation, a giant agribusiness into genetically modified organisms, a clear stand-in for Monsanto. With the knowledge that the general public would never willingly eat something so monstrously engineered as a superpig, Mirando creates a contest, sending a couple dozen superpigs around the world to be raised by farmers with a “best” superpig being declared after 10 years. The maybe-counterintuitive idea is that if people around the world can form some emotional connection to these superpigs over time, they’ll be more likely to accept them as a food source than they would be if they were simply presented with such genetic anomalies out of the blue.
Okja is being raised in South Korea by a farmer and his granddaughter, Mija, who’s formed a bond with Okja as one would with any dog or cat, despite the fact that Okja is the size of an elephant. When Okja is, of course, named the world’s best superpig, the Mirando corporation wants to take her and show her off to the world, much to the chagrin of Mija, who simply wants to continue living her simple life with her friend.
This is the world of Bong Joon-Ho, where the fantastic is treated in a place where realism meets grotesquerie, where Okja is as true-to-life as any computer-generated creature I can remember seeing, while the executives in the Mirando corporation exist in a sort of hyper-reality, just on the edge of caricature. And it’s not just some giant jab at giant profit-at-any-cost companies, although it is a lot of that. Some of the people at Mirando honestly believe they’re doing a great good for the world, and an animal rights group shows up to free the superpigs, and they don’t escape Bong Joon-Ho’s satirical eye, either.
The movies of Bong Joon-Ho defy simple explanation. But there’s no doubt that Okja creates a unique experience that somehow doesn’t strain credulity—despite all of the craziness going on all around, we believe in the superpig.