Okja (2017, Bong Joon-ho) Review
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn
Outright and audacious, Bong Joon-Ho’s Netflix feature Okja might be one of the funniest films about animal and industry abuse that I’ll ever see. Combining a proper sense of quirkiness and wit, the film’s clever message resonated through me even after watching it. I wouldn’t call it a piece of vegetarian propaganda, though I can see why people find it too preachy to be entertaining. For me, this film is more of a portrait of political cinema, on how the cycle of abuse works in the industry, and how the corporation has two faces: the smiling, jubilant heads they show to the public and the dirty, notorious brains they have, grabbing for money, behind the screen.
It isn’t so much as an anti-meat film despite some of the plot points presented (even with an inclusion of an Animal Liberation Front group). The subject of the film is this super-pig hybrid which is supposed to serve as a revolutionary change in the meat industry. Just like the animal, this film is a cross-breed of different genres, it is a satirical movie at first, then turning into an adventure film, and, once it moves to the third act, becomes a poignant view of the relationship between a young Korean girl and her pet. This clash of genres don’t always mix well, but I personally thought that the film was really effective in trying to engage its viewers into the story and into the journey of this young girl going through a personal transformation as she realizes that corporations and media aren’t always as innocent as they seem. Even the design of the super-pig is superb, it feels real and tangible and it doesn’t overdo the CGI, which is great.
The performances across the board are fantastic. Among those that stand out are Ahn Seo-hyun, who really is the underdog protagonist of the film, Tilda Swinton, the head of the expensive industry, and Jake Gyllenhaal, who puts sort of a quirky and charismatic magic into his character, Dr. Johnny Wilcox. The first half of the film is excellent, while the second half didn’t really do a good job of tying all the subplots together, so some of the narratives really fell loose during the end. I did like what turned out of Mija and Okja, but I wanted to see some resolution for the other narratives, especially the Animal Rights group led by Paul Dano’s character.
Okja is a great spectacle, combining enough weird lopsidedness to it while still feeling realistic in a dystopian, sci-fi, coming of age style. I did like how Joon-Ho tackled issues of corporate capitalism, but this film could’ve improved on how it transitioned between genres and on how the tiny narrative coincided together at the end. Having that said, Okja is still worth a watch; it is surprisingly funny, eye-opening, and personally one of the best Netflix has to offer currently.