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Bong Joon-ho

Bong Joon-ho on veganism, Tilda Swinton and Netflix movie ‘Okja’

We spoke to Korean director Bong Joon-ho ahead of the release of satire ‘Okja’

Written by
Tom Huddleston

Korean director Bong Joon-ho revitalised the monster movie with ‘The Host’ in 2006. His new satire ‘Okja’ features another giant creature – a loveable ‘super-pig’ who goes on the run from her corporate creators.

Are you a vegetarian?
‘No! But almost. During the making of this movie my level of meat consumption has decreased. But I grew up in Korea, BBQ paradise. It’s difficult to find a vegan place in Seoul! I don’t want people who see this film to convert to veganism. I just want them to consider the animal they’re eating, and how it got to the plate.’

Okja is a CGI creature. What animals did you study when creating her?
‘I looked at hippos, rhinoceros, pigs obviously. And manatees. The manatee is the most sympathetic looking animal. It looks like it’s being ridiculed, or wrongfully accused. We also shared a lot of pictures of eyes. We worked hard to make Okja’s eyes very beautiful.’

Do think we’re close to seeing genetically modified creatures like Okja on our plates?
‘The Mirando Corporation in the film was based on a real company, but my lawyer told me to refrain from saying the name! It has the same first initial. But yes, this will happen quite soon. A company has already produced a GM salmon. The justification is always solving the food crisis, but I think really it’s just for profit.’

Okja Netflix film still‘Okja’

You have some big stars in this movie, including Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton. Were they fun to work with?
‘To me, Tilda feels like a fully charged battery. On the set it’s like we’re at school, and she’s my big sister. And she has a great sense of dialogue, she came up with many wonderful improvisations. Jake is a very focused person. His performance seems so over the top, but while I was editing I found that in between there were many small, subtle moments, letting us feel how fragile his character is. It's amazing.’

What made you choose British journalist Jon Ronson to co-write the script with you?
‘Some might call this movie sci-fi but it’s very contemporary, very political. So that journalistic touch was important. In books like “The Psychopath Test” and “Them”, Jon discussed multinational corporations. But at the same time he has a great sense of humour, he’s very sarcastic. English is not my language so I really had to depend on him for all the subtle nuances of dialogue and character.’

‘Okja’ is available on Netflix from Wed Jun 28. It's also in selected Curzon cinemas for one night only on Wed Jun 28. 

Read our review of ‘Okja’

  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • Film
  • Action and adventure

Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's 'Okja' is a globalised caper comedy with a conscience buried somewhere among all its silliness. In the film's sights are GM food production and the poor treatment of animals, and at its heart is a cute, often winning relationship between an oversized pig and a Korean girl called Mija (An Seo Hyun).

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