OKJA – Available Streaming on Netflix June 28th, 2017

Bong Joon Ho’s Okja is about the relationship that forms between a genetically modified pig and her caretaker, Mija (played by Seo-Hyun Ahn). It’s also about the lengths that Mija will go to, and the trials she will suffer to save her animal, the titular Okja. It’s also about the food we eat and how much we know about it. It’s also…you know what…let’s just say it’s a pretty layered movie.

This is Netflix’s latest foray into big, original content.  While Netflix may have figured out serialized shows with their Marvel stuff, Orange Is The New Black, House of Cards, Et All; their results in the stand alone film business has been less clearcut: as in War Machine, Barry, or whatever they’re doing with Adam Sandler.  (Really Netflix? Sandy Wexler?)  Different here is Bong Joon Ho’s involvement.  He’s a real auteur, with a strong resume of unique and interesting work.

So, is it more like a middle of the road movie where a filmmaker is neutered by a studio? Or more like the weird, kind of awesome thing you see late at night then spend the next month trying to remember enough details about it to figure out the name?

Visually, it’s got touches that might remind you of the Pete’s Dragon remake from last year. What CGI there is in the film isn’t always the most flawless, but it’s good enough to pass a smell test, and Bong Joon Ho knows where to hide his film’s short comings. The future, as it is presented here is similar enough to where we are now, that we can see our fate when we’re slapped in the face with it.  An evil corporation has created what they’re advertising as the perfect live stock, and Okja is the most perfect example of that perfect livestock.  You be right not to like where this is going for Okja.

Some of you that know Bong Joon Ho’s other work, may have already picked up on a recurring theme from Snowpiercer: “You don’t really want to know what you’re eating.” Also like Snowpiercer this film juxtaposes, complex, interesting action sequences with calm, intimate conversations in a way that most films can’t juggle.

Jake Gyllenhaall

At least some of the reason those throttle downed scenes work is because of an all-star cast. They are a hodgepodge of people that you know delivering beautifully absurd performances, and people that you may not know perfectly grounding the film.  Jake Gyllenhaall and Tilda Swinton seemed to have employed Nic Cage as their acting coach on this one.  The former going so far over the top that he seems to be on another planet.  The later does some great “teeth” acting.  Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, Shirley Henderson and Steven Yeun, all have their moments, but too often feel criminally under-utilized.  Even though he’s given mouthfuls of dialogue, Paul Dano, playing the Animal Liberation Front’s activist/pacificist/mastermind-in-charge feels too peripheral to the main story.  The star of the movie, and in-fact the thing that shines the brightest here is Seo-Hyun Ahn’s performance as Mija.

Tilda Swinton & Giancarlo Esposito

The weirdest thing about this movie is that despite all of the off the wall things that happen here, it’s almost something that you could watch with young teenagers as a way to wet their beaks about how movies can do more than just entertain.  The accessibility of the ideas in this movie is what left me the most impressed.  Don’t let the cuteness of Okja fool you, there’s enough meat on the bone to keep you thinking about this movie long after you’re done watching it.  The movie is definitely worth a watch, even if the movie as a whole is a bit of mixed bag.

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