Okja Film Review
Bong Joon-ho is back with another directorial project. Four years after the masterpiece that was Snowpiercer, the Korean director presented Okja. Action adventure that opened in select theaters and is available on Netflix starting June 28.
Okja starts in 2007 when Lucy Mirando becomes CEO of the Mirando Corporation and announces the discovery of the special kind of Chilean super pig. 26 different piglets from that particular kind will be sent and bread on different locations around the world and in 10 yeas time, only one will be crowned a winning pig.
In present time (2017) an orphaned girl Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives with her grandfather and Okja, one of those pigs in the mountains in S. Korea. Mija and Okja has formed a close bond over the decade but the pig is suddenly taken away by popular yet eccentric TV animal show host and the current PR “face” of Mirando, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal). Mija not willing to lose her friend will attempt to rescue Okja from the corporation (first in Seul and then in NY) but in the process she will receive much needed assistance from Jay (Paul Dano) the leader of e ALF (the Animal Liberation Front) an organization that fights for animal rights.
Okja is truly entertaining project of Bong Joon-ho that focuses more on the story and the themes that are touched in that story, rather on the characters (or their development). That’s OK because the themes that are brought to the table are ethics, corporate responsibility in food manufacturing and food consumption, and the attempts at solving the world hunger from big corporations. Important and contemporary themes that are more relevant as the time goes on. The treatment of animals by the large corporations, animal cruelty and PR campaigns from the big corporations while marketing the animal products are also mentioned. Those are not small issues but here in Okja, they are kind of hard to notice from the grotesque almost cartoon-ish characters and satire that can be seen on their faces outfits and even in their dialogues.
Sure Bong Joon-ho and co-writer Jon Ronson mock the other side of the spectrum too in Okja. The almost militant animal right activists, their modus operandi, and the depiction of members of ALF are perfect example of that. But what I respect the most from Okja is that is sits perfectly in the middle of its convictions. The movie won’t make you a hard core vegetarian, but it won’t make you care about how hot dogs are made. It should but this movie won’t do that.
If its’s cheap they are going to eat it…
says Nancy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) to Frank Dawson (Giancarlo Esposito) and I thought that there is way too much truth in that sentence. Sadly.
But, what you’ll be most invested in (while watching the movie) is the emotional connection and deep friendship that Mija has with the enormous pig. They have been friends for 10 years and as you can see Mija is the only character in the movie whose mission is pure as a teardrop. There is no greedy agenda or PR stunt behind it. Yes she will go to any lengths to save Okja but only for the purpose of their friendship. And believe me, Bong Joon- ho takes his time in presenting us with that friendship. We see the playful idyllic scenery that they live in, the adventures in the wilderness that the two unlikely friends have, and how they protect each other. It’s endearing and touching to be honest.
Swinton is absolutely marvelous in the double role of Lucy and Nancy Mirando. Each of those 2 characters is just another testament of the talent and enormous effort of the chameleon like auteur that is the Academy award winning actress. Dressed in beautiful white and baby pink costumes Lucy is the naïve, more idealistic while her sister Nancy is the down to earth and pragmatic one.
The newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun is also wonderful as Mija, but soooo many actors seem a little wasted here. Mostly from being miss casted (Jake Gyllenhaal first come to mind) or being ignored and placed in under developed characters (Giancarlo Esposito, Lilly Collins, Shirley Henderson).
But Bong Joon-ho presented us with a visually stunning piece of film. Okja raises so many questions, but also is entertaining as much as it is thought provoking. Solid work Mr. Bong Ho. Solid work.