Bong Joon-ho delivers once again with this tale tackling corporate corruption, the meat industry and the bond between a young girl and her lovable companion.
Having directed such masterpieces as 2003’s Memories of Murder and the outstanding family drama, creature-feature hybrid The Host, there were inevitably high expectations for this Netflix original film. Bong once again delves into exploring the consequences that creating a living thing can pose, but this time from a completely different perspective – examining the relationships that may blossom with creations intended for deceitful purposes.
Mija (Ahn Seo-Hyun) is a young girl who has been raised alongside a wonderful Superpig, Okja. But, when the inventor of the species comes to claim her to showcase at a PR event that will help cement their desired image, a group of animal rights activists will help Mija retrieve her beloved pet back, and expose the evil corporation to the public.
From the moment the titular Okja appears on screen with the film’s protagonist, the bond between them is unbelievably compelling, charming and pure. There is an on-screen magic between them that warms the heart, both are willing to do no matter what it takes to care for one another. The exposition, with wonderful cinematography highlighting the simple joys of rural South Korean living, with sensational shots of the pair surrounded by masses of greenery, helps to present an idyllic view of nature that the rest of the narrative sees to be threatened.
It is hard not to be emotionally invested in Mija’s quest to reunite herself with Okja. The plot shares familiarity with Steven Spielberg’s beloved classic E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. But Bong, proving once again more fearless than most Hollywood filmmakers, takes the family elements and blends them with more adult themes and imagery, never shying away from presenting the atrocities committed in the film for what they truly are.
The villains are caricatured, there is no doubt, and they will definitely grate on some viewers whenever they appear on screen. However, when they are portrayed with such devotion by Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal, arguably the finest actor of his generation, it is hard to pick fault. Gyllenhaal in particular is fantastic as the erratic, twisted Johnny Wilcox, a celebrity spokesperson as fraudulent as they come. His performance here exemplifies his versatility and talent as an actor, and it is great to see as many talents such as those mentioned and also the underrated Paul Dano, on screen together.
Okja poses many problematic questions relevant to modern society, but is also at times exhilarating, deeply funny, and genuinely moving. A strong contender for film of the year is here, and it would be criminal to miss it.