Written by Shawn Eastridge
Check out Nerd Nuptial's Okja review in their latest episode.
I’m not sure which demographic Netflix is hoping to attract with its latest original film Okja. On a surface level, it resembles family-friendly fare such as E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and Babe. In reality, it’s more at home alongside its brilliant director Bong Joon-ho’s other works, such as The Host and Snowpiercer.
That is to say it’s not at all ‘family-friendly.’
But regardless of the tonal confusion, Okja is more than worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of Joon-ho’s other works. It’s beautifully shot, frequently hilarious and emotionally devastating. Only Bong Joon-ho, who’s made a career out of juggling conflicting tones with finesse, could end up crafting such a satisfying final product. Not only is this another worthy entry in his filmography, it’s further evidence that Netflix is planting the flag as the go-to place for an artist’s creative vision to flourish.
Okja is one of twenty-six superpig genetically engineered by the Mirando Corporation to revolutionize the food industry. Each of these superpigs was sent to different areas around the globe to be raised in a ‘natural’ environment. The superpig that demonstrated the most growth would be dubbed the winner of the Mirando Corporation’s superpig competition.
Flash-forward 10 years. Okja, soon to be dubbed the best and biggest of all the superpigs, is living with her family, a young girl named Mija and Mija’s grandfather. Mija and Okja have grown up together, developing an incredible bond. Together, they explore South Korea’s gorgeous mountain scenery and embark on all kinds of adventures. But when the Mirando Corporation arrives to claim its prize, Mija will stop at nothing to get her best friend back, traveling from Seoul to New York City, making new allies and enemies along the way.
Any faults Okja might demonstrate are easily wiped out by what does work: its sense of humor, Joon-ho’s stunning visuals, aided this time around by cinematographer Darius Khondji of Seven and Midnight in Paris fame, and the wonderful cast, led by Ahn Seo-hyun’s brilliant, steadfast performance as Mija. Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano are the standouts of a strong supporting cast. Gyllenhaal is absolutely hilarious, giving a madcap turn as television personality/zoologist Johnny Wilcox. Dano gives yet another perfect performance as Jay, the kindhearted soul leading the Animal Liberation Front who aids Mija in her quest to rescue Okja.
The effects are extraordinary. The Okja character herself is a marvel of computer generated wizardry, capable of generating empathy and emotion with a simple glance. I never once thought of her as a special effect, so seamlessly does she blend with the action around her.
Okja contains political and social commentary out the wazoo, but although it doesn’t align with any particular viewpoint, it never outright condemns any of them either. Rather, it shines a light on the complexities, the beauty and ugliness of them all, and lets the audience be the judge. Even those with the best of intentions, such as the Animal Liberation Front, are susceptible to corruption when their ultimate goals are threatened.
No one is innocent, it seems. No one, that is, but Mija and Okja, whose love for one another will keep them going even through their darkest moments. Their story may be perpetually on the verge of being overwhelmed by the numerous plot points and characters, but Joon-ho and co-writer Jon Ronson wisely keep Mija and Okja at the center of everything. Amidst the commentaries on capitalism and political activism, it’s the love between these two that propels the story onward.
One can’t help feeling that was exactly Joon-ho’s intention. Amidst the political ins and outs and corruption found in nearly every facet of society, it’s all too easy to get distracted. We tend to forget about the things that really matter and why they matter. Okja is a powerful reminder of exactly that and it is a film you don’t want to miss.
Okja is now available for streaming on Netflix.
FINAL RATING: 4/5