Bong Joon Ho‘s Okja had a rapturous debut at Cannes amongst critics (read our review, here). But due to its stature as a Netflix original film it was unofficially barred by the Jury from receiving any awards. Because Netflix isn’t pursuing a theatrical release in France, the President of the esteemed film festival nearly pulled both Netflix films in competition (Okja and Noah Baumbach‘s The Meyerowitz Stories). Though they screened (and received some of the best reviews from the festival), the Jury held steadfast on the prediction that they would not reward any of the streaming service’s films. Despite this future-of-cinema conversation, the streaming distributor has offered Bong much more creative control than his English-language debut, Snowpiercer, where he had a constant battle with The Weinstein Company over the cut. Indeed, he’s quite pleased with his experience this go-round and that freedom will only make Netflix more enticing for filmmakers.
Due to the brazen go-for-broke adventure stylings of Bong’s film, it likely would have struggled to find a foothold for awards that generally go to very grounded and piercing works anyhow. But Okja is piercing, nonetheless. The adventure concerns an evil corporation (headed by Tilda Swinton with Giancarlo Esposito as her steady advisor/adversary) that faces the public by showing their good intentions of attempting to feed the world through a method of absurd pageantry that hides the truth to how that’s being done. Mirando Corp. has publicly given their genetically manufactured “super pigs” to farmers in various parts of the world to raise for ten years, promising to reward the family who raises the biggest and best pig. The winner of this competition is a young South Korean girl named Mija (An Seo-Hyun) and her pig, Okja. When the spokesman for the Corp. (Jake Gyllenhaal) comes to her sleepy countryside to take her away for good, Mija travels to Seoul and New York City in an attempt to return her best friend to her home (with the help of members of the Animal Liberation Army, played by Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun and Devon Bostick).
Along the way, Bong skewers corporate greed, celebrity, the rigorous debates for pure intentions that come inherent to activism and even internment camps. It’s a fun adventure with heady topics.
Recently I got the chance to sit down and chat with Bong about how this story spiraled out to include so many different types of modern fears, how Netflix came to partner on the film and what he’s doing as a follow-up. When I walked in the room he told me with a big smile that Collider was his favorite website and recalled showing our own Steven Weintraub early sketches for Snowpiercer at Sundance years ago. Our interview after that friendly aside is below.
[Note: Most of this interview was done directly with Bong in English, but occasionally he would use a translator for sections of answers that he could answer better in Korean; his full answers including translated asides are below.]