CANNES 2017

Cannes 2017: 'Okja' is a Lovable, Wacky, Animal Rescue Adventure Film

by
May 19, 2017

Okja Review

I've never seen anything like this film before, and we may never see anything like it again. Okja is the latest feature from Korean writer/director Bong Joon Ho, and it's another completely original story from his brilliant mind. Okja is a fascinating mix of many different things: it's anti-capitalism, anti-meat, yet it's also an animal rescue adventure film. It's a satire, yet also a thriller; it's playful, it's weird, but lovable. At the center of it all is the story of a young Korean girl named Mija whose best friend is a big, mutant "super pig" that a corporation gave her uncle to raise for a competition. When they come to take it, she runs off to try and find and bring her home. If this film doesn't make you a vegetarian by the end, I don't know what will.

I confess that I am a huge Bong Joon Ho fan, I love every last one of his films, even Snowpiercer. This one is completely different than anything he has made before, at times feeling like it's made for kids, with playful, quirky sensibilities and bright colors. Of course, the story is about a young Korean girl, played by An Seo Hyun, but there's much more to it than that. And considering Tilda Swinton drops an F-bomb in the opening few minutes of the film, it's definitely not for kids. Swinton plays Lucy Mirando, the blonde-haired, perfect-white-teeth CEO of the Mirando Corporation, which wants to raise these pigs to help solve the food shortage problem. Although it's obvious that they really just want to make more and more money, and all this niceness and showboating is just a facade to keep people from realizing the truth about their factories.

So what is the truth? Isn't it obvious? They run slaughterhouses and are mass producing these "super pigs" just so we can eat delicious pig jerky and "feed the poor". But we already know this is nonsense, because it was covered in films like Fast Food Nation. Okja tries to wrap a playful animal rescue narrative (featuring mutant CGI pigs instead of anything that really exists) around this disgusting truth about where our food comes from. At times it works wonderfully, others times it doesn't. There's an eccentric mix of characters in this, from Swinton's CEO, to Jake Gyllenhaal playing a goofy, high-pitch-voice "animal loving" TV host, to Paul Dano leading a group of animal rights activists who are just as quirky as everyone else in this film. If anything, Okja and Mija are probably the most down-to-earth out of anyone in the film. Which makes sense.

Bong Joon Ho attempts to balance a complicated mix of tones, including satire and wacky comedy, as well as action scenes and the emotions that come with your favorite pet being taken away. No one is safe from being mocked - even the animal rights group, called the Animal Liberation Front (or ALF), is made fun of despite seemingly good intentions. Swinton plays it straight throughout, but clearly she's just incredible at pulling off the perfect performance that Bong Joon Ho has envisioned in order to allow us all to clearly understand how fake and full-of-shit these CEOs are, no matter what they preach about saving their world. And he takes it right to where it needs to go in the final act, not shying away from showing the truth in the real world, which is the key message in Okja. Animal lovers will revel in this, but meat eaters may hate this.

If you loved Disney's Pete's Dragon movie from last year, especially as much as I did, then you'll enjoy this movie as well. There are even nods to Hayao Miyazaki and My Neighbor Totoro, and the Okja character is instantly lovable and completely believable even though she's completely computer-generated. It's a fun film to watch, with the performances from the entire cast being the highlight, no matter how out-there they are. Only someone as daring, innovative and skilled as Bong Joon Ho could come up with and pull off a film like this. It's likely not the film most are expecting, but it's also nothing that deserves to be dismissed. It should be appreciated for all that it teaches: loving animals, rejecting capitalism, and respecting life big and small.

Alex's Cannes 2017 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing

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  • TheOct8pus
    I can't wait to see this. The trailer looks like a live action Miyasaki animation. Did the movie have that vibe? Anyway, I'll be watching this when it comes out.
  • "I love every last one of his films, even Snowpiercer" Humm...Your "even" is not reassuring.
  • Mark
    "I love every last one of his films, even Snowpiercer". Was this just written quick and sloppy? Shouldn't you be saying "especially" instead of "even"?? Snowpiercer is the very best, by far, of his movies that have been released leading up to this one. It was a real achievement and it almost sounds like you're downplaying it.
    • Terry Craig
      Not his best movie by a long shot. Luckily, Joon-ho is such a fantastic filmmaker, that it's still pretty damn good/better than most blockbusters these days.
  • joroidescons
    "If this film doesn't make you a vegetarian by the end, I don't know what will." CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • DAVIDPD
    OKJA sounds great!! I am so excited to see it.
  • DAVIDPD
    Some people disliked SNOWPIERCER, some people dislike apple pie.
    • Bo
      I disliked Snowpiercer (yes that's right, I really didn't like it as I found it derivative of much better symbolic films of a vehicle representing society, etc....like the great Paul Newman film Hombre from 1967) and I dislike apple pie used as a metaphor of the soppy, maudlin, sentimental rah rah rah USA is the best nonsense. This film seems to have that same kind of false sentiment to it. Jeffrey Wells hated it so I'm with him on this one...lol... The real apple pie, warmed just a bit with some vanilla ice cream generously on top is pretty hard to beat though because after all it's just a piece of pie without all the heavy burden of representation on it. Cheers, David!
      • DAVIDPD
        "I'll take a slice of apple pie with American cheese." - MADMEN.
        • Bo
          ...lol...okay...another show I found unwatchable...sorry, David...we can't seem to get on the same page here. And you know, I've never tried a slice of cheese with a piece of apple pie.....hmmmmmmm....later gator. Cheers!
          • DAVIDPD
            To each, his own. My words to live by.
          • Bo
            Indeed!...and good words to live by. Cheers.
          • DAVIDPD
            Always.
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