Okja is a 2017 South Korean-American action-adventure film directed by Bong Joon-ho and co-written by Bong and Jon Ronson. The film stars an Ensemble Cast headed by South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun alongside Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun, Giancarlo Esposito, and Jake Gyllenhaal.
Compared to Snowpiercer, Bong's previous film and his first to primarily use the English language, Okja has a more balanced blend of English and Korean, which can be attributed to this film focusing on its Korean protagonist.
In 2007, "environmentalist" Lucy Mirando (Swinton) assumes her twin sister's role as CEO of the multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation and launches a marketing campaign in which the company sends 26 giant genetically modified animals that they have bred and dubbed "superpigs" to farmers around the world, with one to be crowned as the best superpig in a decade's time.
After Okja is paid a visit by Mirando representatives, led by spokesperson and eccentric TV personality Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal), it is determined that she is the best superpig and will be transported to New York to be unveiled to the world. Fantastic news, right?
As it turns out, Mija is devastated at the prospect of being separated from Okja, and sets out on a journey by herself against her grandfather's wishes to rescue Okja and bring her home. However, Mija's quest gets complicated when separate groups of capitalists, demonstrators and consumers become ensnared in the buzz surrounding Okja, and seemingly everyone she meets has their own plans for the fate of the superpig — some darker than others.
Okja provides examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: Most of the ALF members are named after their respective hair colour; we have Red, Silver, Blond...and then we have K, and the leader Jay.
- Affably Evil: Lucy. She appears to be genuinely nice to Mija and always tries her best to not hurt her feelings despite being the CEO of an abusive company which prioritizes profits over ethics.
- All Animals Are Dogs: All of the superpigs, with traits like walking circles in place before lying down, but especially Okja, who is leash-trained and will sit on command.
- Aluminum Christmas Trees: The ALF is actually a real organization.
- Amplified Animal Aptitude: The superpigs aren't just bigger than normal pigs - they're also even smarter. Okja is perfectly capable of reasoning out abstract concepts and puzzles, like when she saves Mija's life with a seeming Heroic Sacrifice.
- Animals Lack Attributes: Completely averted with Okja — she has visible genitalia and an anus under her tail, though the single large visible teat and its placement makes her look bizarrely like a boar, not a sow.
- Arc Words: "Translations are sacred."
- Batman Grabs a Gun: Jay is a decidedly gentle person who cares for all living creatures and avoids causing them harm; he is even careful to respect Silver's decisions by not saying he should break his fast but by expressing personal concern for his well-being. So it's particularly shocking when he beats the crap out of K.
- Body Horror: Okja is a healthy, well-formed superpig with only a few anatomical oddities. The suffering, mutated horrors in the lab are...less so, as is the monstrosity that Okja is forced to mate with.
- A Boy and His X: A Girl and Her Superpig in this case. Okja and Mija grew up together on an isolated forested mountain in Korea, and when Mirando takes Okja to be sent to New York, it forces Mija to confront the cruel, capitalist horrors of the wider world. Through the course of saving Okja from the slaughterhouse, Mija develops from an impulsive child to a courageous girl who will face down a CEO and her private police force just to protect Okja.
- Bittersweet Ending: Mija successfully saves Okja and brings her, plus a baby piglet, back to the mountains. However, the rest of the superpigs, including the piglet's parents, are still scheduled to get slaughtered, as the Mirando corporation will not shut down despite their cruelties having been exposed, as implied by Nancy.
- Call a Smeerp a "Rabbit": Okja and her kind are referred to as "superpigs", but they more closely resemble giant mutant hippos, with traces of traits of other animals, like elephants (especially the ears) and dogs (with their rounded bulldog snouts).
- Chekhov's Gun: The golden pig that Hee-bong buys for Mija is used by her to buy Okja off of the Mirando Corporation at the last second before she is killed.
- Chekhov's Skill: Early on in the film, Mija is shown to have an ability to make Okja essentially projectile poop by patting her butt. It comes in handy when the two are escaping with the help of the ALF, as Mija uses it to get the last Mirando employee chasing them off their tail.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: It appears to run in the Mirando family, but despite Lucy's obsession with being a Villain with Good Publicity and her sister Nancy's focus on the money, both pale in contrast to their late father, whom they both despised.
- Cruella to Animals: The main problem with the Mirando Corporation, besides lying about GMOs, is how they mistreat animals, keeping them in camps where they can barely move, mistreating them, hurting them, and eventually killing them so they can be eaten. Johnny Wilcox especially is this, which is shown when Okja is sent to the lab. He forces her to mate, extracts meat from her while she's still alive, and tortures her. He even laments, "I'm an animal lover" immediately before carving slices of flesh out of her.
- This is especially disturbing, since the superpigs are implied to be semi-sentient and capable of abstract reasoning. And they're capable of crying.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The ALF members wear black clothing and masks, but they have only good intentions, and even in combat they avoid hurting people.
