[Early Review] Okja (2017)

Director: Bong Joon-Ho

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Byun Hee-Bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yun Je-Mun, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-Shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal

Screenplay: Bong Joon-Ho, Jon Ronson

118 mins. Not Rated.

 

Well, have I got a movie for you today!

Okja is the story of a young girl named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn, The Housemaid, Monster) who lives on a farm in South Korea with her grandfather and a unique animal, a superpig named Okja. For ten years, Mija and her grandfather have been raising Okja to win a competition against other superpig farmers around the country. Mija is overjoyed when the judge, TV personality and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko, Life) selects Okja as the winner. But when she learns of what will happen to Okja upon returning to the United States and to its true owner, Mirando Corporation, she sets out to free him and, along the way, gains help from Jay (Paul Dano, Little Miss Sunshine, Swiss Army Man) and his ALF (Animal Liberation Front) team. Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton, We Need to Talk About Kevin, War Machine), the CEO of Mirando, will stop at nothing to use Okja for her own greedy plans in this strange and unique new film from Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer, Mother).

Now, I get it. Reading that synopsis wouldn’t exactly hype me for a film, and in lesser hands, I’d believe this film to be destined for failure. But with this director, I became more and more excited to see it.

And Okja has a lot going for it. With Bong Joon-Ho’s direction  and powerful writing, the cardinal message shines clear but with enough layers to make the discussion following an important one. The use of the CG superpig allows enough separation from reality for the film to make thought-provoking statements and ask serious questions behind the guise of a science-fiction adventure.

The performances here aid in crafting the unique vision presented, specifically Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando, a villain with motivations and an understandable approach but one that doesn’t always have the right methods to solve her problems. Then, there’s the standout work from Jake Gyllenhaal, who steals every scene as the over-the-top Wilcox, an unhinged failing TV personality who lost his fanbase years ago. Paul Dano and Giancarlo Esposito (The Usual Suspects, The Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials) also turn in great work, the latter portraying Frank Dawson, Lucy’s right-hand man, but the work from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija rises up to match her fellow performers. The young actress’s ability to play to a CG superpig and hold her own in scenes with much more accomplished actors is strong in its own right.

It frustrates me that a film like Okja was booed at Cannes for having the Netflix banner in front of its opening titles. The streaming giant has more than proved itself in recent years, and Okja stands among the best of their original films. I’ll say it simple: it’s the best film I’ve seen this year so far. This is a film that balances humor with deep political satire and genuinely heartbreaking moments. I don’t care if this film changes your mind on its subject matter. It didn’t completely change mine, but I’m happy for the interesting viewpoint it offers. This is one that will stick with you. It will make you believe in a superpig.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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