Director: Bong Jong-ho
Written by: Bong Jong-ho, Jon Ronson
Cast: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 6/6/17
Opens: June 28, 2017
If you’re familiar with Bong Joon-ho’s work, you expect originality, high drama, comic touches, and above all flamboyance. “Snowpiercer” is an example. Here is a film about a failed climate change experiment that kills all life on earth except for a few that board a train in which a class system develops with violent results. And in “The Host,” a monster terrorizes people around Seoul’s Han River, capturing a girl whose family is determined to save her. We have violent people in the former movie and a brutal monster in the second, so why not split the difference and create a monster of sorts which is peaceful, affectionate with its human family, and exploited by a corrupt corporation? This results in “Okja,” the title of the six-ton GMO pig, who may be destined for the same fate faced by regular others animals of that ilk confronted by some awful, porcine people.
“Okja” is a monster movie which except perhaps for the F-words spoken by greedy capitalists, is suitable for pre-teens in that the pig, created by visual effects is a benevolent one. If she upsets property it’s without malice but only because she’s not accustomed to city living. “Okja” is also a coming-of age fable centered on the fourteen-year-old Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun who in real life is seventeen). And “Okja” is a plea for better treatment of animals, focusing on a plan by the Animal Liberation Front’s alliance with Mija to save her pet pig from the clutches of a bottom-feeder multi-national corporation.
Director Bong means business from the first shots, positioning Lucy Mirando, the head of a corporation bearing her name, in a sizzling monologue backed by the flashiest visual effects you’re likely to see this year. She announces a contest in which super pigs, allegedly born in an eco-friendly manner rather than as a GMO of the company’s previous actions. Twenty-six pigs are distributed around the world, the largest, after ten years, to be the winner. One such pig goes to Mija, an orphan who lives in mountainous Korean farm country with her grandfather. In some of the film’s scariest shots, Mija falls from a cliff while the pig is on one end of the rope and is saved when Okja lifts her boldly into the air and back on safe ground.
Little does Mija know that her grandfather was unable to buy the pig from the company, which now claims its property to the utter dismay of the young woman. While Okja is bound for New York, temporarily placed in a storage area in Seoul, Mija breaks open her piggy bank, gets a ticket to the big city, and engages in a race to bring Okja back from a truck transporting her to the airport. She gains the help of members of the Animal Liberation Front led by Jay (Paul Dano), culminating in the pig’s wrecking a shopping mall as though she were a bull in a china shop.
There’s usually one catch or two even in a majestic movie like this one. An unrecognizable Jake Gyllenhaal in the role of a madcap former TV zoologist who is now lobbying for the corporation, is too Jim-Carrey-like off-the-wall to accept without audience embarrassment. That aside, “Okja,” which is in English and in Korean with English subtitles, should score well on Netflix, though it really should be seen on the big screen. It is graced with awards-worthy Erik-Jan De Boer’s fx, a stunning role for Tilda Swinton (can she ever do a bad one?), and an impressive, fresh, performance from the young Ahn that could make her a household name with people of all ages.
Unrated. 118 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – A-
Acting – A-
Technical – A
Overall – A-