Country: South Korea, USA
Language: English, Korean
Genre: Adventure, Drama, Action
Director: Bong Joon-ho
Cinematography: Darius Khondji
South Korean big shot Bong Joon-ho returns with his Netflix funded and distributed, Cannes-debuted then maligned eco-concerned super pig drama OKJA, a mid-weight budgeted adventure about a South Korean farm girl Mija (Ahn), holds onto her undimmed resolution to bring her pet, the titular Okja, a gigantic genetically mutated pig, back to where they come from.
Outwardly, Okja looks like a hippo-dog-pig hybrid, it is the creation of Mirando Corporation, whose CEO Lucy Mirando (Swinton) hails it to be the solution of the worldwide food shortage due to its taste and minimal wastage, exactly ten years earlier, she sent out 26 baby super-pigs all over the world and now, a decade later, its star pig Okja is being transferred back from a luxuriant Korean mountain to NYC, where a huge parade is set to inaugurate this monumental moment. That’s the hype spelt out in the expositional opening sketches by a voluble Lucy while interlaced with the movies’ opening credits, yet in hindsight, this premise doesn’t quite coagulate with its plot, as we will realize, the corporation will have already possessed a giant super pig farm-cum-abattoir which is populated with numerous Okja-sized super pigs assembly-ready to be served as our daily bread by the time of the parade, is it rather self-defeating to make such boosterism about Okja? After all, they are tons of other equally Brobdingnagian pigs at their disposal.
The truth is Okja, as a highly intelligent animal, or a genuine family member to the parentless Mija, who lives with her rustic grandfather (Byun), is not that special as we might envision, she (yes, Okja is female) is meek, ludic and wholeheartedly devoted to her master, apart from a rousing set piece where she volunteers a heroic fall to save Mija from falling off a precipice, which certifies that she is indeed more intelligent and sentient than a common pet and arguably gives her a “soul” so to speak, during the rest of the duration, Okja is regrettably sidelined as an unwieldy, entrapped, piteous critter waiting to be rescued from her preordained fate. In a way, she is even non-aggressive to a fault, we are so prepared to be overwhelmed by the emotional through-line between Okja and Mija, their tenacious fight for reunion (might involve some degree of sacrifice) and then maybe be happy ever after, but that is not exactly in Bong’s book.
What Bong plies with is something else, he is more invested in humans than in the fantasied creature, convenes an all-Hollywood supporting cast, Bong revels in his lampooning of the corporate hypocrisy, capitalistic avarice and antic mannerism, pinpointed by Tilda Swinton’s marvelous dual-presence of evil-twins Lucy and Nancy (one takes a pseudo-humanistic masquerade to sate her ego boost and the other is unqualifiedly money-seeking), and Jake Gyllenhaal’s unrecognizable impersonation of a mad-doctor-and-squeaking-compère combo, so hysterical sometimes it borders on cringeworthy. Meantime, through the prism of the ultimately ineffectual but wacky actions of Animal Liberation Front (ALF), lead by an utterly sincere Paul Dano, a credo-abiding martinet who indoctrinates us “translation is ABSOLUTELY sacred!”, barbs are also thrown to the activist front, it is laudable to stick to one’s ideology out of one’s noble conscience, but do they have a well-conceived plan for the aftermath? Let’s say, even if they can free all the Okjas, where can they survive? Maybe Bong should have mentioned that there are some super-pig sanctuary somewhere.
The best part of this alternately flippant/serious escapade remains in Bong’s motherland, namely, the rampage scenes in Seoul and its idyllic panorama, where the film takes pains to give Mija some action to complete, not that exasperating but helpless rubbernecker when transported to USA. In conclusion, on the one hand we cannot help but chuckling to the pragmatic solution which ends Mija’s pursuit, because it is so tongue-in-cheek yet also brilliantly refreshing, on the other hand, it painfully reminds us our world is in deep mess right now, and OKJA offers no comfort, no alleviation, no redemption, only derisive navel-gazing might or might not hit the mark.