Bong Joon Ho’s last movie—2013’s agit-prop sci-fi saga Snowpiercer—proved just a little divisive: Many Americans weren’t able to roll with the South Korean director’s jarring blend of comedy, drama, and social commentary. His latest, Okja, premieres on Netflix this week and—just a guess—it’s also going to split audiences. This time he’s delivered a film about a few things: capitalism’s inherent predation, the food-production processes that most carnivores decide to ignore, and a giant, goofy, huggable super pig that likes to romp around in the forest. It's great.
Said super pig is Okja, and she’s BFFs with Mija (Ahn Seo Hyun), a farm girl who, along with her grandfather, takes care of Okja—putting aside the fact that the genetically engineered beast is owned by the Mirando Corporation, the result of a decision from its dead-eyed CEO (Tilda Swinton, having a blast as she channels both Martha Stewart and Hillary Clinton) to turn “the most hated agri-chemical company in the world into the most likable miracle pig-rearing company!” So when Mirando takes Okja to Seoul—ready to cash in on the fact she’s adorable, profitable, and “fucking delicious”—Mija mounts a rescue. Soon enough, she also encounters a semi-inept Animal Liberation Front activist (Paul Dano), a cartoonish, squealing TV host (Jake Gyllenhaal), and a whole lot of blood.
Yeah. Blood. Okja’s delightful first few minutes, in which Mija and Okja frolic in the woods, might lead some to believe this is a children’s film. It really isn’t. As Okja progresses, Bong Joon Ho sets aside the whimsy and starts swinging with a bludgeon. Which, you know, fair enough: If Okja is viscerally blunt, that’s because viscera plays a pretty major role.
Any other filmmaker might try to flatten out Okja’s tone, but Bong Joon Ho is happy to jump between genres, trusting audiences to keep up. Okja’s a lot of things—a satire, a drama, a horror movie—but the total experience is one that both riffs on and examines the complexities of love, friendship, and the challenges of trying to live an ethical life. It also reinforces a few facts that, for obvious reasons, are rarely foregrounded in American cinema: that corporations exist only to exploit, and that most peoples’ love of animals conveniently disappears right around dinnertime. Just in case you’ve forgotten, Okja is a reminder: You can never trust any business, and you can only trust a few people. But you can always trust a super pig.