This summer saw the release of Okja, a South Korean film that was distributed on Netflix. It focuses on the Mirando Corporation’s interest in developing super pigs while a young girl seeks to protect her own super pig from the company. This week, it is Mental Health Awareness week, and this film focuses on the mental struggles of all the different characters. None of them luckily needed a luxury rehab. South Korean director Bong Joon Ho directed this picture and it represents yet another film by a foreign director making use of an already established Hollywood cast. Okja features western stars such as Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Jake Gyllenhaal, for example.
Bong Joon Ho made similar casting decision in his previous film, Snowpiercer. In this film, Chris Evans portrays a lower-class revolutionary who seeks to free his class from the controls of the upper class. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the film depicts all the classes’ struggles to survive. Bong Joon Ho’s cast contains not only established American actor Chris Evans in the main role but also contains Swinton, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt, Ed Harris and others. By using these actors, the director seems to want to bring more immediate recognition to his films, but this casting is interesting for other reasons as well.
Bong Joon Ho not only casts Hollywood actors but also mixes them with different South Korean actors. In Okja, he cast Ahn Seo-hyun and Yoon Je-moon, in Snowpiercer, he cast Go Ah-sung and Song Kang-ho. In his decision to mix South Korean and Hollywood-based actors, Bong Joon Ho celebrates the political and cultural relationships between the West and the East. Each of the countries have made significant cultural contributions to the world of art and Bong Joon Ho’s mixed cast represents his global perspective.
While he seems intent on celebrating those contributions, he wants to show that there is a greater world beyond a simple focus on just the West or the East. There are connections now among all parts of the world and the digital age has created far greater interactions than ever before.
“What if” scenarios also seem to push Bong Joon Ho toward this direction. He seems to question how the western and eastern worlds would react in a number of situations. Snowpiercer, one could argue, is Bong Joon Ho’s take on the worst-case scenario for a world struggling with the opposite of global warming. It is as if he wanted to make a film that is the opposite of Waterworld, a film that featured the melting of the polar ice caps. Okja, too, deals with big global issues, in this case, corporate affairs, and animal rights.
Bong Joon Ho seeks to portray the globalist perspective on how these greater challenges affect people from different backgrounds. None of the people in the group had to go to a luxury rehab. However, he also hopes to showcase the true nature of some of these global villains that have caused these issues in the first place. The director ambitiously presses forward to explore some of the biggest challenges of our time.
He is not the only Asian director to use western actors. Chinese director Zhang Yimou cast Christian Bale in Flowers of War as John Miller, an American tourist who finds himself caught up in the events of the 1937-38 Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanking) during the Second Sino-Japanese War between Japan and China. This film combines Chinese actors like Ni Ni and Dawei Tong with western actor Christian Bale. Zhang Yimou seeks to explore the rights of people, especially women, in this film.
Bong Joon Ho and Zhang Yimou are brave for tackling issues and are smart to mix actors from different countries. They are directors who wish to make films about the real world and the interactions among various countries. Today, it’s pretty normal for people to travel to and live in different countries. These are the worlds reflected in the works of Bong Joon Ho and Zhang Yimou. The films remind us exactly of what might happen if larger-than-life events occur. Both directors have created accomplished films that explore human motivations, responses, and experiences.
About the author: Tommy Zimmer is a writer whose work has appeared online and in print. His work covers a variety of topics, including politics, economics, health and wellness, addiction and recovery, and the entertainment industry.