(Photo via Netflix)
Before I start the review, I would like to apologize for the lack of content lately. Summertime is always a weird time for me, and my schedule has allowed me to see a ton of movies, but I haven’t written reviews of those said films. Most of it has to do with laziness/lack of time on my part, and the other bit is mainly due to the lack of interest in seeing reviews of those films. Before the end of July, I’d like to do a big piece recaping the tinier films I’ve seen this summer, on top of reviewing the big stuff here on this site. Sorry for the inconvenience, and I hope you enjoy this review.
Having been a big fan of Joon-ho Bong‘s last film, Snowpiercer, I had high hopes like the rest of the world for his next film, Okja. Snowpiercer was an exciting and exhilarating thrill ride that was also able to squeeze in some colorful commentary on the world, corporations, and the class struggles that affect the world, which is now restrained to this massive train going across the snow-covered mountains. Okja follows a similar path, but it isn’t necessarily an action flick. There are some fun and innovative set pieces no doubt, but nothing quite like Joon-ho’s last flick. Okja plays out like a heist film at times, as well as a commentary on the meat industry, how Americans view the food they eat, and where that said food actually comes from. Okja is funny, heartbreaking, and an all around great time of a movie. The film is currently streaming on Netflix.
Newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun plays Mija, a farmgirl who lives in the South Korean mountains with her grandfather and a superpig named Okja, a superpig that was created in a labratory by the Mirando Corporation. One day, the Mirando Corporation takes Okja away from Mija, as they want their property back and can use the pig as a marketing ploy to market their line of food through the superpigs. Mija is obviously very upset by this, and runs off with a group of eco-terrorists who want to save Okja from slaughter, and get the superpig back to Mija. Their journey follows them from South Korea all the way to New York City, where the Mirando Corporation and its CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) are getting ready for the big reveal of their new product.
On top of the fun and colorful plot that Bong-ho has created for this world, the cast of characters that inhabit this world make it all the worth while. Tilda Swinton as the anxious and vulnerably (not sure if that’s a word but I like it) jealous Lucy is really terrific, as is Gincarlo Esposito as Lucy’s associate. The eco-terrorists, known as the ALF, consist of Paul Dano as the group’s leader, with Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, et al. as the members of the group who are technically terrorists but don’t actually hurt anybody (there’s some fun little gags involving that scenario throughout the film).
But the one performances that I can’t seem to wrap my head around is the one Jake Gyllenhaal gives as a TV personality that also works for the Mirando Corporation. Gyllenhaal is obviously having a lot of fun playing this role, and the performance isn’t a bad one by any means, but it’s an interesting performance. His character is very eccentric, and the high-pitched voice that Gyllenhaal gives this character is a fascinating choice. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love the performance either. It might be my least-favorite aspect of the film, and yet it might be one of the more interesting/best parts of the film. I feel like I need to watch the film again to get a better grip on this character, and I’ll let you decide for yourself on what you think of Gyllenhaal’s performance once you see the film (which I recommend you do so).
But the heart of the film is Mija and Okja, and the journey that Mija goes on to find her beloved Okja can get emotional for even the most jaded audience member. While Okja is entirely CG, the way that the actors are able to interact with something that isn’t there on the set with them is fascinating. The final couple of sequences in the film might even break your heart and have you break down a little bit. Granted, that’s acting 101, but the fact that these actors do such a great job interacting with a CG animal that isn’t with them right there is a testament to the talent of all the actors in this film, and the strong ensemble that Bong-ho has assembled for this film.
Okja is a solid summer release, even if it technically didn’t come out in the theaters (the big theater chains still live in that archaic same day/date system that’s slowly going to kill them financially if they continue that mindset/policy). As I mentioned before, the film is currently streaming on Netflix, but if you can find a theater somewhere near you (I was somehow able to find a theater playing the film when I was out in Los Angeles last week), that’s the way to see this film. If not, I recommend watching this on a rather large television screen with great sound. This is not a massive movie, but its a big film, and watching this film on your computer or your cell phone can’t do the film justice. This is also one of the best original films that Netflix has produced thus far, and I hope that the streaming giant continues to produce quality entertainment like Okja. It’s a nice break from the loud big budget stuff that seems to overstuff the multiplex summer after summer. If you can’t find a film worth seeing at the multiplex (or if The Big Sick is sold out everywhere), I recommend staying home and checking this fun but thought-provoking film out.