Review - Okja

Okja (2017), TV-MA, 118 minutes - Three years ago (almost to the day), I saw a film by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho called Snowpiercer.  It instantly became one of my favorite films of 2014 and made me go back and watch some of his previous films (which I also enjoyed).  So a couple of days ago, when I discovered that his new film Okja had been released via Netflix earlier in the week, I was extremely eager to see it.

This film tells the story of a little Korean girl named Mija (An Seo Hyun) and her pet super pig Okja.  "What on Earth is a super pig?" you ask?  They are a genetically engineered species designed by the Mirando Corporation to be the perfect eco-friendly livestock.  Mija and her grandfather have raised Okja on their mountain-top farm since she was four (it has now been ten years).  What Mija isn't aware of is that Okja was one of twenty six super pigs that Mirando placed in the care of farmers around the globe as part of a contest to see who could raise the best super pig.  The winning super pig is to be unveiled to the world at a huge event in New York City to announce the launch of Mirando's super pig-based product line.  Once Mija realizes that Okja is being taken from her and her grandfather, she chases after the Mirando people and in her attempt to set Okja free, crosses paths with members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an animal rights organization planning to take down the Mirando Corporation by exposing their true nature and practices.  All she wants to do is return home to the mountains with Okja, but instead gets caught up in the propaganda machine and the ethical struggle between a global corporation and the ALF.

Bong Joon-Ho's cast is wonderful, from An Seo Hyun as Mija to Tilda Swinton as both Miranda sisters (Lucy and Nancy), to Jake Gyllenhaal's nature show host Johnny Wilcox, and Paul Dano and Steve Yeun's ALF members (Jay and K respectively).  They all give performances with a wide range of emotion, especially Swinton, who plays not one but two damaged characters, both twisted in their own way. Another recognizable face is that of Giancarlo Esposito, who plays Miranda Executive Frank Dawson.

The effects team does an amazing job of creating Okja and her interactions with the cast.  It is literally impossible not to develop an emotional connection to this fictitious creature throughout the course of the film.  This is a pretty impressive feat, and is both a strength and a weakness for the film as it makes the third act very difficult to watch if you're an animal lover.  Without being spoilery, I will say that the film ends on a happy note, but if you don't want to see scenes involving the mistreatment of animals, then this definitely isn't the film for you.  The super pigs may be fictitious, but the nature of their being raised as livestock is very real.  As it was released via Netflix, Okja is rated TV-MA, but likely would have been an R-rated film due to language had it seen a theatrical release (I'm pretty sure it crosses the acceptable F-bomb threshold for a PG-13 film).

Okja is an extremely moving, thought provoking film and is another winner from Bong Joon-Ho as far as I'm concerned.  He is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors and I highly recommend Okja (you can view it here).  It is a beautiful piece of cinematography that runs the gamut of emotions and explores very real world scenarios, even if they are presented through the lens of a fictitious creature.  Super pigs may not be a thing in today's world, but the potential for the creation of such an animal is not at all far-fetched.


- I have included a second trailer for the film here in the spoiler section as it shows more of the darker tones of the film and may better represent what can be expected.  


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