Sunday, 2 July 2017

Okja | Bong Joon-ho, 2017

A sole member of a new species of “superpig” is purportedly discovered in the Chilean jungle and shipped to New York City by the historically anti-human Mirando Corporation, where a PR campaign to provide a sustainable food source to the world is presented to an adoring public in the factory where the company manufactured Napalm during the Vietnam War. But that was the old Mirando. The new Mirando has reared this animal and, through “non-forced, natural mating”, 26 new superpigs have been bred from one, ready for distribution to farmers around the world as part of a global competition. It’s a biologically dubious yarn to say the least, but one accepted without question by a fawning public — who’s going to argue with feeding the world?

Ten years pass. “Superpig” is now a global brand, and the titular Okja, recently crowned the world’s best superpig, is an international celebrity, taken from the South Korean countryside to New York City for her grand unveiling to the masses. Mija, her Last Guardian-style companion, just wants to take her back home, and so she embarks upon a globe-trotting, girl-versus-the-world rescue mission to save her friend — one which takes on new significance when, assisted by the Animal Liberation Front, iPhone footage of an overwhelmed Okja escaping captivity and running amok in downtown Seoul goes viral, and these images are coopted by both Mirando and the ALF to further their own political agendas.

And so Bong’s film becomes one of competing narratives, image versus image, perception versus perception, propaganda versus propaganda. Mija and Okja are part of something bigger than themselves: a war of public opinion that has been won and lost already — “if it’s cheap, they’ll eat it”. But all Mija cares about is Okja. She just wants to bring her home. It’s a simple story viewed through a political prism, refracted and distorted, and pieced back together again as if nothing has changed. And it hasn’t changed — it was never going to. People still buy superpig meat. Bong’s film isn’t so much anti-corporation as it is opposed to a world in which corporations are allowed to flourish without accountability. If it’s cheap, they’ll eat it, wherever it comes from. It’s easier for people to remain passive and not ask questions, so there can be no meaningful opposition. Even the supposed anarchists are useless, apologising for the pain they inflict and reassuring the world that they never harm anyone, human or nonhuman. As long as businesses make money they can do what they want — and human decency isn’t a currency. The only way to save Okja is transactional. “Pleasure doing business with you.”

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