In conversation with producer Dooho Choi in a new supplement on our release of Okja (2017), director Bong Joon Ho definitively states, “Jang Hee Chul is someone I can trust with concept art for creatures.” The filmmaker’s collaboration with the artist (pictured above), whom he has dubbed a “young genius,” began with 2006’s The Host, for which Jang designed the unforgettable amphibious beast of the title, and continued with 2013’s Snowpiercer, for which the illustrator helped conceive the wildly imaginative interiors of a futuristic locomotive.
A tale about a girl’s bond with her beloved “superpig”—an animal she must eventually rescue from the clutches of the evil corporation that genetically engineered her—Okja provided a new challenge: its shy titular creature needed to be a source of affection, not fear, inviting touching and cuddling while also maintaining a massive heft that would prove attractive to the greedy food industry. And because of the real-world setting of the film, which moves from the tranquility of the South Korean mountains to the commotion of New York City, Okja would need to seem plausibly realistic, yet also unlike anything existing in nature. The following images chart the evolution of the creature, as Bong and Jang tackled initial design concepts, incorporated feedback from collaborators, and continued to refine details until they arrived at the lovable superpig we see on-screen.
Images courtesy of Bong Joon Ho and Jang Hee Chul
The creation of Okja truly began not in the diabolical labs of the Mirando Corporation, as it does in the film, but within the fertile imagination of Bong. While driving one day, he imagined he saw a giant pig hiding beneath an overpass. The pig, he remembers in the conversation with Choi on our release, “looked timid” and “sad,” and the thought also popped into his mind that the food industry would surely seek to capitalize off an animal of that size. Bong’s desire to make a film about this creature burst forth “almost immediately,” and he sketched this drawing, marking the superpig’s very first conception. This illustration also prompted Tilda Swinton to join the film—not only as an actor but also as a producer. However, to really bring Okja to life, Bong knew he needed to enlist Jang’s talent.