By: Jessica Goddard
Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is not only packed with insight, imagination, and action, but mesmerizing visual effects. While this movie bounces around tonally, it’s consistently engaging and gripping. There are moments of camp and farce and exaggeration (cough cough – Jake Gyllenhaal – cough) but they are fun and mostly harmless. The premise is well-conceived, and the frequent use of subtitles under Korean dialogue is never fatiguing.
The story follows Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), a South Korean preteen who lives in the mountains with her grandfather, and Okja the super pig, granted to the duo by the Mirando Corporation as part of a contest to see which farmer could raise the best specimen over a decade. The super pig is a lab-made creation of the corporation, genetically modified to be bigger and tastier than a regular pig (though it’s called a “super pig”, it looks more like the result of a donkey swallowing a hippo whole and assuming its rotund form). Mija and Okja have grown up together over a decade, and even sleep side-by-side on occasion. One fateful day, the Mirando Corp. comes back to claim Okja, and take her to New York despite Mija’s protests and offers to buy back her best friend. So Mija, with the sudden (and unsolicited) help of activists from the Animal Liberation Front, sets out to bring Okja home and save her from becoming colourfully packaged jerky.
Okja is smart and thought-provoking in all the right places. It’s been argued that the film is a little too simplistic in its black-and-white, good versus evil dichotomy, but I don’t agree. Most will see that the movie and its team are obviously taking a stance on a socio-political issue, but I would argue there’s a lot of clever nuance at play. The first time we meet Mija, she’s searching for fish to kill and eat at home while Okja frolics nearby. And Mija’s reaction to her grandfather trying to compensate her for having to honour his contract with Mirando are not ideal (See: ungrateful). And yes, the Mirando Corporation is never cast in a positive light, but the Animal Liberation Front depicted is far from perfect as well.
Everything from the elaborate CGI to the detailed writing make Okja a great pick the next time you’re leafing through Netflix, or deciding whether to take a chance on its exclusive theatrical run. But be warned, Okja does have an animal liberation message to drive home, so there are certainly some hard-to-watch moments – that’s the point.
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Jessica Goddard: @TheJGod