Okja, as you have already seen from its trailers, is a friendship between a girl and a super pig. The pot belied swine is a mix of a hippo, a pig, and a manatee with the personality of a dog. As these stories often go, greed gets in the way and ruins everything.
The plot audaciously takes dark satirical turns to inject a realistic perspective on what is typically a family feel-good story. Okja doesn’t shy away from animal cruelty and corporate capitalism. At the same time, it subtly tackles food production and consumerism. There’s still plenty of fun to be had though as the story becomes an action comedy as Mika tries to save Okja through sheer will.
As expected from director Bong Joon Ho, the action sequences are common scenarios turned into outlandish funny moments. After rampaging and stumbling around in an underground tunnel, Okja is saved from tranquilizer darts by umbrella-wielding A.L.F members while Annie’s Song plays in the background.
The movie is shot in bright widescreen which makes it a good fit for the cinema. The visual effects of Okja is a technical feat that combined CG and puppetry to lend physicality to the creature. Production design and special effects helped with set pieces and character animation. Here, Okja is treated as a character and interacts with others.
While Okja takes the classic tale of animal friendship to the next level, the movie often goes off the rails in different directions.
The story pinballs between sentimental and satirical. The over the top satire takes away from the serious message of the story and reduces characters into caricatures. Tilda Swinton is amusing and Seo-Hyun Ahn has a strong presence, but Jake Gyllenhaal is unwatchable while the rest have little to do. Giancarlo Esposito at least manages to inject nuance behind Lucy’s reign with his character’s low key schemes.
The main narrative also tends to get distracted by underdeveloped subplots involving her twin and the PETA inspired Animal Liberation Front. While Mika just wants to get Okja home, the super pig has become a trophy between two competing agendas.
In fairness, even these efforts speak about the ambition of the movie. Bong Joon-ho wants to show us a bigger picture behind Okja and Mija (the insidious yet effective PR machinery of corporations and harsh truth about mass production) while subtly telling us what we can learn from their life (free-range food production and sustainable farming).
There’s also a striking undercurrent here. The movie tells us that empathy is overshadowed by self-interest and arrogance while nature bears the brunt of the damage. But the fact that that crucial element of humanity still exist, means it’s not impossible for change.
Okja ends with a jarringly dark but emotionally satisfying pay-off that reinforces these messages into the story without being preachy or pandering to the audience.
Okja, just like its titular character, is an ungainly bizarre hybrid – one part family movie, one part action-adventure, and one part dark satire. However, it can also be said that this is what saves it from being another formulaic hallmark movie about an animal and her human. It’s a technically impressive movie with bold statements that are worth pondering about.
Okja Offers a charming parable with a thought-provoking commentary on animal cruelty, mass production, and corporate capitalism, resulting in a subtle yet effective call for ethical food production.