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It all began with a drawing of a little girl and a giant pig. OKJA is Director Bong Joon-ho’s fantastic journey of a brave child fighting capitalism, betrayal, instant celebrity, and a world full of ills to save her beloved pet from slaughter. Bong spoke with me about OKJA’s connections to his previous monster flick, THE HOST, as well as BABE 2: PIG IN THE CITY, and President Obama. He also revealed his clever plan to “induce” viewers into seeing the film on big screen, and his upcoming reunion with star Song Kang-ho for PARASITE.

Dig it!

 

OKJA

Bong Joon-ho

The Lady Miz Diva: In THE HOST, we have the story of a brave little girl, who must save the world from a monster.  In OKJA, we have the story of a brave little girl, who must save a monster from the world.  Did the circularity of the two films occur to you while you were creating OKJA?

Bong Joon-ho:  Yes, it definitely did occur to me.  I used a lot of opposition between the two films, such as THE HOST’s story taking place in the heart of the city of Seoul, and OKJA’s story beginning deep in the mountainside.

And just like in THE HOST, where Song Kang-ho rescues a young boy - a child - from the monster and takes him under his wing; in OKJA, the family adopts this piglet from this concentration camp-like stockyard and brings him into the family.

 

LMD:  Tilda Swinton mentioned your shared love of Hayao Miyazaki.  Looking back at OKJA, I see several connections.  Was that where the idea for this fantastic creature and the little girl began?

BJh:  I had grown up watching Miyazaki's films.  His work has naturally seeped into my blood stream and cells. However, for OKJA, specifically, I can't say his films were a direct influence.  I was more influenced by documentaries about animals, or the food industry, or documentaries that deal with workers in slaughterhouses (such as the Oscar winning short documentary, THE REAPER).  They were very impressive and helpful.  Also, George Miller's BABE 2: PIG IN THE CITY was a film from which I had received a lot of inspiration.

 

LMD:  You co-wrote SNOWPIERCER with Kelly Masterson, and OKJA was a collaboration with the great writer and journalist, Jon Ronson.  Was collaborating with a non-Asian writer intentional? How does it benefit or alter your perspective in any way?  What did Mr. Ronson add to your story that wasn’t there before?

BJh:  Like the Mirando Corporation and the ALF, many of the characters in OKJA are non-Korean.  So naturally, a lot of English dialogue was required.  Even during the beginning phases of screenwriting, I knew that 80% of the dialogue would be in English. So obviously, I needed an English speaking screenwriter (like Kelly Masterson in SNOWPIERCER).

I wrote the first draft in Korean.  After having it translated into English, I handed it over to Jon, who then rewrote all the English dialogue (Polishing, and often times creating new lines).  For me, this was a natural way of working.  Jon Ronson was exquisite in capturing the nuances of different cultures, and had a great way with playing with the nuance of words and constructing jokes.

 

LMD:  OKJA has a huge cast of amazing actors.  When you have so many talented and powerful stars in your ensemble, how do you judge how much time to spend on each character while keeping the strong focus on Mija and Okja?

BJh:  I intentionally wanted a destroyed/broken-down ensemble.  The characters who appear in OKJA are all connected through a very peculiar project (the Superpig project).  Mija lives deep inside the mountains, whereas Lucy Mirando is in the heart of Manhattan.  Also, there are these weird activists.  We combine characters that in normal circumstances would never share a screen.  Yet, they are met through this superpig.  Hence, it was important that the combination of these characters were far from harmonious.

However, this wasn't an overly conscious effort, but just where the story had led me.  How these characters enter/leave the story, how they are mixed and how to balance them was a crucial part of the screenwriting process.  I usually spend a lot of time contemplating this, but it's very hard to explain in words.

 

LMD: OKJA is a beautiful looking film; from the landscapes of the South Korean mountainside, to deep in the valley of skyscrapers around Wall Street.  We’re used to you working with longtime DPs Kim Hyung-koo and Hong Kyung-pyo, but this time you brought in the legendary cinematographer, Darius Khondji.  Please tell us about that collaboration.

BJh:  I admired Darius Khondji’s films from very early on.  And especially this film, because it starts in sunlit, beautiful nature and ends with this very dark and damp slaughterhouse; I thought of Bernardo Bertolucci’s STEALING BEAUTY - it has very beautiful Neapolitan sunshine on Liv Tyler’s body, on the beautiful locations - and at the same time, he shot DELICATESSEN and SE7EN, and he is called the “Prince of Darkness” {Due to his expert Chiaroscuro technique}.  Because he had those broad spectrums, I felt confident that Darius could capture all that could be captured in this film.

I was also very curious about how this DP, who was very unfamiliar into Korea, would capture these Korean locations.

 

LMD:  Did the idea that OKJA, by virtue of Netflix’s streaming release, was going to be seen on television screens, or on a tablet, or on a cell phone, change anything in terms of your creative thinking?

BJh:  Because movies have such a long life; after that short period of theatrical releasing, it moves to Blu-ray, DVD, cable TV, and airplanes, and many things, streaming and iPad - not only Netflix, but also other streaming services - a single film has a very long life span and during this life, the size of the screen gets altered.  I think that it’s very obvious that if it looks beautiful on the big screen, it will look beautiful on the small screen.

For example, do you remember the shot when Mija, the girl runs from the graveyard to her house?  In that shot, there such an extreme longshot with a huge amount of trees, and Mija is a small dot.  If somebody was worrying about, ‘Oh, if people are watching this shot with an iPhone, maybe they cannot recognise Mija?’  But Darius Khondji and I never worried about that.

