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Film Review: Okja (2017)

From the director of Snowpiercer comes the tale of a genetically engineered super pig and her loving, young owner. Created by the capitalist Mirando Corporation, led by the disturbed but enterprising Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), and raised in the peaceful, isolated mountains of Korea, Okja is a massive, intelligent, hippo-like creature bred to be a tasty, new, environmentally friendly source of food. When the Mirando Corp. takes Okja away, her breeder and best friend Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) leaves everything behind to save Okja from the slaughterhouse. Mija teams up with an unusual animal-rights group called ALF, helmed by the mild-mannered Jay (Paul Dano), and together they expose the inhumane cruelty behind the cheery façade of the Mirando Corp.

Okja is a mishmash of genres, tones, characters, and situations. It is all at once lurid, slapstick, and poignant as it zigzags from the idyllic countryside of South Korea to the bustling metropolises of Seoul and New York and the terrifying labs and factories of the Mirando Corporation in order to keep up with Mija’s rescue mission, Lucy’s dreams of corporate world domination, and the ungainly objectives of the ALF. The movie is full of delightful tangents, zany side characters, and unexpected gags. Topping it all off is a standout performance by Jake Gyllenhaal as he plays a demented biologist/TV presenter character with a manic, mad-scientist energy and insanely creaky, high voice. It’s very out there yet it perfectly suits the heightened, comical world of the film.

Aside from the characteristic style of director Bong Joon Ho, Okja is also sharply satirical of capitalism, greed, apathy, and even animal/environmental rights with its ludicrous caricatures of CEOs, boardroom suits, and anarchic protesters. Tilda Swinton as the bubbly, sweet, and girlish Lucy Mirando (yet another strange Bong-Swinton character with weird teeth issues) and Giancarlo Esposito as her devilishly calm and calculative right-hand man are alternately laughable and frightening in their selfish pursuits for power and (for her) popularity. The entire ALF collective, which also includes Steven Yuen as K and Lily Collins as Red, is hilariously conflicted and aggressively PC even as its actions make the members border-line terrorists. Sometimes, it is hard to tell if the story is on their side or not as the ALF looks dangerous, ridiculous, and sympathetic all at once. The heroic, young protagonist, Mija, is the only one who remains unscathed by cynicism. She remains plucky and stays true to course although she is also subjected to the harsh realties of the world and the dark agendas of Mirando and ALF.

Lastly, the CGI wizardry behind crafting Okja’s titular beast is outstanding. Okja is beautiful, realistic, and expressive, with the playful tics of a puppy crossed with the bearing of an elephant or hippo. She is intelligent and noble too, managing to save Mija from peril near the beginning of the film. Odd-looking but endearing, Okja the animal and Okja the film are just about worth their weight in gold.

Ratings (out of 5):

Directing: 4

Story: 3

Acting: 4

Dialogue: 3.5

Editing: 3.5

Visuals: 4.5

Music/Score: 3

Overall Average: 3.6

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