Now on Netflix: That'll do, superpig: Okja
Never come between a girl and her genetically enhanced swine.
That's the main takeaway from Okja, Netflix's absurdist fantasy from visionary South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho. If you've seen Snowpiercer, Ho's breathtaking work from 2013, you'll know that the director isn't really interested in conventional stories. Snowpiercer is about an oppressed class of workers in a post-apocalyptic society who live on a train encircling the world at 80 miles per hour. So, yeah, not your average cineplex fare.
Okja is similarly quirky, a tad more family-friendly, and a lot more on-the-nose. Actually, what it does is hit you over the head. Mija is a 14-year-old orphan living in South Korea with her grandfather on a remote mountain farm. Mija has bonded with a genetically enhanced superpig named Okja.
Okja is on loan from the Mirando Corporation, a multinational food manufacturing conglomerate. As part of an experiment to increase the quality and production of the world's pork, Mirando released several superpigs around the world for incubation in various climates. A decade later, Mirando comes to collect the best specimen in order to bring it to New York and showcase it as "Some Pig." That specimen, of course, turns out to be Okja.
Of course, no one told Mija all of this. She believes her grandfather bought Okja and the pig is hers. So when the Mirando scientists, led by an annoyingly over-the-top Jake Gyllenhaal, come to take Okja away, Mija embarks on an odyssey to bring her beloved pet back.
Along the way, she meets quite a cast of characters. Tilda Swinton is inspired, pulling double duty as Lucy and Nancy, the dueling sisters battling for control of the Mirando corporation. But the best part is the shadowy "ALF," or "Animal Liberation Front," whose non-violent members hilariously attempt to help Mija free Okja as a political statement. The ALF refer to themselves only by code names, and their extreme commitment to nonviolence takes more than a few colorful turns.
Okja isn't as original or as different as Snowpiercer; it's like Pete's Dragon on steroids. It's at its best when telling the story, focusing on Mija's dogged determination. Unfortunately, the third act gets too bogged down in political proselytizing. Clearly, this movie is about the evils of the American food manufacturing industry, and a morality play on our treatment of animals. Ho wants to make sure we don't miss that fact, and the result loses some of its effectiveness because shifts the focus to the message rather than the characters.
Still, Okja is a visual treat, and has an emotional payoff that surprises. It's definitely worth your time, and very promising for the future of Netflix original fare.