There are times when one just decides to watch a film without any expectations. I had absolutely none for Okja and I ended up being completely absorbed and its two hour running time felt like a mere ten minutes.
A group of super pigs are bred and sent around the world to farmers. After some time these pigs will be judged and the winner will go to New York. The thing is that these super pigs are being bred for providing meat, obviously the bigger the pig, the more meat it will yield. The winning super pig is located in South Korea and is called Okja and his owner, Mija, then goes on a quest to save her pet from being slaughtered.
Within a few minutes the audience knows who the villains are and the type of film, an environmental one. Really the question is how is the director going to tackle the situation. Will it be some type of predictable eco-war like Cameron’s Avatar or will it be a twee animal bonding fest like Andre?
Okja does contain the tropes you would find in a film like this: the radical environmentalist group, the greedy capitalist, the heroine with pure intentions and the traitor. However Joon-ho gives Okja (the film) an almost cartoonish atmosphere. All the characters are grotesque caricatures, the pace is fast, not to mention the high aesthetics. Oh and the cast put a 100% effort in it. Tilda Swinton is a fantastic as the money and power hungry Lucy Miranda, Paul Dano was born to be a self righteous animal activist and Jake Gyllenhaal is a brilliant zoologist. The Korean actors also stand out, especially Ahn Seo-hyun who plays Mija.
Eventually Mija does actually manage to save Okja but at a price.
Joon-ho makes his message clear: People will stop at nothing to exploit something, no matter how good their intentions are. The breeding of the super pigs could provide meat for third world countries but really it’s a way of getting cash. Joon-ho also adds a Black Mirror element to the film as there is a sub-plot about the destructive power social networking sites. It’s satire par excellence. Despite the negativity Okja has a dark undercurrent of humor so it’s not a depressing film.
Personally I feel that Okja breaks no new ground but it is entertaining and it’s inner message is relevant to what’s happening in the world at the moment and it’s got a couple of twists which amplify the film’s overall themes and, more importantly, there’s a ‘fun’ element to the film, which a lot from this genre lack.