On July 11th, I went to watch Seoul Cinema’s screening of Okja. Director Bong Joon-ho’s latest film is about a little girl’s attempt to rescue her pet, Okja, the super pig bred by a mega-corporation as a source of future food product. This was a special screening because the movie was followed by a talk with the director himself, accompanied by Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul.
The pair admitted that they had been sitting in the back of the theatre, enjoying the film with the rest of us. Director Bong claimed that he did not want to see his own film again as more he watches he spots flaws or things that he should’ve done differently. But today, because the mayor was visiting to watch the film for the first his time, he decided to sit next to him and watch it all over again.
Many people in the audience, including my self, were curious about the presence of the mayor. The film is not set in Seoul except for the scenes where Okja the Super Pig is set lose and roams around the city in attempt to escape its captors. Director Bong explained that the Mayor of Seoul is deeply interested in animal rights issue and that even his dissertation is on the subject. Bong recalled that once he went to see an obscure documentary about animals at a small theatre and he was surprised to see Mayor Park appear as a guest speaker at the end. He then learned how much the mayor cares about enhancing the living condition of animals. It was also mentioned that the mayor was the driving force behind the release of “Jedolee”, a dolphin kept for shows at Seoul Grand Park, back to the wild.
Regarding his reputation as an animal lover, Mayor Park made a remark that he was occasionally criticized that he should first consider the human rights before looking out for animals. Nevertheless, he firmly believes that the people who care for animals care for other human beings as well. He also praised the film Okja and the director for making such an incredible film that portrays various social issues of our time.
In the middle of the talk, the mayor, who had been staring into his phone for a few minutes, brought up questions asked by his followers on social media regarding the film and the audience were delightfully entertained. One of the questions was about the movie’s apparent criticism towards meat consumption. Director Bong made it clear that his intention with the movie “Okja” was not to condemn meat-eating in any way. After the film’s release, Bong had received feedback on his social media that many viewers are reluctant to consume pork or red meat after watching the film. He pointed out that he himself is a meateater but after visiting the slaughterhouse (prior to production for research purpose) he was unable to eat meat for weeks to follow. Eventually, he got back to his regular diet as that is what he had been following for his entire life.
Director Bong did not intend to turn his viewers into vegetarians, but he was more interested in social perspective towards vegetarians, especially in Asia. “In Asia, the concept of vegetarianism or veganism is still unfamiliar compare to how its understood in the west. In Korea, when you say that you are a vegetarian or a vegan, you might come off as being snobbish.” He went on and explained that he hoped that there would be more respect and understanding towards people who choose to go vegetarian in a meat-eating society.
Another fun fact about making of Okja is that the actor Paul Dano was allegedly thrilled to play his role in Okja because he appears as a “cool” character. Director Bong mentioned that he and Paul Dano have been friends for a long time. Dano inspired him to produce one of the final scenes where Okja and Mija are walking out of the slaughterhouse while other pigs let out a cry. He told Bong a story from his previous shooting, where the crew was stationed near a farm and they could not sleep due to strange cries of cows in which went on all night long. Together with Dano’s personal experience and Bong’s visit to actual slaughterhouse, the unforgettable scene of Okja and Mija’s exit from slaughterhouse was created.
Okja has been drawing attention even before its grand premiere on Netflix and selective theatres across South Korea. The major distributors have refused to show the movie on their theatres because of its simultaneous release on Netflix and in theatres. (Independent’s article) Only a few independent cinemas are playing the movie and Director Bong jokingly made a comment regarding this: “You’re right, movies should be viewed in theatres.”