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.