For 10 idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja – a massive animal and an even bigger friend – at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where an image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission.
An adventure film with similarities to classics such as E.T. and The Iron Giant, Okja blends genres with poignancy, quirk, and drama. The CG portrayal of Okja, the super-pig is astonishing with its fine tuned movements. As the giant tries to escape from its captors it runs wild throughout a city. The creature moves seamlessly and meshes well with the real life location.
Tackling relevant topics such as consumerism and animal rights, at its core Okja is about the bond that is built between a girl and her pet. This film has been done time and time again but this one stands out thanks to director Bong Joon-ho’s visual flare and distinct portrayal of society. We saw something similar in his 2013 film Snowpiercer, which takes aim at current events such as global warming and human trafficking. Okja is a fun ride but the bully that is the Mirando Corporation helps to ground the film and establish stakes.
Okja sparked controversy after it had its world premiere at the esteemed Cannes Film Festival. The idea of a film being released exclusively from the comfort of your own home was seen as a gimmick to many. Though it received boos during the Netflix intro, the film was given a four minute standing ovation as the credits rolled. Netflix is giving audacious filmmakers the opportunity to make what they want without being held back by the typical studio system. Not many studios would be willing to fork out $50 million to produce a film like Okja. As the sales of streaming continue to rise it is time for the industry to embrace the change that is Netflix.
After her wild role in Snowpiercer Tilda Swinton once again brought her A game as the CEO of the company who created the superpigs. Her characters dark humor makes for some memorable moments such as her standing on the podium in front of investors pitching the idea of a genetically enhanced pig. Mija is played by Ahn Seo-hyun, her love for Okja makes her easy to root for as she travels across the world in a desperate attempt to save her friend. Paul Dano plays the leader of an animal rights activist group who with help of Mija try to reclaim Okja and set her free. Jake Gyllenhaal adds to his resume of great work with his wackiest performance yet. His character, Dr. Johnny Wilcox is a TV personality oozing with charisma as he struts around in his short shorts and safari hat.
After two compelling acts the film sputters as it comes to an underwhelming conclusion. Up until that point the film had embraced being different, unfortunately it settles with being conventional. Despite its finale, Okja manages to offer a little bit of everything. Though we don’t have giant pigs, the films portrayal of society isn’t far off of what it is now. Consumerism is dog eat dog and companies must be able to sustain and compete with others, even if that means violating rights and regulations. The film is an eye opener and hopefully one that can expand on current conversations already being had. This isn’t necessarily a film people would race to the theatres to see but thanks to the platform that is Netflix, viewers can take a chance on something as profound as this.
OKJA will be available on Netflix on June 28, 2017.