I guess this is my first time reviewing a Palme d’Or nominated film. Of course, the first official Cannes selection to have a wide release is the one that was booed at, but what can I do?
Anyway, Okja is the newest film directed by Bong Joon-ho, whose previous work includes The Host, a montser movie I didn’t care much for, and Snowpiercer, which was probably my favorite sci-fi film of 2013. What these two movies have in common is that they both combine the tropes of their respective genres, add not-so-subtle political commentary and dark, witty comedic scenes/characters. These three aspects are all present in Okja in one way or another.
Okja tells the story of Mija, a Korean girl whose father is given a large creature (referred to as a “Super Pig” but resembles a cross between a manatee and a hippo) by Mirando, a large and controversial corporation specializing in food, with the stipulation that they will raise the super pig, named “Okja,” for ten years before returning it to the company’s headquarters in New York. Mija is unaware of the return policy, and when Okja is taken away, she sets off for New York to rescue Okja. Along the way, she meets an animal liberation group that also wants to free Okja in an attempt to expose Mirando’s highly unethical practices.
If you couldn’t tell already, Okja has very strong environmentalist and anti-corprotist themes, and it takes a lot of time just to shove this down your throat. However, the movie isn’t completely one-sided. Most of the members of the animal liberation group, with the exception of the leader (played by Paul Dano,) seem more interested with exposing Mirando than with helping the super-pigs, at one point putting Okja in direct danger despite Mija’s insistence that Okja be returned to Korea. I also found it suspect that the group, named the Animal Liberation Front, shares an acronym with a certain 80’s sitcom alien known for eating cats.
Yes, there’s still a lot of humor in the movie, but some of it is extremely juvenile toilet humor, and the rest is from the characters competing with each other to see who’s the most quirky and off-beat. Not to say that that’s a bad thing, because this competition produces, in my opinion, the best aspect of the whole movie: Johnny Wilcox (played by Jake Gyllenhaal,) a zany TV zoologist and face of the Mirando corporation who, throughout the course of the film, picks up a soju addiction and slowly becomes an even more zany and unpredictable perpetual drunk. The downside is that he only shows up in four or five scenes, but every single one makes the film better.
Okja is a really good movie, not on the same level as Snowpiercer, but certainly better than The Host. If you have Netflix Instant, I’d say that this is worth your time.