A sweet family movie about a girl and her giant pig turns frighteningly dark using a satirical political subtext in Bong Joon Ho’s Netflix Original, OKJA. Playfully strange yet relevantly unsettling, OKJA manages a handful of genres with a range of emotions while maintaining an overall tone that somehow defies contradiction. Releasing June 28 through Netflix, OKJA is not only the internet-based, video-on-demand company’s best film, it is one of the best films of 2017.
For ten years, fourteen-year-old Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her grandfather have been the primary caretaker of a giant super pig name Okja deep in the beautiful mountains of South Korea. Mija and Okja are inseparable and have been together since either of them can remember. Blissfully unaware of the ramification from a family-owned multinational company who sent several super pigs across the world to the most prestigious farmers in a massive world-wide competition, Mija and Okja are in for a very rude awakening. After Okja is taken from her home as the winner of the competition and on route to New York, Mija takes off on a dangerous, thrilling, often dark, action adventure rescue mission where she crosses the paths of an animal activist group led by the sincere sometimes misplaced Jay (Paul Dano) and the wildly disturbing, image-obsessed CEO, Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton). They all have different plans for Okja, while Mija just wants to bring her best friend home.
OKJA has a lot to say about corporations and consumerism specifically in the corruption and cruelty to animals that might come with genetically engineered foods. Depending on whether or not these bigger political statements about our society and world match your own opinions may have some affect on your final impression of the film. However, the journey to get there is a ride to remember that is both heart-warming and heart-breaking in sometimes hilariously satirical or devastatingly honest fashion.
Blending a darker version of BABE with a shift in focus from WATERSHIP DOWN, OKJA is definitely not a magical film for children. Director Bong Joon Ho returns with some of his outlandish styles from previous films THE HOST and one of my favorites from 2014, SNOWPIERCER. The actors are phenomenal with strong supporting turns from the already mentioned Dano and Swinton, along with a wildly spazzy and insecure Jake Gyllenhaal as a television personality veterinarian sell-out, and Steven Yeun from ‘The Walking Dead’ as an inept translating activist. Young Seo-Hyun Ahn captures the heart as Mija while Okja melts it. The CGI of super pig Okja is the perfect blend of over-the-top supernatural with a life-like reality based subject.
The visuals and choice of direction not only entertain and mesmerize, but reveal larger symbols within the story. A broad image of a little girl moving with the crowd up a wide, busy stairway case to only stop and turn going against the mom of people, tantalizes the eye and mind about one person’s own path in the world. Like the film itself, Mija is independent from the norm. Even in dialogue, a simple explanation of letting the pig run wild and do what it wants both expresses the love for what man can create but also the necessity to let things be. Likewise the film takes time to build character and relationships. By giving us time with both Mija and Okja in the beginning, we can better understand their connection and care for their plight.
Netflix has been upping their game in the original movie content with bonafide stars and production value for the past couple of years. Already a fan of some of their distribution films, OKJA is my new favorite. It’s unfortunate that some people at Cannes and other places have disqualified the film because of it’s not a theatrical release, but regardless of how it is distributed OKJA is a film worth seeing. It’s not everyday that one runs into the unusual spirit of a film like OKJA and I am thankful for filmmakers like Bong Joon Ho who dare to try and give us more. Horrific and humorous, OKJA is definitely one of a kind.