In the mountains of South Korea, young girl Mija lives with her grandfather and Okja, a genetically engineered ‘superpig’ who she grew up alongside. Okja was created as part of a marketing scheme run by a multinational bioengineering company, and after they return to reclaim her, Mija sets out to rescue her only friend.
Korean visionary Bong Joon-ho’s first feature since the magnificent Snowpiercer, Okja is as indefinable a beast as its titular creature. With its initially straightforward plot, child hero and cute CG animal co-star, in the beginning it seems to be a perfect family film, a pleasant yet exciting adventure story of a girl and her superpig. However, as it progresses it becomes increasingly grim and more than a little distressing, and by the end has morphed into something you most certainly wouldn’t want your kids to watch.
Despite her obtrusive size, Okja is an adorable creation, her appearance something akin to a hybrid of a hippopotamus and Falcor from The Neverending Story. It’s established early on that Okja has just as much affection for Mija as the girl does for her, and it’s also made clear that she possesses more than a rudimentary intelligence. In establishing her identifiable personality, it makes the plight to rescue her all the more meaningful, but also everything she is forced to endure all the more harrowing.
The film asks questions about the nature of industrial-scale farming and the ethics of raising animals for slaughter, but doesn’t actually go as far to take any moral stance, possibly acknowledging the issue to be too complicated to address without being seen as hypocritical. The simple story of Mija attempting to rescue Okja becomes overcomplicated after she encounters a band of some of the most polite animal rights activists you’ve ever seen, whose determination to expose the mistreatment taking place within the corporate facilities takes precedence over the safety of one animal, calling into question their priorities. Other adult characters, such as Tilda Swinton’s ambitious CEO and Jake Gyllenhaal’s jittery celebrity TV vet, are just as self-absorbed in their own ambitions, and with everyone else pursuing their own agenda to one extreme or another, Mija and Okja are the only innocents in the film. They want only to be left in peace and away from the scheming and selfishness, but are constantly denied at every turn due to what others want from them.
It’s difficult to establish exactly who Okja is aimed at. As previously mentioned, it really doesn’t work as a family movie, and its lack of clarity over anything it might be trying to say makes it a challenge to find anything to take away from its events, while its climax just fizzles out to an ending of rudimentary satisfaction, but not one satisfying enough to justify its lengthy running time. It’s an intriguing and entertaining movie, certainly, but also one where a little more focus could have made it so much better.
OKJA / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: BONG JOON-HO / SCREENPLAY: BONG JOON-HO, JON RONSON / STARRING: AHN SEO-HYUN, TILDA SWINTON, JAKE GYLLENHAAL, PAUL DANO, STEVEN YEUN, LILY COLLINS, GIANCARLO ESPOSITO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 7/10