tv + film by Philbert Dy

The Wacky ‘Okja’ is a Wild, Affecting Adventure

Bong Joon-ho delivers large scale pleasures in this Netflix Original Movie.

NBHD movie 4-2 ticketsOkja begins in 2007, with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the CEO of muti-national company Mirando announcing the discovery and development of super pigs, these hippo-like creatures that she claims could solve the problem of world hunger. She gives super piglets to a handful of farmers all around the world, and launches a ten-year contest to grow the best one. In present day, the titular super pig Okja has been raised in the mountains of rural South Korea by Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather. Mija is deeply attached to Okja, and it comes as quite a surprise when her friend is taken away.1200Thus begins a wild adventure that has Mija going up against this powerful corporation and getting tangled up in the affairs of a group of radical animal rights activists, who seek to expose some hard truths about Mirando and their operation. The film makes it leanings very clear, but it ties its criticism of the horrors of corporate farming to this bright, at times cartoony quest of this one young girl who just wants to go back to the mountains and wander the forests with her friend._KF13116.NEF The film plays its satire broad and hard, but there is surprising nuance in all this. It doesn’t let the activists off the hook, at times depicting them as equally ridiculous and venal as the film’s ostensible villains. As is usual with Bong Joon-ho’s work, there is an element of class struggle lurking in the discussion of other things. Mija, who is poor and rural, is someone who both sides see as someone they can use to further their own ends. There is talk of ending world hunger and exposing conspiracies and changing the world for the better. Meanwhile, Mija seems to be the only one that truly cares about Okja.okja01It is this tension between what Mija wants and what everybody else in the movie wants that ultimately drives this film. And this is a film that has plenty of drive. It never really stops moving, the two hours just flying by. It goes through wild action, silly comedy, social commentary, and genuinely affecting drama with uniform aplomb. The scenes are dense with information, the background often filled with various moving parts that add layers of humor and characterization to any given sequence. It all feels meticulously composed, every detail contributing to a much greater effect.okja-02And all of it is staged with noticeable mastery of the craft. Bong Joon-ho has long been compared with Steven Spielberg, the two sharing an affinity for telling human stories within a much larger, often sci-fi tinged scale. This film will likely fuel those comparisons further, but Bong is bringing plenty of his own unique flavor. It all just feels a little wackier, a little more willing to embrace the preposterous. The emotions are brought into even sharper relief as they contrast with the rest of this world of cartoonish characters. The performances seem to be perfectly pitched on opposite ends of the specturm. Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija is brilliantly composed, while Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal go fully outlandish.OKJA_004.0Much of the conversation around Okja will likely be about its politics, but its pleasures are much more immediate. This is a wildly entertaining film that just happens to make fun of almost everyone it comes in contact with, leaving its main sympathies with a young girl who just happens to really care about an animal friend of hers. It’s a very well constructed story that actually pays off much of what it sets up, even with all the characters it has to deal with. It’s funny and touching and occasionally very thrilling. It only really suffers in comparison to Bong’s previous works, which seemed to find an easier balance between its extremes of emotion and silliness. But there is something astonishing about this particular approach as well.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
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