Starring: Ahn Seo-Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Devon Bostick, Giancarlo Esposito
Directed By: Bong Joon-Ho
Plot: A corporation genetically creates a “super pig” and for publicity sends 26 piglets to various farmers around the world for 10 years to see who can grow the best “super pig”. That ends up being Okja, who has been raised by a young Mija (Seo-Hyun) and her grandfather. But now the corporation is coming to claim what’s theirs, which sets young Mija off on a global adventure to save her best friend from becoming dinner.
What Works: If you’ve been sitting around all summer, tired of sequels, reboots, remakes, and whatnot… then Okja is for you. It’s the most original film I’ve seen this year, as it refuses to be tied down to one genre, and won’t shy away from delivering uncomfortable moments. I love filmmakers who have a voice, an Bong Joon-Ho has proven that he is a voice of his generation. His previous films (Snowpiercer, The Host) have already set him on this path, but he hits a grand slam with Okja. Netflix had the confidence to give him 50 million to make this odd movie about a girl and her pet, and man… I’m floored. I don’t know what else to say. I think this is a near perfect film. The young Ahn Seo-Hyun is incredible as Mija, and delivers her entire performance in Korean, but you still understand everything through her emotions. This has been a great year for breakthrough child performers, from Senna Nanua (The Girl With All The Gifts) to Dafne Keen (Logan). Tilda Swinton nails another quirky, off-beat performance, similar to the one she gave in Snowpiercer. The real revelation here is Jake Gyllenhaal, who I’ve always commended for giving 200% to every role he’s in. Here, he’s absolutely bonkers, but it’s so perfect. I honestly didn’t realize it was Jake Gyllenhaal at first. He changed his mannerisms, his voice, and created another person. It was absolutely fantastic to watch. Beyond the acting, though, is an expertly crafted story about a girl and her pet. You could say, oh I’ve seen that before. I already saw Babe, Free Willy, or any number of cute “please don’t kill my animal friend” film. You haven’t seen Okja, which takes it to the next level. The other films walked a fine line so they could be family frienly. Okja doesn’t do that. This film is not for kids, unless you want to traumatize them. If you show your kid this film, they will absolutely become vegan as a natural response. This film definitely shows you, in detail, what will happen to Okja if Mija doesn’t succeed in her mission. And even though Okja is a fictional animal, she is so fully realized on film, with her own personality, that your kids will still be forever changed by this experience. No one wants to see Okja eaten. The visual effects here are stunning. What they’ve done with Okja, I honestly couldn’t tell she was CG most of the time. Like I said, this film does a good job of balancing many different genres. There are some truly funny moments, some heartbreaking moments, excellent action sequences, and a few tense scary scenes too. I applaud Netflix for supporting originality in filmmaking. This is probably their best, truly original film (not acquired like Beasts Of No Nation).
What Doesn’t Work: There was one sequence, in the tunnel, where I could tell that CG effects were being used, and it was the only time Okja didn’t look real to me. Not a huge deal, and I honestly have no other problems with this film.
Final Word: This is my favorite film of the year so far. It’s everything I wanted it to be, and hoped it would be. It’s a celebration of risk-taking in filmmaking, and originality being rewarded. If you’re tired of seeing Transformers and Pirates, this film is for you.
Final Grade: A