Film Review: Okja (2017) Dir. Joon Ho Bong
OKJA (2017) DIR. JOON HO BONG
Written by Belle McIntyre
This Netflix production defies easy categorization. The star of the title is a totally adorable digitally-generated huge pig-like creature with an equally appealing young caretaker living in an idyllic, remote mountainous environment. Mija (An Seo Hyun) lives with her grandfather on his farm in South Korea and appears to be about 10 years old. Her companion, pet and best friend, Okja, is the same age and they have grown up together. Okja is the size of an elephant with a face like a manatee, floppy ears and a very soft and squishy body.
There is a reason for the oddness of Okja. He has been created by the Miranda Corporation, a multinational food conglomerate, through genetic engineering to produce the maximum amount of edible meat for their processing plants. He is part of a ten year experiment which involves another 100 of these animals who have been distributed in various locations to be hand raised in humane conditions as part of the company’s public relations scheme to avoid negative reactions to the introduction of a new superfood source. The scientists from Miranda have been monitoring his care and development each year and maintain a proprietary interest. So when it is time for the unveiling in the US and they come to claim their property, Mija, reacts vehemently and rashly to stop them.
At the same time, there is another group which has their eye on Okja. The Animal Liberation Front, a band of militant animal right guerrillas, headed by Paul Dano, played with deadpan earnestness, is determined to entrap and expose the villainy, hypocrisy and corporate greed of the Miranda Corporation. Their somewhat impractical plan is to let Okja be removed and they will stage an audacious high visibility pig-napping from the Mirandas. They have some pretty wacky ideas and are hilariously incompetent.
The Miranda Corporation’s CEO, Lucy Miranda, who is the daughter of the founder and played with gleeful rapaciousness by Tilda Swinton, fitted with a startling set of teeth and corrective braces. She is the epitome of unbridled corporate arrogance and tunnel vision. Also, employed as part of the super pig campaign is Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a celebrity veterinarian, playedwith manic lunacy by an almost unrecognizable Jake Gylllenhaal, whose role it is to humanize the whole project. He is so hyped up it is conceivable that he has a drug problem.
As these various agendas unspool with increasing urgency, we move into action film territory, with high speed chases and a rampaging Okja wreaking havoc in shopping malls and city streets, and the last minute rescue of Okja from the slaughter house. The satire is broad and serious at the same time. Any resemblance to giant corporations like Monsanto or over zealousrights groups like Peta or Greenpeace are certainly not coincidental. The message is loud and clearly an indictment against agribusiness and corporate greed. However, it is so charmingly and funnily presented that the trip is a delight. And the point is perfectly made.