REVIEW: Okja (2017)

Release Poster – Netflix

The following is a review of Okja – Directed by Bong Joon-ho.

In October 2015, the first Netflix ‘original’ movie was released. Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation was a great film for Netflix to champion as an example of how great their films can be. However, while Fukunaga’s film was recognized by the Screen Actors Guild, BAFTA, and the Hollywood Foreign Press, the Academy Awards completely ignored what was one of the best films of the year.

Then, at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, Netflix’s newest original movie – Bong Joon-ho’s Okja – was met with boos as the festival elite rebelled against the Netflix way of distributing films. Nevertheless, the film itself overcame the harsh and unfair critique that its distributor was getting, and it is easy to see how and why, because Bong Joon-ho’s Okja is the best non-documentary Netflix original film yet.

Okja takes place ten years after the Mirando Corporation has announced that they have bred twenty-six super-pigs that have been sent around the world and that, one day, a ‘winner’ will be crowned. In Okja, that day has finally come. ‘Okja’ is the name that has been given to the South Korean super-pig, which has been taken care of by a little girl named Mija (played by Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather.

Her grandfather (played by Byun Hee-bong) has assured Mija that, after the corporation has evaluated Okja, they will be allowed to keep the super-pig, which has become Mija’s best friend. However, when TV-personality Johnny Wilcox (played by Jake Gyllenhaal) meets the South Korean super-pig he is taken aback, and he is quick to congratulate Mija and her grandfather on having taken care of the winning pig.

Unbeknownst to Mija, this now means that her best friend will be taken from her to be paraded around New York City, only to end up as fodder for hungry people around the world. To save her best friend, Mija must infiltrate the Mirando Corporation headquarters and form an alliance based on lies with the Animal Liberation Front.

Okja is a movie about fighting against a seemingly unstoppable system, which from the perspective of a kindhearted young girl looks inhumane (and perhaps is inhumane), for the life of a nonhuman creature that the protagonist believes is not just full of life, but downright warmhearted and sympathetic.

Thus Bong Joon-ho’s Netflix adventure should remind you very much of Steven Spielberg’s classic film E. T., only Okja is much more dark and not at all appropriate for all ages. The computer-generated super-pig may not always look realistic and some of the film’s characters are flat-out cartoonish and odd, but Bong Joon-ho’s film goes to some very dark places with images that remind you of a very different kind of Spielberg film.

As such, it is not an easy film to watch, but most definitely one you should check out post-haste. The only real problems that I have with the film are some of the performances. While the inclusion of both Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton will definitely make more people watch the film on Netflix, I thought that their characters hurt the film more than they helped it. Gyllenhaal, who is one of my favorite actors, gives a supremely odd performance as Johnny Wilcox, which, shockingly, is a performance that reminded me of Jared Leto in Suicide Squad.

Bong Joon-ho’s Okja won me over almost immediately. There is a scene early on in the film, when the super-pig risks life and limb to save Mija from falling to her death. With this scene Bong Joon-ho successfully makes you completely invested in the search for Mija and her CG-friend. It’s also one of the scenes that prepared me to bawl my eyes out in the latter half of the third act of Okja.

While Okja isn’t Netflix’s first must-watch feature-length content (if you haven’t already, then you really should watch Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation) it is, in my opinion, their best completely original movie by a country mile.

9 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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