Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja got off to a bad start at Cannes earlier this year. Netflix is breathing down the necks of the other major movie studios and they are not happy. Okja was booed in Cannes at the start of the film when the Netflix logo played. Then after about 20 minutes in, there was a technical problem that required the film to be started from the beginning. Booing and technical problems are not a great way to start your Oscar campaign.
Okja, starts with the Mirando Corporation’s new CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) make a promise to a room of investors. She has bold vision for the company by creating more ethical foods that will improve their image after years of animal abuse. Farms all over the world will raise “Super Pigs” that are genetic hybrids, made for their delicious meat and the best of all of them will be cloned and put into production. After 10 years, the farmer who raises the biggest “pig” will “win”. Unbeknownst to the farmers, they win a trip to New York and to the slaughterhouse. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.
Mija played by first time actress Ahn Seo-Hyuns and her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) live in their mountain home and wonder what’s to come when they find out that they have the biggest pig named Okja. Okja is the best of all the super pigs, a strange mix of a hippopotamus, a pig’s physical portions and a dogs ears. Mija and Okja are best friends. They play, sleep together and dare I say frolic. Okja is gentle and lovable. Of course Okja has to go back to the big city to become Super Pig jerky and the like.
It’s not clear on what this movie is trying to be. The CG “Super Pig” and little girl relationship could make this a children’s film except for the occasional F-word, forced breeding and slaughterhouse scenes. A leftist political group is thrown in to try and save Okja from her demise.
It is an ambitious film. A chase through Seoul involving the animal rights group, Mirando and the police in an underground mall is an impressive use of CG. With a bit of slapstick thrown in. Tilda Swinton does her usual wacky character with funny teeth and overplays it a bit. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Johnny Wilcox a TV host and the face of the super pig competition. This is one of the strangest performances I have ever seen. By strange, I mean the worst I have ever seen. He is way over the top and pretty much ruins what could be a much better film.
With a little more direction and less schtick, this would be a better film. It’s never boring and not as predictable as expected. The shots of South Korea along with a very believable looking CG super pig are beautiful. It’s worth a look.
Okja is now playing on Netflix.