Written and Directed by Bong Joon Ho
Starring - Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano & Jake Gyllenhall
The Miranda Corporation started a competition where farmers around the world were given a lab-bred super pig to grow and develop with the hope these animals could be the start of economic and food benefits for mankind. After 10 years the competition comes to an end and Okja, a super pig raised in the hills of South Korea by the loving Mija and her grandfather, must now return to New York for a pig "beauty pageant". The fourteen-year-old Mija and Okja have developed an incredible bond over the decade and Mija is not going to let Okja leave his home without a fight, so heads to Korea and then New York to stop to his fate on a plate. However, Okja is also in hot pursuit by the Animal Liberation Front and the Miranda Corporation viewing Okja as their hot property.
Anyone that has seen Joon Ho's previous movies The Host and Snowpiercer knows that he combines highly entertaining movies with a social message and Okja is no different. Okja tells the story of one girl and her mutant pig that have such a deep rooted bond but uses it to skew large corporations and the meat production industry. The Animal Liberation Front want to free Okja and their intentions are largely pure, there's no cynicism towards their goals and Joon Hoo clearly supports their world view. Whereas, the Mirando Corporation headed by the fantastic Tilda Swinton come across as cartoonish in their goals to use the super pig project to dupe American into eating up their new meat sources. Jake Gyllenhaal is outstanding as Doctor Wilcox, a has-been TV presenter who hosted a show called Animal Magic and now is a stooge for the Corporation and his outlandish, high pitched and flamboyant make him a truly memorable character.
This movie feels in the tradition of E.T. as one young girl must protect her friend from the ruthless adults who see only threats, profits or gains to be had in something so innocent. There is colourful language but this is a movie that always feels like a family movie and one that younger children would enjoy, many of the themes of friendship with an animal are truly timeless and this movie puts a spin on classic tropes. Seo-Hyun Awn delivers such a confident performance for someone so young acting opposite a CGI super pig with great depth and emotion, she remains innocent and full of conviction throughout and you are always rooting for her and Okja to get back to those beautiful Korean hills. The CGI of Okja doesn't blow you away the way some other characters have but it works for the movie and it the strength of everything around it means you forget it's a CGI animal very quickly.
It's frustrating due to the Netflix funding model, this will have only a small cinema window and it will find it's home streaming on Netflix from June 28th as this movie's message and scale deserves to be seen on the biggest of screens. However, the fact that this will be available in millions of homes around the planet at the click of a button should allow it to find the global audience it deserves and hopefully with families.
Okja is screening at the Edinburgh Film Festival on Sunday the 25th and Wednesday 28th.
Lee Hutchison - @lee_nostromo