Okja is a blockbuster type of film with equal amounts of tension and a stirring disquiet. This two-tone approach has come to define Bong Joon Ho’s work. His previous film, Snowpiercer, was lacerating in its social message of class and inequality and sacrificed nothing when it came to dark violence and brutal bloodshed. Delving into our obsession with meat and big corporations who ravenously farm meat and animal produce, Okja’s world of ‘superpigs’ is already happening in shades, right here in our present reality. Okja broaches a difficult subject with both humour and gravitas as it creates a lasting impression. What impressed me the most was the cinematography and timing of action shots which were some of the most emotional and affecting moments in the film.
Tilda Swinton’s character (Lucy Mirando) opens the film with a lofty speech about her rightful succession of her father’s company as she transforms the public face of the company from a brutal one to a more polished and ‘sustainable’ one. ‘And of course, they need to taste f*cking good!’ is how she ends her milk-and-honey charade of an ideal interlaced with wonky credits and transition scenes. There’s a visual aesthetic of hard light and harsh colours that highlights the synthetic nature of their whole sham. But it’s difficult not to be swayed by Swinton’s ‘for the greater good’ argument to end starvation. Okja, as it turns out, isn’t necessarily too concerned with finding a solution to a perennial battle between human needs and animal cruelty. Okja’s strength is finding personal stories within that struggle that connect with all of us. At the heart of this film, we are called to witness the strength of love between a girl and a pig and their will to survive.
Okja’s scenic backdrop of rural Korea and contrasting images of the sprawl of Metropolitan New York and Seoul is lush and wonder-like. Some scenes are childlike in perspective, emphasizing Mija’s purity and unfailing determination. When we get to see our little protagonist’s giant-sized friend, Okja’s shy and modest attitude tugs at our heartstrings as well. What’s important is that this natural connection between the two holds strong despite weathering some severe challenges and heartbreak. The purity and sanctity of such a relationship was never more beautiful than when Paul Dano and his gang of non-violent Animal Rights activists swooped in to defend Okja from being captured. The slow-motion technique and heart-wrenching music got me again and again. In a whimsical sequence where the activists opened up umbrellas to deflect tranquilizers meant for Okja, Joon Ho’s unique eye for empathy and warmth in a typically high-stakes action scene caught me off-guard and made the scene even more emotionally resonanat. I cried a total of three times during the film.
The only gripe I have about the movie is how it ended almost in a deus ex machina fashion. Though an aspect of it is slightly contrived, Okja maintains the focus on the personal stories that are a part of all of us. Tilda Swinton was brilliant as ever in her role as a quirky CEO, Jake Gyllenhaal gives a haunting performance as an exaggerated form of the over-zealous pubic face of Mirando Corp and Paul Dano was superb as ALF (Animal Liberation Front)’s dedicated frontman. An eccentric mix of characters with a multitude of different moods and tones characterizes yet another Bong Joon Ho film. In the end, it felt as if the world in the film was truly like the one unfolding in our very lives. With goodness and morality being thrown into the unknown, the future that we face is filled with uncertainty. But if anything, Mija and Okja’s story preserves the need for the love of friendship and the sanctity of life.
Rating: 8.5/10 Heart-breaking, heart-wrenching and heart-warming. Ahn Seo-Hyun was phenomenal in her role. I was taken back to when I was a child and related to her wilful stubbornness. And yet, it’s this same wilfulness that keeps her purity of spirit and heart.
I absolutely adore Okja ❤