For 10 idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja-a massive animal and an even bigger friend-at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when a family-owned multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where image obsessed and self-promoting CEO Lucy Mirando has big plans for Mija's dearest friend. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission...
Directed by: Joon-ho Bong
. Starring: Tilda Swinton
, Sheena Kamal
, Michael Mitton
, Colm Hill
, Kathryn Kirkpatrick
, Jose Carias
, Giancarlo Esposito
, Jake Gyllenhaal
, Nancy Amelia Bell
, Seo-hyun Ahn
, Jeong-eun Lee
, Hee-Bong Byun
, Jaein Kim
. Music by: Jaeil Jung
You kinda have to wonder what goes on in the mindset of director Bong Joon-Ho. As expressed in his films, he always finds a winning formula of combining both serious, contemplative dramas with over-the-top Abbot & Costello-esque slapstick without conflicting our investment. Seriously, go watch MEMOIRS OF MURDER & THE HOST again; it all looks like tonal clusterfs, but it never breaks immersion. It's like his ultimate thesis is that both comedy and drama come hand in hand, where we live our lives in two reactive extremes all while embracing the ride without questioning it. His newest film, OKJA, is no different.
Blending the lyrical, moody fantasy kids films like MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO with over-the- top corporate satire straight out of a PETA propaganda, OKJA might be his extreme example of said thesis yet. It's a movie that's both emotionally resonant, hilarious, and at times both at the same time. It may be a few beats short of a classic like his other films, but is a hell of a testament of his talent.
This time around, he once again takes jabs at social satire much like the magnum opus SNOWPIERCER, but against the corporate cynicism of Monsanto food companies instead of class warfare. Seo-Hyun Ahh plays Mija, a girl who raised a GMO super pig names Okja in the mountaintops of South Korea with her grandpa. Sadly, Okja is subjected to be the next state-of-the-art alternative of packaged meat property of Mirando Corp. (get it?!) and Okja has to be taken away. As true to what is probably Bongs most spirited girl character ever conceived, Mija takes it upon yourself to rescue her, traveling through buildings, running through traffic, and ultimately teaming up with a team of revolutionaries (led by Paul Dano) to rescue her from slaughter.
For a movie that seems so painfully predictable on the spectrum of "SAVE NATURE" movie genre, there's surprisingly a lot to unpack here. For example, Mija just wants to save her big piggly friend, not overall stop the corporate machine. The revolutionaries have a well-intentioned motive but go through very slimy and demented options to get there. Heck, even though Mirando is doing a lot of evil to our adorable superpigs, they're never seen as evil to others; they're just too busy wondering why this super meat taste so good! Sure it takes obvious jabs at the meat industry (even as far as to make Okja a literal species straight from a LAB!) but Bong is too smart to fall under cheap trappings. His ultimate saying actually, is that no matter how much damage capitalist economy does to nature in general, it'll probably never be stopped. But all that matters isn't "who's gonna stop it?" Or "save our animals" but rather to preserve the love of two odd friendship between a girl and her big piggie. It's like the critic Greg Vellante says "Love wins the battle, Greed wins the war". When does that ever been a messages to these films, especially if a film has what is essentially a mix between a dinosaur and Eyeore from Winnie the Pooh.
That aside though, the rest of the movie wouldn't work had it not been for the rest of the film. The film once again shifts from audacious comedy and lyrical drama each second at a time, constructing a weird univserse that you can't help but both cry and laugh at the same time. The films first act dedicates Okja and Mija playing together in a forest and having fun. It's a quieter, more meditative sequence in the whole picture that achieves in making us easily care for these weird characters. By contrast, the 2nd act involves a car chase strip mall sequence so over-the-top it feels straight out of BLUES BROTHERS. The 3rd act comes close to being the most gruesome and depressing scene Bong could allow, yet still ends in a much more hopeful and tear-inducing capper. Say what you will about tonal shifts and consistency, this guy breaks all the rules.
All the actors in this movie are great (except Jyllenhaal, who looks like he came from 5-8 different movies) but Okja herself is the main star. It's not the most impressive CGI, but Bong photographs her with appropriate scale and prescience in every scene. The result looks incredible, the type of achievement that shows how we can use computers to great effect. Seo-Hyun is also amazing, and Tilda Swindon offers yet another fantastic character of American authority figure.
Overall, this might be Bong Joon-Hos footnote to quite an impressive resume, but I'll be shocked if it isn't a heck of a great one. It's available on Netflix after the whole Cannes debacle. Highly recommended, even if you do need a big TV at home for it.
Review by Jose Saenz from the Internet Movie Database.