With his film “Okja,” Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has a chance at finding a larger audience since his movie will premiere globally on Netflix June 28, while also getting a small theatrical release.
It tells the story of Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun), a Korean girl, who spends her life caring for Okja, a giant, genetically-enhanced pig created by the Mirando Corp. When they send renowned animal expert Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) to bring Mija and her pet to New York, the company has ulterior plans to reap the rewards of her super sow.
The idea for the dark fable came to the filmmaker in 2010 when he envisioned “the strong image of a huge introverted animal with a sad face,” realizing his latest creature feature would have to be different from his earlier hit, “The Host.”
The first step was finding Mija, and Bong knew of Ahn Seo-Hyun from her earlier film “Monster,” in which she gave an impressive performance.
“Although I saw hundreds and hundreds of child actors, I always had her in mind, because she didn’t have the conventional acting style most child actors in Korea have,” he says. “She had this very strange and fresh aura about her that was appealing.”
Bong was also a fan of “Better Call Saul” star Giancarlo Esposito from when he was assigned to create Korean subtitles for Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” in film school.
“I was fascinated with the social comments he was making within his movies and how it blended so seamlessly with the dramatic events,” Esposito says about his interest in the role of Mirando chief Frank Dawson. “We wonder who runs these corporations and how it gets handed down from family member to family member through nepotism.”
This is the director’s second film with Tilda Swinton, who played a memorably cartoonish villain in “Snowpiercer.” She plays a dual role of the twin sisters running Mirando Corp.
“The first day I worked with her, she was playing both characters, and it was just brilliant the way she handled that transition,” Esposito says about his Oscar-winning co-star. “It was an insight into her commitment and understanding of what the story was really about.”
A lifelong New Yorker, Esposito talked about working with Bong, who attempted to find New York locations different from other New York-based films.
“He writes his own material, so he’s coming at it from a place as an auteur and a creative genius who has his own vision,” Esposito says about the experience.
“I hope people watch my movie on Netflix and in theaters and on Blu-ray and airplanes. To be honest, that’s how we all consume films,” the filmmaker says about the “proper” way to watch “Okja.”
“The means of watching films is increasing over time. Just because streaming is added, I don’t believe that theaters will go extinct. How they can coexist in an organized fashion is really the job of the industry, not the job of the creators. As a creator, this is a very good chance at having more options, and I think it’s a good opportunity.”
How to watch: “Okja” screens starting June 28 at Film Society of Lincoln Center and iPic Fulton Market and streaming on Netflix.