Make no mistake, Netflix's next big hit is Okja, the story of a genetically-modified super pig and the girl who loves her. Starring Tilda Swinson, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhal, Giancarlo Esposito, and breakout child actress Seo-Hyun Ahn, the brainchild of Snowpiercer director Bong Joon-Ho is equal parts wonderous and sickening. So sickening, in fact, that during the process of writing it, Bong altogether swore off meat.
"It had to be disturbing," the director said via a translator during a Q&A following the all-guild screening of the film last night at the Museum of Art and Design (MAD) in New York. "The essence of the film is seeing your pet dragged into a slaughterhouse."
Without giving too much away, a portion of the film takes place inside a euphemistcally-named "meat plant." While writing the tongue-in cheek meat-industry takedown, Bong and producer Dooho Choi, who also produced Snowpiercer, visited a slaughterhouse in Colorado for research. "There's no smell in documentary clips, but [at the slaughterhouse] it was very overwhelming," Bong said. "I felt it followed me back to Chicago." Directly after the visit, the director says he couldn't eat meat for two months. He finally broke once he returned home. "I flew back to South Korea, and you know, Korea is a BBQ paradise," he said.
Since completing the film, however, Bong's meat consumption has steadily decreased and he says he's now on track to becoming a full pescatarian. "For vegetarians that also eat fish, there's a phrase," said Okja co-writer Jon Ronson, a full-fledged vegetarian who also wrote Frank and The Men Who Stare At Goats. Turning toward the crowd at the MAD he deadpanned, "Fish and chip-o-crites."
Bong and Ronson also revealed the extent to which they took advantage of the freedom Netflix granted to write a very much R-rated film. "I told Jon he could have hundreds of 'fucks,'" Bong said. "And I rose to the occasion," responded Ronson.
In addition to the director, producer, and co-writer, the Q&A also included cinematographer Darius Khondji, visual effects supervisor Erik-Jan de Boer, and costume designer Catherine George. The conversation veered from the difficulty of shooting in the South Korean countryside to a miraculously sourced Chanel dress and the tedious nature of producing Okja's hundreds of VFX shots, most of which were shot on location rather than in front of a green screen.
At the beginning of the panel, Bong made it clear that Okja wouldn't be possible without the talent and effort put forth by each person who worked on the film—and it was a lot of effort. Choi said, "Snowpiercer felt pretty challenging at the time, but compared to Okja [it was easy]."
Okja hits Netflix and select theaters June 28.