Okja is exciting for another singularly remarkable feat: It is not only the first major film to seamlessly integrate English and Korean (an estimated 20 percent of the film’s dialogue is in Korean), but it also features what might be the most realistic Korean-American character in film history. Indeed, I’d argue the best way to fully appreciate Okja is if you understand both Korean and English — even though it won’t alienate those on either side.
The best thing I learned from the Tilda Swinton–Margaret Cho kerfuffle of 2016 was that Tilda’s “colleague from Snowpiercer” Bong Joon-ho is making a monster movie for Netflix. (The second-best thing I learned? That “Tell me to fuck off if you feel like it” is a great email sign-off.) Somehow my IMDb radar had missed Okja, which was first announced as a Netflix project in November 2015. In the film, Okja is the name of a creature that is the best friend of a Korean girl named Mija. Conflict arises when a heartless corporation tries to capture Okja on some E.T. shit. “On the surface is a story about an animal,” says the director, “but it’s essentially a story about capitalism.” Coproduced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment, and filmed in both South Korea and NYC, Okja stars Tilda, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano — and, as Tilda astutely points out, Korean American actor Steven Yeun and young Korean actress Ahn Seo-hyun. See, Margaret? Asian actors! In Asian roles! Stateside audiences will know director Bong from Snowpiercer, but don’t sleep on the hits from his Korean-only filmography: Barking Dogs Never Bite, Memories of Murder, Mother, and his first monster allegory movie, 2006’s The Host (currently streaming on Netflix). I didn’t even watch Snowpiercer and I’m all in on Okja. Also, Jake seems real stoked about it, and if Jake’s happy, I am, too.
The princess of Korean entertainment is a 22-year-old K-pop idol named Suzy Bae. She is universally beloved in such an uncomplicated way that it’d be impossible to identify an analog in America, where we can only agree that we will never agree on anything, ever. In Korea, a performer’s job is still very much oriented around customer service — thus, the more popular you are, the more accessible and fan-friendly you should be. (Whereas the inverse seems true in America.) So there is a lot of Suzy material to go around. I could imagine a Suzy channel that includes, but is not limited to, music videos of her ex-group Miss A; film appearances (modern and period); TV appearances in dramas (modern and period), variety shows, and guerrilla dating bits; award acceptance speeches; baseball first pitches, both home and abroad; highlights from archery competitions; slightly creepy iso-cams of live performances; choreographed dance practices; and 10 minutes of random fan interaction at a signing.
What is your favorite way to alter a cheap, supermarket-bought, processed item to make it palatable (e.g. boxed Mac and Cheese, Ramen, etc.)? You know, for bachelors. And broke people. There is no single cure all. I would say the ultimate broke ass, dorm food, for people who don't have a lot of money, for people aren't good at cooking, if you only have a hotplate, is a Korean dish called Budae Jjigae, also known as Army Stew or Korean Army Stew. You can google that shit. It is an unholy mix of ramen, hot dogs (or vienna sausage), spam, beans, kimchi, and Korean spices. I know that sounds like just a horrible train wreck, it's really delicious and you can pretty much train a reasonably intelligent doberman to make it. It's perfect. When there was a lot of poverty and necessity during wartime in Korea, it perfectly reflects the need to improvise, innovate, and make the most of what you have on hand. It remains a delicious and beloved dish in Korea. I adore this stuff.