Starring Seo-Hyun Ahn, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Giancarlo Esposito, Shirley Henderson, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun
Super pigs, rapid fire poo balls with both Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal playing cartoon like characters means this must be a Bong Joon-Ho film. The critically acclaimed South Korean director followed up action packed Snowpiercer with another thought provoking original concept. It’s hard not to like this film; it’s funny, cute, slightly twisted but very entertaining. Joon Ho is probably the only filmmaker that could pull off something like this. The special effects with the “super pig” are not on the level of a superhero film or big budget Hollywood flick, but passable enough as not to distract. The repeated closeups, showcasing small hairs on the animal, are intended to ease our minds eye.
The Mirando Corporation, under the direction of new CEO and younger sister Lucy (Swinton), has created super pigs, promising to put a dent in world hunger. These modified pigs are to be tested and raised throughout the world, until the most promising one is chosen to be unveiled in New York. Mija (Ahn) and her grandfather have raised Okja since he was a little piglet. The two are inseparable, but Okja’s true purpose has been hidden from the little girl until famed wildlife expert and the face of the Mirando, Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal), comes to claim the giant specimen. Mija follows her beloved pet from the mountains of Korea to the city of Seoul and onto America, where she becomes an unwilling news sensation, caught up in an international plot to expose the Mirando company for their misdeeds.
The brilliance of Joon Ho is crafting another film that works so cross culturally to such a wide variety of interests.
Joon-Ho’s script is layered with action and comedy for those only interested in face value, but Okja also has a lot brewing underneath. The Korean filmmaker is certainly making a statement on the treatment of animals. In one heartbreaking scene a family of super pigs allow their piglet to escape and join Mija to avoid the inevitable pig slaughter. This scene is executed much like a scene out of your average Holocaust film. Okja also plays as a young kids adventure film, in all actuality it could have easily worked the same as anime. The brilliance of Joon Ho is crafting another film that works so cross culturally to such a wide variety of interests. Whether you want a unique action adventure film or a thought provoking issues movie, Okja can be either, both, or neither, it’s all up to the viewer.
Gyllenhaal’s performance is the Richard Simmons of wildlife experts. His high pitched, effeminate portrayal of the corrupt character again shows the Oscar nominated actors range. However, his limited screen time is a complete distraction because the performance is larger than life. Swinton, playing double duty as the Mirando sisters is wonderfully diabolical although not quite on her Snowpiercer level. Seo-Hyun Ahn’s performance as Mija reminds me a bit of Kumiko The Treasure Hunter, how both women were unprepared for the journey they put themselves on in a modern world they don’t understand. The relationship between our unwitting heroine and her super pig is the real heart of the film. The two-hour running time does take its toll, but Okja isn’t boring, it’s just a large film with lots of moving parts.
Joon-Ho has created original entertainment that works for all audiences.