Bong Joon-ho Returns With Okja, a Film About a Hippo-Pig
Six features into his career, South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho has made what he calls his “very first love story.” And for Netflix, no less. But Bong being Bong—Snowpiercer was a batshit postapocalyptic thriller set aboard a globe-spanning train—his new film, Okja, is no boy-meets-girl tale. Rather, it’s the story of a friendship between a South Korean girl and the title character, a 6-ton pig-elephant-manatee-hippo thing.
Bong first imagined the beast years ago and couldn’t shake the image. “Obsession is what gives an idea energy and momentum,” the director says. “It’s what gets my movies off the ground.” That and money, of course, which is where Netflix comes in: It reportedly gave Bong a $50 million budget, plus total creative control. The deal seems to be part of a Netflix play to offer up ambitious blockbuster-style fare like the recent Brad Pitt movie War Machine.
Boldfaced bedfellows and budgets don’t mean Bong has gone commercial, though. Okja is a commentary on capitalism: A multinational conglomerate takes the creature from her home in the mountains and ships her to New York as part of a creepy feed-the-world scheme. In real life, though, the capitalist intentions of an aggressive multinational firm—say, a streaming platform—can work out well for everyone.
Who: Bong Joon-ho, 47, director
Now: Reuniting with Snowpiercer’s Tilda Swinton on the Netflix original movie Okja
Next: The Korean-language Parasite. Don’t let the title fool you, Bong says: “It’s not like a John Carpenter sci-fi film.”
Bong Joon-ho’s body of work
Bong’s splashy English-language debut is being developed into a TNT pilot.
A woman tries to prove her son innocent of murder in this Hitchcockian thriller.
The Host, 2006
A family does battle against one very pissed-off amphibious monster.
Memories of Murder, 2003
This taut police procedural is based on a real Korean serial-killing case.
Barking Dogs Never Bite, 2000
A dark comedy about a jobless academic turned dog killer. For completists only.
This article appears in the July issue. Subscribe now.