- Determinator: Mija stops at absolutely nothing to get Okja back.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Completely inverted; Lucy and Nancy are both evil women who are completely apathetic to the suffering that the animals they exploit for meat are undergoing, but they despise their father, because he was even worse than them. They're just harming animals, but he harmed humans.
- Evil Twin: Nancy to Lucy. It's not that Lucy isn't evil in her way, but at least she has standards and feelings, and she appears to care about something besides money.
- Fictional Counterpart: Mirando sounds suspiciously similar to Monsanto, a highly controversial real-life agrochemical and agricultural corporation which also produces GMOs.
- Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Mija refuses to participate in the ALF's mission, saying in Korean that she wants to take Okja home and not go to New York as the ALF have planned. K (who is acting as a translator) tells Jay in English that she agrees to their mission.
- High-Dive Escape: The ALF jump off a bridge into the water below to escape during Okja's recapture.
- Huggy, Huggy Hippos: The titular superpig resembles a hippopotamus in appearance, and is very sweet and playful.
- Language Barrier: Mija doesn't speak English, so she doesn't understand what the ALF members say to her, besides K (who speaks both English and Korean). He ends up using this to make the other ALF members believe she agreed to the plan when she really didn't.
- Light Is Not Good: Lucy and her employees are almost always seen wearing white or other light colors.
- Little Miss Badass: Even though Mija is only 14 years old, she outruns a truck, joins a radical animal rights activist/terrorist association, destroys a store by diverting Okja into it, and finally saves Okja and a superpiglet from the Mirando slaughterhouse.
- Low Clearance: After jumping on top of the truck carrying Okja, Mija is just able to squeeze under a 4.2-meter clearance, only to find a 3.9-meter clearance right after it that forces her to throw herself off and dangle from the truck's back doors.
- Mix-and-Match Critter: The superpigs. They bear a more than passing resemblance to hippopotami, from their muzzle shape to their short triangular tails, as well as how attracted Okja is to water. She's far less aggressive and far more well-mannered than a hippo, though.
- My God, What Have I Done?: The ALF have this reaction when they send Okja off to the lab to spy on its inner workings, only to record her being forced to mate with a gigantic and horribly mutated male superpig.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The ALF, even though they're well-intentioned, send Okja off to the laboratory where she (although they had no way of knowing this ahead of time) is then forced to mate with another superpig and generally horribly mistreated. Their attempt to rescue her during the best superpig contest also fails, leading her to be brought to the slaughterhouse as the corporation planned.
- Noodle Incident in advance: In the Stinger, the ALF are on a bus moments before they start their next mission. The film ends before we find out what that is.
- Outside Ride: After chasing down the truck holding Okja, Mija jumps onto the top. After some Low Clearance action makes her end up clinging onto the truck by its back, she holds on for an impressively long time, but is flung off after the ALF's truck rams into it.
- Photo Op with the Dog: Both Mr. Mundo and Dr. Johnny Wilcox do this with Okja, and while Mundo does so out of company loyalty as part of their PR initiative for the best superpig contest, in Wilcox's case it's mainly a desperate attempt to boost his image as a animal lover celebrity zoologist.
- Polar Opposite Twins: Nancy and Lucy. The former is a heartless moneymaker who takes after their father; Lucy despises their father, is friendlier, and aims to project a softer image to the public.
- Rape Discretion Shot: Okja being forced to mate with a giant bloated abomination of a superpig is shown only as a blurry Jitter Cam shot of it starting to mount her before cutting to the horrified faces of the ALF members watching the camera feed.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: When Okja is taken to the lab, she is forced to mate with a mutated male of her species. The members of the ALF can't handle hearing her cries, and argue among themselves over how they could have willingly sent her there.
- Secondary Character Title: Okja is Mija's Loyal Animal Companion.
- Slippery Skid: After intercepting Okja's transportation via truck and loading her onto one of their own, the ALF gets rid of most of the people chasing them by dumping bags of marbles onto the road that they then slip on. Leave it to Bong Joon-ho to incorporate classic slapstick into a deathly serious chase scene.
- Someone To Remember Us By: Two superpig parents, knowing they're about to be slaughtered, manage to push their piglet through a hole in the fence to Mija and Okja, who saves the piglet by hiding it from the guards in her mouth.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: John Denver's "Alice's Song", a gentle love song, accompanies the slow-motion image of ALF members fighting with guards after Okja rampages through a mall and obliterates a store.
- Villain with Good Publicity: The Mirando Corporation, thanks to Lucy's tireless marketing campaign portraying the superpigs as environmentally friendly and non-GMO. By the end, the ALF exposing the cruel conditions under which Okja and her kind are created does put a dent in their PR. However, we never see the full fallout of their reveal, and Nancy states that so long as their products are cheap, they'll sell.