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7/8/17

OKJA - REVIEW


After getting some positive buzz in festivals, South Korean and American co-production Okja finally got a Netflix release last month. The cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Tilda Swinton, Steven Yeun, Paul Dano and, so far, the film has received praise from critics and audiences alike.

You wouldn't necessarily think that a Korean film about a giant CGI pig would gather this much interest yet director Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer, The Host) turned an odd concept into an unlikely hit and it's quite probable we'll see him tackle a major Hollywood film very soon. On paper, Okja sounds like little more than a Pete's Dragon-style kids' movie where a cute, oversized, weird-looking animal befriends a youngster and they both get into goofy adventures as others try and break them apart. Indeed, this is very much a Pete's Dragon for this generation, much more so even than the actual Disney remake from 2016, but there is an edge to this one that you might not be expecting. The plot sees Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), the CEO of a big company, announce that they are breeding a new kind of "superpig" (don't ask) all over the world. Years later, the Mirando Corporation attempts to collect all the pigs they've grown in order to sell them for food but young girl Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn), who had been befriending and raising superpig Okja in the Korean countryside, decides to try and save her no matter what.

If anything, the plot is the film's least polished aspect: it's your typical bad business people trying to make money from an adorable living thing scenario. There are inconsistencies throughout when it comes to certain characters' motivations, it's unclear why a company would go through this much trouble just to sell a slightly different type of sausage and you get the feeling that most of this chaotic chase around the world could have been avoided quite easily. That said, the relationship between Mija and Okja is a genuinely sweet one so you do find yourself being worried about what'll happen to them. The cast is very good all around and even when Gyllenhaal or Swinton are acting goofy as hell, it works, plus other actors are much more restrained so that balances things out. The whole thing is pretty relentless with the CGI on Okja impressive from start to finish but it's probably the darker moments that'll stick with you most of all. Okja may sound like a cutesy film, and sometimes it is, but some of it is handled like a straight-up thriller and other parts are just plain disturbing which makes it a bit of an oddity thinking about who this film is actually for.

Okja's success can mostly be attributed to Joon-ho Bong's eye for convincing animated visuals and his talent for grounding otherwise ridiculous concepts and making us care about them. It's not exactly a kid-friendly flick so be warned, this is more of a children's movie for adults in the vein of Pan's Labyrinth with its tone going back and forth between wacky/cute and kinda messed-up.

A welcome surprise.

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