On the other hand, I wanted to induce my audience to watch it on a bigger screen because of these aspects of this film.  I want to make a difficult for people to view the film on their iPhone. {Laughs} I want to make them give up trying to watch it on their smartphone and then gradually move on to the big screen. {Laughs}

We have 60 screens in Korea, so it’s a much better situation in Korea.  So the Korean audience, they can watch it on the big screen.

 

LMD:  Of course, I was going to ask about the situation in Korea with all the controversy about Netflix’s streaming platform, but you’re saying they will get to view it in cinemas?

BJh:  Because of the day and date problem, there was a disagreement amongst multiplexes to share the film.  However, except for these three big chains of multiplexes, there are 60 independent theaters that were willing to show the film.  It’s a good situation, because every major city has at least more than two or three quite big theaters which will screen OKJA, so the audience can go and see it if they wish.

 

LMD:   Do you anticipate any other issues in Korea? I thought the straightforward look at the ways animal meat is harvested was quite bold, considering meat – pork belly, for example - is such an important staple of Korean diets, and vegetarianism seems very rare there.  I recall actress Kim Gyu-ri making a statement against imported beef and getting sued by beef importers.

BJh:  Vegan/vegetarian culture is beginning to set foot in Korea as people are becoming more and more health-conscious.  It's still in its beginning phases.

Although there's no doubt that Korea is still a BBQ paradise, there is another side of Korean culture (Buddhism) which has a long and historical tradition of "Salsaengyutaek" (It means to not take away a life in vain, whether that be an animal or an insect.).  So, these two sides coexist in Korea, as it must for all countries.

Kim Gyu-ri's statement had to do with Mad Cow's Disease, so I feel that's a different issue.

 

LMD:  In OKJA, there are quite a few visual gags and in-jokes; like the Obama cabinet photo reenactment.  Steven Yeun gets hit over the back of the head by a spiky, tubular object (Like his character in THE WALKING DEAD).  In that same scene, Paul Dano does a little reversal of his role in THERE WILL BE BLOOD.  I believe the poster in the Mirando Seoul office says the Superpig event in New York takes place on Sept 14th (Director’s birthday).  How many of these were written intentionally for sharp-eyed fans, and how many popped up spontaneously or subconsciously? Are there more in-jokes or connections that I missed?

BJh:  Thank you for taking notice of the Obama cabinet photo reenactment.  Normally, 2-3 out of 10 reporters notice this and ask me about it {Laughs}.  It's more of a "visual satire" than an "inside joke", considering how iconic that photo is.  It was amusing for me to reenact this photo, but I do believe it was relevant to the themes of the film. I wanted to express the terror of how the power of multinational corporations sometimes exceeds that of nations.  For example, Mirando strikes a deal with the NYPD and asserts their private mercenaries (Black-Chalk).  It is not governmental authority that suppresses the demonstrations.  To be honest, there was a real-life corporation and a real-life private security company that was a model for this, but this is tricky for me to talk about {Laughs}.

It's an interesting perspective you have about the Motel Scene, and how you think Paul Dano here had reversed his role from THERE WILL BE BLOOD.  I never had the film in mind when constructing this scene.  However, I was very excited to see Paul beat up someone in my film {Laughs}.  This is because he always seems to be the one who gets beaten up in other films, like in PRISONERS and THERE WILL BE BLOOD.  In Korea, people joke that Paul is an actor you cast if you need someone who gets beaten up.  But this time in OKJA, it's the other way around, which I find very interesting (Although at the end, he does get beaten up by Black-Chalk mercenaries).

 

LMD:  I am in awe of Ahn Seo-hyun in this film.  Is there a difference in working with someone like Ko Ah-sung in THE HOST, who had no real feature experience at that time, and Miss Ahn, who, at age 13, is a veteran actress with more than two dozen credits to her name?

BJh:  Yes, they are very different.  They are both great, but Ahn Seo-hyun is very different.  As a person, I think she is very strong and has a very unstoppable kind of feeling.  Even Tilda, even the Corporation, even the Black-Chalk cannot stop her kind of feeling.  She has this energy in her face that makes her feel like she can break through anything.  She has this ‘I don’t fucking care’ kind of feeling she has in her own face.  However crazy the world seems around her, she has this expression that makes her seem like she doesn’t care.  That is something that only Seo-hyun has within herself.

She didn’t have that typical, child actor-like façade where she’s princess-like and needs to be protected.  Because in this film, the child actor had to be the protector of Okja, we needed something very different.

 

LMD:  I have to ask about PARASITE.  Tell me about it?

BJh:  Mm-hm... Song Kang-ho – again {Laughs}.  That’s all.  It’s a story about a strange father, a strange family.  Kang-ho is the father.  I already have the draft and it’s all 100% Korean production; Korean actors, Korean dialogue.  I hope - I don’t know, but I hope - to kick off in December or January - or February, March, April, May, I don’t know - in the winter, soon.

 

LMD:  What would you like OKJA to say to audiences?

BJh:  "Love and peace!" {Laughs}

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 9th & 16th, 2017

 

OKJA opens in cinemas and streams on Netflix on June 28th. Click here for our Exclusive with OKJA Producer Dooho Choi.

Click here for Our Exclusive First Overseas Interview with Award-winning OKJA star, Choi Wooshik.

Special thanks to Mr. Dooho Choi of Kate Street Picture Company for his invaluable assistance with this interview.

 

 

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Photos  

Exclusive Photos by L.M.D.

Stills Courtesy of Netflix

 

 

 

 

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