Jon Ronson Gets Frank About Okja

The writer talks to Front Row about the methods of Bong Jong-ho, slaughter houses for magical animals and being a “fish and chipocrate”.

Jon Ronson appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme to talk about the release of the anticipated (by the BEAN_ist and many more, presumably) of the Netflix funded Okja (2017). The writer recounts how he was approached by the film’s Korean director Bong Joon-ho to work on the English side of the script. Bong was a fan of how Ronson had worked his wordy magic on his script writing debut Frank (2014), the surreal, somewhat biographic imagining of the eccentric character Frank Sidebottom.

The release of Okja comes after the success Bong’s previous dual-language film, Snowpiercer (2013), where social stratification, hedonism and corporate greed played out on the carriages of a train endlessly encircling the globe. Okja builds on similar themes as we see Tilda Swinton playing the accessible face of the corporate provision of food. After a media scandal surrounding the practices of her company Mirando Corporation, they set out to adapt a line of genetically modified pigs and challenge twenty-six countries around the world to turn them into what they anticipate to be the biggest meat source on the planet. The gruesome reality of the factory farm comes home to roost when Okja, the largest of the super pigs, is transported from the scenic mountains of Korea to New York City in order to be unveiled as the winner of the ten-year competition. The paradox of the loving life that Okja has enjoyed with Mija, the grand-daughter of the Korean farmer raising the animal, and the fate that awaits him is brought to screen with the help an activist group aiming to bring attention to the inhumanity required to bring meat onto the plates of an ignorant population.

On Front Row, Ronson tells how the director’s style of mixing tone and genre to create some quite disturbing images is something which many studios would be typically risk averse to funding. In fact, Snowpiercer, the most expensive film ever produced in Korea, failed to reach widespread success in international cinemas despite its mix of stars, action, drama and beauty. Netflix, then, have provided a valuable outlet for the director’s work which bypasses the traditional routes to the film-loving public. This issue was pertinent at the recent Cannes Film Festival where, again, in spite of the film’s credentials and critical acclaim, the fact that the film would not have a widespread cinematic release in France, it was unable to be awarded the Palm d’ore and instead can only ever be billed as an “official selection” of the prize. Many have said that this film deserves to have its moment on the big screen, however, as the overlooking of Snowpiercer indicates, it likely would have been Netflix or nothing. In that case, time to re-open that Netflix account.

Okja is released internationally on June 28 on Netflix and will have a limited release in some cinemas. Front Row is available as a podcast and this episode also features a touching look at the work of Khadija Saye, a young artist who was killed in the Grenfell Tower fire and also a look back at the impact of Harry Potter since it’s publication twenty years ago.

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