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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Okja isn't a movie for kids. Despite the family-friendly poster of a giant pig and a little girl, and though it has many comic elements, it's an extremely intense, violent film about cruelty to animals in a world in which corporations wreak havoc on the planet. After a brief intro to the science behind the "breeding" of some superpigs, the movie moves to a beautiful Korean mountainside where the young heroine and her devoted 10-year-old superpig, Okja, romp and reveal their unique friendship. What follows, in great contrast, is a frightening journey in which the girl tries to save her pet from a horrific fate at the hands of an outrageous corporate villain, aided only by a group of well-meaning but foolish animal activists. Along the way, the girl is chased, hurt, and -- spoiler alert -- narrowly escapes death. Okja and others of his species are subject to barbaric physical experimentation and beatings, then pushed to a painful, inhumane fate. The animal cries are piercing and upsetting. Frequent profanity includes "s--t," "bitch," "hell," and many uses of "f--k." One character drinks and gets very drunk, resulting in outrageous bad behavior. In some scenes, English subtitles are used to translate from Korean.
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What's the story?
To gain notoriety and universal support for its megalomaniac leader (Tilda Swinton), the Mirando Corporation, a mammoth business with a checkered past, announces the arrival of the company's 26 superpigs in OKJA. Calling them "Mother Nature's Gifts" and the answer to the world's dwindling food supply, the adorable little pigs will be sent out to 26 countries to live with 26 families, and after 10 years of nurturing, the superest pig of all will return to NYC and be crowned. The 10 years pass. One of the enormous grown-up pigs, Okja, is living an idyllic life on a mountaintop in Korea with young Mija (An Seu Hyun, who breaks your heart) and her grandfather. The idyll doesn't last very long. Okja's progress has been charted, and the female superpig has been chosen to make the journey to New York City. When a small army of escorts, including TV celebrity Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal), host of Dr. Johnny's Animal Magic, arrives at their home, Mija is tricked and Okja is taken away from her. The steadfast girl gives chase -- all the way to Seoul, South Korea's capitol, where Okja's appearance and Mia's efforts to rescue her create chaos. Only a bizarre band of animal rights activists, led by Jay (Paul Dano), appear to help her. Unfortunately, Mija is too trusting once again, and, once again tricked, she finds herself in dire straits. It's one narrow escape after another; until she's reunited with her precious Okja, Mija must face their greatest enemy: the Mirando Corporation and its harsh CEO. In New York City, the cruel intentions of the company are revealed and Mija must risk all once again to save her beloved friend.
Is it any good?
Alongside some outrageous comic performances and a lovely connection between a young girl and her giant pet pig lives a big, violent, imaginative ecological fable guaranteed to touch hearts. South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho has created a timely movie with larger-than-life villains; a calamitous, one-sided depiction of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) as an optional food supply; and a traditional "prince fights a dragon to save the princess" story at its heart. In this story, the "prince" is a little girl; the "dragon" is Tilda Swinton in a dual role, and the "princess" is an adorably lovable enormous pig. The director and his team have mastered the art of combining satire with farce and then hitting hard with solid notions about man's greed and his ability to destroy everything beautiful in his path. For families hoping to enjoy the fable and its messages with their younger kids, Okja is far too intense, violent, and fraught with animals under siege to make that work. The film is for mature teens only.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Okja. Even though in its way this movie is a fairy tale, why is the violence so disturbing? How does the defenselessness of animals increase our empathy?
In what way or ways did this movie have a happy ending? In what ways did it not? What was your final takeaway?
Use your response to this film to find out more about GMOs (genetically modified organisms). What are some of the pros and cons associated with GMOs in our food supply?
Which positive character traits does Mija display?
- On DVD or streaming: June 28, 2017
- Cast: An Seo Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
- Director: Bong Joon Ho
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Action/Adventure
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs, Science and Nature
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 118 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
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