The moment that sums up Bong Joon-ho’s directorial style occurs at the start of OJKA’s most thrilling scene. Our petite hero Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) is on the hunt for her kidnapped pet, Okja. She tracks the super pig to the corporate headquarters, the Miranda Corporation. A glass door stands between her and her dear friend. Mija charges to the door and leaps shoulder first into the air, only to comically bounce off the glass. Bong revels in building a tone and then pulling the rug out from the audience. In OKJA, he deftly balances the tone of a classic adventure story with a farcical tale of a girl and her genetically engineered super pig.

This is a spoiler-free review of OKJA

In the last few years, many filmmakers have attempted to recapture the magic of Steven Spielberg’s early films. Many young filmmakers cut their cinematic teeth on movies like CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND or E.T. In turn, they have tried to pay homage to these films. We’ve seen it on a large scale with J.J. Abrams’ SUPER 8 and on the small screen in the form of STRANGER THINGS. Both of these have their merits, but they feel shackled by trying to show deference to what came before. It often feels like these are safe facsimiles rather than truly original works. Bong Joon-ho’s newest film OKJA, however, is daring and original, creating a modern version of the Spielbergian adventure.

Bong Joon-ho is arguably one of the best genre filmmakers working today. He has a unique talent for taking high concepts and injecting them with humor and humanity. Take his most well-known film, THE HOST, for example. It is a rollicking monster movie that is actually about a dysfunctional family trying to learn how to work together. Or SNOWPIERCER, a dystopian sci-fi where a revolution has broken out on the train carrying all of humanity. That film could be seen as ludicrous, but it’s anchored by memorable, sympathetic characters.

SNOWPIERCER seems like it has the closest DNA to OKJA. It sports a similarly international cast, has a great satirical sci-fi premise, and features Tilda Swinton doing weird stuff with her teeth (but it’s great weird stuff). Swinton in the film plays Lucy Mirando (and her twin sister Nancy), the CEO of the Mirando Corporation. The film opens on Lucy explaining to a group of reporters about her company’s new super pig project. In order to combat worldwide food shortages, the Mirando corporation has genetically modified pigs and given them to farmers around the world.

CLICK: Godzilla is back! Check out our review of the latest Godzilla movie SHIN GODZILLA!

Swinton’s performance is deliciously over-the-top, suitably so for Bong Joon-ho’s broad comedic sensibilities. In an interview, Bong Joon-ho described the Mirando twins as “the two faces of capitalism. Lucy is the bubbly, public relations friendly face. She’s the part of capitalism that lies to our face, promising that the way to solve our problems is through buying a product. Her sister Nancy is the cold, calculating part of capitalism that cares only about the profits on the bottom line. Swinton’s dual performance seems like it stepped out of Verhoeven’s ROBOCOP. It is biting yet campy at the same time. You laugh because it’s funny, but you worry that it isn’t far enough from reality.

One of the pigs named, you guessed it, Okja ends up on a farm in the mountains of South Korea in the care of young Mija. Mija and Okja have formed a deep bond since Okja came into her family’s care, but now the Mirando Corporation wants to take Okja back. Ahn Seo-hyun’s performance is very reminiscent of the types of kid performances you’d see in classic Amblin films. She is earnest and brave and easy to root for. It’s certainly a star-making turn fo the young actress.

Bong’s portrayal of their relationship is the heart and soul of the movie. What’s particularly impressive is how well realized the digital creation of Okja actually is. The creature walks a fine line between being realistic and cartoonish. In close-up, Okja’s skin is textured and looks lifelike, but she moves and flops around like a big loveable dog or a Hayao Miyazaki character. It’s a memorable movie creature and only further adds to the Spielberg-esque qualities of the film.

CLICK: Love South Korean Cinema? Click here for our coverage of the New York Asian Film Festival!

Filling out the cast is a who’s who of great actors. Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, and Lily Collins are the leaders of the Animal Liberation Front trying to rescue Okja from the Mirando Corporation. Giancarlo Esposito continues to perfect the affably evil persona he crafted in BREAKING BAD as Lucy Mirando’s right-hand man Frank Dawson. And Jake Gyllenhaal seems to be having a ball playing a weird mix of Steve Irwin and Jerry Lewis as Dr. Johnny Wilcox. Recently, with SNOWPIERCER and now OKJA, Bong has cast great diverse ensembles. Studios have lately thrown in international actors to pander to overseas audiences, but Bong Joon-ho always makes the diversity of his films feel like an organic reflection of the world’s diversity.

Each of the characters is rich, allowing them to speak about animal cruelty without becoming preachy. Sure, there’s the obvious message of “don’t harm animals,” but the movie is more interested in skewering the capitalist system that encourages that level of cruelty. It would be easy to put a neat moral bow on OKJA, but the lessons Mija learns in the film are more complex and bittersweet. The characters in the Animal Liberation Front also feel three-dimensional but are occasionally goofy as well. Dano is hilariously self-serious and stoic about his organization’s mission. Yeun still carries the same likability that made him so beloved on THE WALKING DEAD.

My one caveat about OKJA: I wish more people would be able to see it in a theater. A film as fun and adventurous as this one deserves to be seen on the big screen. While Netflix’s decision to not give their original movies theatrical releases is frustrating, I’m happy that they are funding offbeat movies like OKJA in the first place. If you can see it in a theater, check it out, but don’t let OKJA sit in the purgatory of your Netflix queue. It’s a daring, quirky film from one of our best filmmakers and you won’t even need to leave the house to see it. What more could you want?

Show ComicsVerse some Love! Leave a Reply!