Okja (2017) Review
A deeply affecting story of a little girl and her giant pig.
Okja is a 2017 fantasy adventure about a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.
A child and her odd animal/creature/imaginary friend are such a mainstay of cinema they are practically a genre all their own. There seems nothing unturned that could be left as a surprise, from E.T. to A Monster Calls, and yet here we have Okja, a marvelously inventive and heartwarming tale that takes the next step both artistically and emotionally, delivering a tale of uncompromising joy and sadness that challenges as well as entertains.
In New York City, the Mirando Company, led by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), announces a bold plan to revive the failing corporation by looking to solve global starvation. From a unique new species discovered in South America, they breed 26 piglets and send them to select farmers around the world in a competition to raise a “super pig” to feed the world. Ten years later, in 2017, a pig in South Korea named Okja has been raised by a grandfather (Byun Hee-Bong) and his granddaughter Mija (Ahn Seo Hyun) in the high mountains. Mija is unaware of the pig’s fate until Mirando TV personality Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), an eccentric egomaniac, arrives one day to claim the company’s asset. Now Mija needs to rescue her friend, and along with animal right activist led by Jay (Paul Dano), attempt to expose Mirado for what it really is.
Written and directed by Bong Joon-ho, Okja is, like many of his films, a joint American and Korean project, and even stars a few familiar faces from his previous work. Like his other movies, Okja is unconventional to say the least with twisted wild-eyed and colorful characters that spin this highly-imaginative story from touching to chaos to lunacy and back again with all the flare and energy we expect from Bong. Most will know Bong from 2006’s The Host and 2013’s Snowpiercer, and like these films, Okja is as much a commentary on society as anything else, here, about cruelty to animals and the mass meat industry as a whole.
This is not a kid’s movie, no matter how it’s packaged and how the stunning first twenty minutes even portend, at least in the traditional sense. There is some troubling imagery and scenes of animal abuse, not to mention plenty of profanity. The humor is scathing, rarely funny in the laugh-out-loud sense, but rather intensely dark, which all but shifts to some very hard moments in the last act. There’s no mincing it here, these are some harrowing scenes and Bong doesn’t skimp for a moment about the message of the film and the profound sense of wonder we perhaps overlook in the natural world around us. It makes for a powerfully-enlightening experience.
Okja isn’t lacking for flaws though, with both Swinton and most especially Gyllenhaal so far over the top, one wonders what the choices were in bringing these wildly cartoonish characters to bear in the first place. Certainly, Swinton’s Lucy is a scalding poke at the business at the heart of the story, but Gyllenhaal is simply zany to be zany and screeches his way through the movie to no good end, despite the need for the character in the first place.
However, no matter what you make of these performances, they are but a ripple in a magnificent production otherwise, one highly respectful of the audience and the star. Okja the pig is a wonder to behold and the visual effects are not only impressive but fluidly dynamic, from early footage of Mija and Okaj at play in the forests to a rampage through an underground shopping mall. Okja is a beautiful beast that will have you caring deeply for her before the final frame comes.
No matter your stance on the movie’s ultimate vision, there is much to take away from Okja, the wonderful relationship between a young girl (played with great heart by Ahn) and the pig, one built on few words and whispers we are never privileged to hear, the two a metaphor for much of what Bong so eloquently strives for us to learn. You will be moved.
Okja is now streaming on Netflix.
Okja (2017) Review
Movie description: Okja is a 2017 fantasy adventure about a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend - a massive animal named Okj
Director(s): Joon-ho Bong
Actor(s): Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn
Genre: Drama, Fantasy