Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Jake Gyllenhaal
Released: 28th June 2017 (Netflix)
Reviewer: Rehna Azim
Okja, directed by Bong Joon-Ho, follows the basic tradition of films like ET in which a child, devoted to any ugly, yet curiously appealing creature, is separated from it by baddies and has to try and save it. Since it’s 2017 the creature is a genetically modified ‘super pig’, the child is a South Korean girl and the baddies are all white either because they are just evil and greedy or so dim they can’t be trusted.
The film starts with Tilda Swinton (in a dual role) as the teeth braces wearing megalomaniac CEO of Mirando corporation announcing a new initiative to help with the decreasing level of food available in the world to feed the ever growing billions populating it. 26 farmers around the world have been selected to raise a genetically engineered miracle pig each and the winner will be the one that rears the biggest and tastiest one.
Fast forward 10 years and in the mountains of South Korea Mija ( Ann Seo-Hyun) has an adorable friendship with her pig, Okja and spends her days with the animal, blissfully unaware that miles away the suits (Chanel in the case of Swinton) are planning to turn Okja into supermeat.
These scenes in the film are the best in the film. Mija and Okja’s relationship is charming, the visual effects are convincing and life in the mountains with Mija’s grandfather are idyllic.
Their simple life is shattered by the arrival of Dr Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal, hammier than the huge Okja could ever hope to be) a TV animal show presenter who declares Okja ripe to be sent to New York supposedly for a prize giving ceremony but really to be dished out onto people’s plates and to fill sandwiches.
As Okja is taken away, Mija, somewhat runs away after her, getting from the mountains to the exact place she needs to be without hinderance. Somewhere along the line up pops Paul Dano as the leader of an Aminal a Liberation group which includes a little used Lily Collins. While the film remains watchable throughout and takes pot shots at our selfie and phone obsessed culture, it also veers ever more into silly farce territory. The tone is uneven throughout; morality tale, farce, satire, slapstick comedy, children’s film – it has elements of all but fails to do justice to any in particular.
It’s hard to know who Okja is aimed at. It’s possible children will like the CGI pig and take the flamboyant performances from Swinton and Gyllenhaal in their stride the way they might Scoobydoo villains. But there area few sequences which are distinctly unchildlike and could upset them.
The Netflix logo clearly upset some viewers at a screening in Cannes. They booed it!
Okja will be available for streaming on Netflix from 28th June.