Translations are sacred. In Bong Joon-ho's Okja, the Korean director buried an in-joke not just by way of filmmaking and dialogue, but also through its English subtitles.
It's when the Korean American 'K', played by Steven Yeun, mistranslates (as the ALF or Animal Liberation Front's translator) something that Mija says in Korean, and then has a goodbye message for her which the subtitles record differently. Bong's intention was to wink at people who can understand both the languages. It is also a joke on the Korean American who straddles both the worlds. The subtitle reads, "Mija, try learning English. It opens new doors." What he really says is his name, which is also part gibberish, apparent only to those who speak Korean. In the end, when other ALF members discover K's nefarious deed, he returns with a tattoo that reads, "translations are sacred." It's an in-joke on an in-joke.
And behind it all is Bong Joon-ho's almost career-long crusade against capitalism and bringing class politics to the forefront. His commentary on the idea of having to learn English to survive — something familiar to multiple generations of Asians — and the aerobics of balancing different cultural spaces, forever unsure of where one truly belongs, speak to one and all.
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