June 26, 2017

VIFF 2017 | A Girl and Her Pig – 'Okja' Flies to Netflix

"If it's cheap, people will eat it."
Ahn Seo-hyun Bong Joon-ho | Okja

South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's second English-language feature (a Korean-American co-production), Okja, is a strange but fairly polished, madcap cinematic journey riffing on child monster fantasies and corporate social satire. Centred on the life and political machinations of the eponymous giant super pig, the film is a lushly filmed political adventure story about twenty-first century progress (or lack thereof).

Starring newcomer Ahn Seo-hyun, the film starts off wondrously enough as an Amblin style child and their pet movie before veering into political activism and ruminations on corporate global culture. Seo-hyun's Mija adores her bio-engineered pig with a fighting loyalty and enthusiasm enough to protect her from Seoul to New York City. Her relationship with the unorthodox pet is the beating heart of the film that carries us through the more strange detours they goes through.

Paul Dano and Steven Yeun as Animal Liberaton Front activists make for good faces of radical veganism, both carrying the militant plot forward. Tilda Swinton and Giancarlo Esposito dutifully play our corporate leader overlords in manically energetic and seriously earnest performances, respectively. Conversely, Jake Gyllenhaal gives an absolutely bonkers character portrayal as the bizarre television personality Dr. Johnny, an unhinged celebrity zoologist.

Ahn Seo-hyun Bong Joon-ho | Okja

Bong's sense of wonder executed with impeccable CGI, creature design, and visual storytelling from cinematographer Darius Khonji make the film's theme of moral complexities and mass consumption a more artistically thoughtful endeavour than it initially appears on the surface. His penchant for problematically smart but flawed characters is intriguing from a script co-written by Welsh journalist Jon Ronson.

Ojka is a strange but worthy effort, more often exhilarating than searing in its execution, with wondrous flourishes. However, it's often a clash of sensibilities as Bong mixes his eastern storytelling style with western influences that don't always quite mesh together completely. That said, it's an effective and colourful dissection of our relationship to food, capitalism, and animals.

Okja is available to stream on Netflix.

Update: A special presentation of Okja (and video chat Q&A with director Bong Joon-ho) screens at the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the Panorama and Gateway streams.

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