Director: Bong Joon Ho
Even though NetFlix has been producing films for a little while now, it appears this has come out at a turning point for cinema with raised questions whether their contribution to the industry is a threat to the cinema business. At the sight of the Netflix logo, this film received boos from the audience at its Cannes Film Festival screening though I don't believe this is the first or only film to get such negative reactions due to being a Netflix production.
Though, this film wasn't made by Netflix alone. Brad Pitt's Plan B production company was part of this too, which leads me to think about the projects Plan B is getting behind, this being the second collaboration after War Machine which is, like Okja, a political and corporately satirical film. This makes Okja a double-edged sword socially and politically. On top of the controversy with concerns of NetFlix taking over Hollywood, it's released at a pivotal moment in human society. More people, myself included are looking at, or converting to vegetarian or better still, vegan. (I'm still a carnivore but have swap out parts of the diet for vegan alternatives.
While this film is mostly about the bond of friendship between a girl and her giant, genetically engineered, manatee-faced pig; it does address real issues such as genetically modified foods, the gigantic, unsustainable food industry and the animal cruelty that goes along with it, which is impossible to ignore here. There are a few highly upsetting and disturbing scenes that will stay with you long after the film has finished, possibly scarring your memory as being the first thing you think of when speaking about this film.
Written and directed by Korean writer Bong Joon Ho, the same director behind the highly regarded Snowpiercer. He brings to life, what could well be a live action version of a dark anime film. I say dark because, though it has some vibrant and touching scenes, the overall threat that looms gives the story a sense of doom.
The opening introduction to the film sets it's satirical tone before quickly moving to Korea where we meet the young farm girl, Mija and her beloved pig, Okja. A genetically enhanced pig that's one part of a corporate, advertising campaign to help turn popular opinion for the continuation of meat production. However, the company heads probably didn't foresee the attachment and loyalty that would form between the two characters which causes the firm a huge amount of grief for their marketing campaign.
Okja is taken against Mija wishes and thus embarks on an adventure to rescue her. She's not the only one. The ALF, not the 80s furry, cat-munching alien, but the Animal Liberation Front have their own agenda for Okja. A real organisation that frees captive animals whilst trying to cause financial damages from the corporations that profit from their demise.
Seo-Hyun Ahn, who plays Mija is simply amazing being a fresh innocence to the story that embellishes love and friendship. We all remember our pets and the lengths we would go to to protect and provide for them which she portrays perfectly so. Okja returns that same love, displayed in a few key scenes which enforces their connection.
Swinton and Gyllenhaal are both equally amazing, different from anything I've ever seen them do before. Both eccentric, self-centred and quirky they bring an almost sinister and twist side to the story. It's not first time Swinton has played opposing twin sisters either, though these two are quite a distance from the sister of Hail, Caesar! Dano, like the rest of the supporting cast are great and suit their roles perfectly.
The creation of Okja appears fairly basic, looking more like a bulging hippopotamus than giant pig. But there is a lot to her, especially when close up. Her eyes, behaviour and movements speak such great volumes.
There's some great and often comical sequences but never lets you forget terrible ordeals Okja goes through. It's oddly accompanied by a mixed score of sorts, sometimes sounding very traditionally European, then with hints of Latino themes, to finish with something more typical. Something else I noticed was the product placements proving the American influence over the Korean by planting Apple everywhere instead of having the usual Samsung.
Quite insightful, and sadly probably not that far from the truth regarding the gigantic food industry that has to feed the billions of people on this planet. But it's both an enjoyable and heartbreaking tale, which turned the boos at Cannes into a 4minute standing ovation at the end. Well worth the watch.
Running Time: 8
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 8
The Extra Bonus Point: 0