By Jack Dignan
Originally Published on Salty Popcorn
I left OKJA not really knowing if what I’d seen was real. The film had me baffled. Surely a film as unique, creative and wild as this was just some crazy dream I had one night? No way this film could exist. But it does. It’s real. It’s wild. And it’s amazing. Netflix isn’t perfect. As much as I love it, and for as often as I use it, I do have the occasional super minor gripe with the way they work, but all their decisions are financially based and completely understandable. Giving Bong Joon Ho a big budget and complete creative control to make the movie he wants to make, however, may just be one the best decisions they’ve ever made.
The meat industry has a bad reputation. You have to be careful where your food comes from. This is the basis upon which OKJA takes its main inspiration. Ten years ago, Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) and Frank Dawson (Giancarlo Esposito) decided to send out a handful of “super pigs” to farmers all throughout the globe, where they were to be raised and fattened for a competition. Whoever raises the best pig goes home with fame and glory. Cut forward to the present day. Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) is living with her grandfather in South Korea, raising one of the super pigs, Okja, and when TV host Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) stumbles into their home, they discover they’ve won the competition.
Okja is to be taken back to New York City for a grand public reveal, the first time they’ve seen the one of a kind animal. But Mija wasn’t aware of this. She expects Okja to come back, and is given shocking information about how Okja will soon be killed and turned into meat. Against her orders, she flees Korea in the hopes of rescuing Okja from her cruel fate. It’s here she runs into an animal activist group, led by Jay (Paul Dano), who travel the globe saving as many animals they can find. They’re Mija’s only hope in rescuing her beloved best friend.
This film is nuts. It’s a wholly original movie experience that’s part comedy, part adventure, part drama, and all crazy. Bong Joon Ho has always had a very political voice weaved into his movies and OKJA is no exception. His pro-vegan storyline takes the audience on a cross-country adventure into the terror and cruelty found within the meat industry. The message is loud and clear, completely devoid of subtlety, but the journey is so worthwhile. Of all the Netflix original movies released so far, you won’t find anything remotely as entertaining as OKJA.
It manages to be anti-meat without only appealing to those who are anti-meat. Being a vegan is the last thing I want to be, a lot of my favourite foods are incredibly meaty, but OKJA manages to be accessible for the general audience. The meat industry is bad. It’s awful. There’s no other way of putting it. A lot of really unfortunate things go down in those factories, and while it isn’t always the case, there are far too many incidents and it’s rather ridiculous. OKJA turns those unfortunate incidents into a very vocal story about the horrors of big businesses. The story is often uncomfortable and shocking, but will leave a lasting impact.
Bong Joon Ho’s script opens with an upbeat, laugh out loud funny scene that’s used predominantly for exposition purposes, but I loved every second of it. It’s tonally perfect and sets the vibe for what’s to come. From here, we’re taken into the jungle, kind of. We transport to South Korea, and that’s where the story really kicks into gear. Okja is introduced through a lengthy, slightly too-long of an introduction. What this introduction does bring with it though is lovability in its super pig main character. She’s big, fat, ugly and adorable, saving lives and looking out for our hero’s best needs. You feel the love between Okja and Mija, and when their world is torn apart, it hits you right in the heart.
Every character is verbose and larger than life. Their motives are distinct, albeit mostly business oriented. They’re all, for the most part, seeking personal gain, excluding the activist group and Mija. Jake Gyllenhaal gives it his all in what’s easily his most ridiculous and hilarious character to date. Gyllenhaal plays an absolute dickhead, whose antics range from unsettling to humourous. Despite one scene being very hard to watch, every line of dialogue reeks with genius. Gyllenhaal is impossible to turn away from with his high-pitched, irritable voice and always present short shorts. You’ve never seen him remotely like this before.
Tilda Swinton needs all the awards she can possibly get. Swinton never fails to deliver, and in similar fashion to another Boon Jong Ho film, SNOWPIERCER, she’s absolutely off the chain here. While it’s only in the opening scene, a braces-wearing Swinton is a sight to behold, and every moment she’s on screen is utterly fabulous. Also brilliant is little thirteen-year-old Seo-Hyun Ahn, whose adorable nature and love for her best friend carries the heart and soul of this movie. A scene towards the end of the film brought tears to my eyes, moving me beyond belief while shattering my heart into a thousand pieces.
You need to see this movie. It’s an eccentric, crowd pleasing and an often-thrilling voyage with some of the most memorable characters 2017 has thrown at us so far. A subway chase in particular stands out as being one of the film’s finest moments. Some scenes do drag, and Paul Dano has an extended outburst that’s very out of character, but 90% of the time, OKJA is utterly delightful. Seeing this film on the big screen was a joy. It’s a shame cinema audiences won’t get to experience it, but having it distributed on Netflix means you have no excuse in missing out on one of the best films of the year.
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