DIRECTOR: Bong Joon Ho
Bong Joon Ho
When the family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation decides to breed twenty-six super pigs in each country that their offices reside in over the next ten years. They plan on creating a super pig that will leave a minimal footprint on the environment; they will consume less feed, produce less waste, and taste good. When the Mirando corporation decides to take a super pig that was raised in the mountains of South Korea. The young girl who has befriended and grew up with Okja decides to take matters into her own hands and go on a risky rescue mission. Mija soon crosses paths with a group of animal activists, an evil corporation, and greedy capitalists all looking at different ways to control the fate of Okja.
From the director of Mother, The Host, Snowpiercer, and Memories Of Murder brings us his latest movie. A movie that is hard to categorise as it feels tonally all over the place. In the past, I have skewered movies for being tonally uneven but even when Okja feels like it doesn't really know what it wants to be on a genre level. There is so much to love and admire here, and that falls right back on how much of an excellent a filmmaker Bong Joon Ho is. Here we see Netflix letting him just go all out and not reeling in his vision for Okja.
It should now be a prerequisite that all movies begin with a four-minute monologue from the brilliant chameleon that is Tilda Swinton. To riff on a quote by the one and only Leonardo DiCaprio in Django Unchained, you already had me curious, but now you have my attention. As soon as Tilda Swinton's character walks on screen and it ends with her rousing speech about the super piglets tasting fucking good. I was so into this movie. There are very few actresses or actors who can command the screen like Tilda can. She is that good.
The movie pretty much catapults the plot to ten years later where we see a now fully grown up Okja. I'm shocked that with such limited time in witnessing her growth and us getting such minimal screentime of their early relationship and bond between Mija and Okja that we immediately care for these two. We believe in the rescue mission as soon as the Mirando Corporation takes Okja away from Mija. We never second guess it; we want to see them reunited. The movie captures that relationship immediately. Some movies run at two hours and can't even produce even a quarter of the heart that Okja contains.
The tonal shifts of Okja are where I think a lot of mainstream audiences will be put off by it. Okja navigates a very zig-zag line between comedy, thriller, science-fiction, and environmental horror. The film is peppered with fart and poop jokes during incredibly intense chase scenes. We have actors being over the top and manic during dark and barbaric scenes of animal cruelty. The movie at times feels like there is an underlining agenda that I think a lot of people will be turned off. The whole idea that the movie is trying to shove an environmentally and cruelty-free message down their throats may rub cinemagoers the wrong way.
Visually, Okja a work of art. Every single shot and scene has something to marvel and admire. I was shocked at how lifelike Okja looked. His integration into the scenes that featured real-life actors was close to being seamless. When it came to the overall look of the movie, it was gorgeous to watch. Cinema has that power to leave you amazed, and Okja did just that. Bong Joon Ho is such a talented filmmaker. He is really is such a visionary. I say that word gets thrown around a lot, but I truly believe he is one of those filmmakers that deserves the title.
The film gets most of its horror elements from the final few minutes. When Mija first enters that animal farm and slaughterhouse, this is where the movie gets real bloody, disturbing, and heartbreaking. While all fantasy and only a Hollywood glimpse of the real mistreatment of animals, I still found the final slaughterhouse scene to be pretty disturbing and dark for a movie that spends most of it's running time being a science-fiction black comedy. It's a real sharp turn at the end and will shock parents who go into Okja believing it to be a family film about a girl and her giant pig.
When it comes to the negatives of Okja, I think this could've played better as several films or a series. The movie moves so quickly that we jump in time and into the next scenes without ever much editing or the last scene feeling complete. There is a lot of plot that I think was left on the cutting room floor. We had the potential for an entire thirteen episode series here. On Netflix, I could see this as one of the Netflix Original shows. Some exposition on the Mirando Corporation and animal activist group would have fleshed out the characters and the backstories more. It's a bit of a nitpick, but I could've watched this for another eleven hours in a series format.
The acting, for the most part, is fantastic. What can be said about Tilda Swinton that hasn't already? She is one of this generations greatest actresses. She looks like she has an absolute blast here. Jake Gyllenhaal is the worst thing about Okja. Here his acting feels almost Razzie worthy. He is playing a sadistic and drunk TV Show host, and while he lets loose, it's almost painful to witness. Seo-hyun Aho is fantastic as Mija. A very young actress that I hope to see in more and lastly, Steven Yeun is also great in his role as an animal activist. He's having a great year.
DEATH TOLL: 0
BLOOD AND GORE:
- A shard of glass is pulled out of Okja's foot.
- Infected pigs are shown in cages.
- A man has his head slammed against a table and is beaten up.
- A little is bitten on the arm.
- Super pigs are lead into a slaughterhouse.
- We see blood-soaked slaughterhouse floors.
- Meat is extracted from Okja.
- Protesters are beaten by a swat team.
- Super pigs are seen being cut in half with saws and shot in the head.
- Okja is electrocuted and forced to be mated with.
- Slaughterhouse workers are seen covered in blood.
Okja joins the long list of visionary films from Bong Joon Ho. Another step in the right direction of securing him as one of the best filmmakers, cinema has to offer. A small misstep for Jake Gyllenhaal, at times an uneven tone, and underdeveloped backstory can't take away from just how gorgeously shot the film turned out. Visually beautiful, at times equally hilarious as it is dark and disturbing, an excellent cast and amazing creature effects make this a wonderful film filled with tons of heart and emotion.