Quick Hit: Heavy handed at times, and hilariously relevant at others, this film presents us with a satire of great proportions.
If you don’t know the name Bong Joon Ho, you should really start looking out. He’s been the director of same great movies that seem to find critical favor and are yet unbeknownst to many a cinephile. There’s the terrific monster movie The Host, and the wonderful Chris Evans movie Snowpiercer. His latest film is Okja, which premiers on Netfix in two days.
Okja is a superpig, bred by the Mirando corporation to provide enough food for the masses of earth. Seo-Hyun Ahn plays Mija, a young Korean girl that is raised by her grandfather. Okja is more than an animal to her, it’s her best friend and seemingly only companion. The relationship between them is a wonderful surprise throughout the movie – Seo-Hyun consistently gives a deep performance that rivals some of her more talented co-stars.
These range from Tilda Swinton, who plays a set of twins at the top of corporate giant Mirando, to Jake Gyllenhaal as Johnny Wilcox, the “face of Mirando” as a really odd nature zoologist. There’s also Giancarlo Esposito as a waffling lackey for the Mirando sisters, and Paul Dano as the leader of ALF (Animal Liberation Front). There is so much talent and it’s evident in a number of scenes. If there is one thing that Joon-ho Bong seems to handle really well, it’s the jumbling of genres and the handling of a talented eclectic cast.
However, what was wonderfully underplayed in Snowpiercer, a film about climate change, becomes a repeated trend in Okja. There’s no way that you can misunderstand the director/writer’s intentions here – he thinks we treat animals poorly (we do) and that corporations are greedy (they are). Some of the scenes in Okja are clearly there for shock value (one in particular has Okja suffering poor treatment at the hands of Dr. Johnny (Gyllenhaal) after essentially being force bred. I thought that the tonal shift here was too deliberately abrupt and therefore it turned away some of the eyes from the screen.
When Okja really works, it’s when it is playing into some of the stereotypes that we’ve seen before. When one of the activists refuses to eat even a tomato because it was ripened by chemical means, we see the sly tongue in cheek humor that make Okja a treat. There’s also an office scene that allows Gyllenhaal to play off his other actors in one of the hardest times I’ve laughed in a theater. When you combine that with Paul Dano’s consistently earnest and painfully honest ALF leader, you get some scenes that are truly fantastic. I would have enjoyed to see the movie continue to roll around at Okja and Mija’s point of view.
A long story short is this – Okja has some of the greatest scenes I’ve seen in a long time as far as the humor of laughing at ourselves as a human race. While I can’t say it is the greatest movie I’ve seen in a while, the performances and creature effects are well worth it. The plot is solid, and despite the shortfalls, it’s very entertaining despite coming off a bit preachy. I’m going to give it a “B”.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"