“Okja” Movie Review

Here we are, folks. We have yet another Netflix original movie that I am super late on reviewing. But hey, as a wise Wizard once said, “We have work to do.” This unorthodox science-fiction film by writer-director Bong Joon-ho competed for the prestigious Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It later was added on the streaming giant Netflix on June 28th, garnering positive reviews from critics and audiences alike. It also gained unwanted attention at Cannes for causing a few technical glitches during its runtime, prompting debate if streaming services should be allowed to compete at festivals at all. The real concern people should have with this movie is whether it will convince audiences to become vegetarians as a result. In the not-too-distant future, mankind has started creating GMO animals to feed the population. One of these is a massive “super-pig” named Okja, who attracts the attention of a powerful food corporation and the radical Animal Liberation Front. And Okja’s friend, a young Korean girl named Mija, does her best to protect her from all these forces just so she can live a happy, quiet life in her mountainous home. Joon-ho’s previous film, Snowpiercer from 2014, was a great and underrated film not nearly enough people saw. In fact, I would say that it was the film that made me want to start sharing my opinions on film on my blog because I had quite a bit to share about that picture. And so ever since I saw it in theaters, I’ve been salivating to see whatever the singular South Korean filmmaker could conjure up, even if it wasn’t technically released theatrically. Still, after absorbing 2 hours and 2 minutes of his new vision in 2017, I feel content with what he has given us. Mija is played by a complete newcomer named Ahn Seo-hyun, and this is a name that we should keep an eye on in the future. Despite only being 13 years old, she demonstrates a strong will and commitment to compassion most young girls may aspire to. It’s also believed that she performed some of her own stunts, which makes it all the more obvious how awesome she is. By her side is a big English-speaking supporting cast, all of whom offer some unique flavor to the experience. Tilda Swinton especially impresses in her dual role as sisters who own a massive corporation. One’s an eccentric but mostly likable woman, while the other is a heartless corporate magnate, reminiscent of her role as Mason in Snowpiercer. Her incredible range is on full display here and proves that she can basically kill any role that she takes. Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Devon Bostwick, Daniel Henshall, and The Walking Dead‘s Steven Yeun appear as members of the ALF, while Giancarlo Esposito felt as though he were simply waiting for his paycheck to clear. Jake Gyllenhaal plays a washed up and drunk T.V. personality who is so clearly out of touch with his current state of popularity. His performance is totally out-there and provides a Segway for many shifts in tone. Piggybacking off of that, the primary point of criticism people have had with Okja is that it juggles its tone around too often. These complaints are valid. Sometimes, a scene that is very serious will become hilarious through the insertion of a moment that is just so absurd. Or vice versa. Also, a number of times, it shifts from being a fun action scene to an intense moment of torture or violence. To be fair, Joon-ho has done this in his previous films. If you watch his monster flick, The Host, it’s clear that he likes to shift the viewers’ mood on the snap of a finger. It can be jarring, but I’m willing to forgive him on account of sheer ballsiness. The film is also technically brilliant. Darrius Khondji is a vastly underrated cinematographer who continuously proves his worth, with his work on recent Woody Allen films as visual proof. Following in the footsteps of his stunning work on The Lost City of Z earlier this year, the mountains of Korea look green and gorgeous, which contrasts nicely with the condensed atmosphere of the city of Manhattan. It, along with Yang Jin-mo’s excellent off-kilter editing job, gives this film a feeling so foreign and different than what we are used to. Extreme close-ups of characters followed by big sweeping shots of the parading streets of Seoul or New York allows for the personality to come into play. The visual effects also deserve some praise-worthy commentary. The design for the “super pigs” that Mirando is using is really unique and appealing. The titular character is nothing short of adorable and likable. Even though we don’t know her whole history, we’re immediately on her side and want her to spend peaceful time with Mija. But the film doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of the processed food industry. A scene two-thirds of the way through shows a rather disturbing and graphic mating scene between Okja and another “super pig.” But it’s later in the last 20 minutes of Okja that it transitions from a fun sci-fi adventure into a twisted look at the American slaughterhouse. It creates a bit of moral ambiguity as Mirando’s true intention is revealed, but it’s not evil or far-fetched. They just want to feed the world, no matter how many animals have to be killed for it. There have been reports of people who have given up eating meat and become vegetarians/vegans as a result of watching this movie. I’m still fine, but I can’t say the same for you. Okja balances a tricky tonal juggling act with a plucky hero and great characters. Bong Joon-ho is a brilliant director and deserves more recognition after this film’s release. It also proves that Netflix movies can be just as big and enjoyable as anything getting a theatrical release. It all just depends on the talent behind everything.

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1 thought on ““Okja” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: 2017 Superlatives | Geek's Landing

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