By Jeremy Say
Okja was supposed to shake the foundations of the film industry. Netflix using this as proof of what they can do as creators, and in doing so they have angered a lot of people and organizations in the worldwide film industry. The reason for all this fuss? Well, it’s really about the old shool way of distribution of films. The fact that Netflix can produce high quality work with A-List actors, all the while streaming to millions of their users, theaters will see little to no reason to show the film at all and compete.
This led to Cannes Film Festival barring Netflix from future competitions and even had the Netflix title card booed amidst other technical issues, but then the film went on to have a 4 minute standing ovation. Truthfully, all these roadblocks did nothing more than to drum up more attention and hype for the film. Heck, there is a cinema boycott on the South Korean director Bong Joon-ho’s own turf. However, at the end of the day what most of the film goers want to know, is it worth watching?
Simple answer: yes, but I would not treat this as a ‘blockbuster’ film. It was one of those films that was so overhyped to me, that it fell short of my expectations. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film in any right. It’s just not a film for everyone and feels a bit rough around the edges.
Okja all in all, is a satirical film about a genetically modified super pig and the human practice of slaughtering for our consumption. On one side you have a young naive Korean girl, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), who takes care of one of the super pigs – Okja. Her best friend is then ‘kidnapped’ by the ‘evil’ consumer-based capitalist Lucy Mirando’s (Tilda Swinton) Mirando Corporation and her lackey Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal). Mija then goes on a journey to save her best friend, all the while a third group, with their own agenda, the Animal Liberation Front and their idealistic pacifist leader Jay (Paul Dano) enter the fray. Now, don’t worry if you think I spoiled the movie for you, this is all just the intro and there is still a lot more Old Yeller and other types of feely emotional shenanigans left in the movie to enjoy. You’re welcome.
In fact, you get a lengthy 2 hours of screen time, which turns out just bit draggy. This is probably due to my constant watching of ADHD drivel coming out of Hollywood, cough *Michael Bae* cough. I suppose this is due to the obvious plot points and in your face tropes, this movie feels like it’s designed to make you identify with the characters. Yet, I still couldn’t stop myself from feeling something for all of them.
Each character has their own motive and this beautifully illustrates the complexity of the situation as not all black and white. Be it consumerism, capitalism, animal rights, cultural/societal norms, being true to one’s self, friendship, man’s best friend (or woman in this case) or scientific research having gone too far, this film showcases both sides of the coin in a well-executed juggling act.
Now, if you don’t want to delve too deeply into an otherwise well done artsy film, the movie is still entertaining in many other ways. Ahn Seo-hyun’s performance as Mija performance and her growth as a character was spot on, while Jake Gyllenhaal’s Dr. Johnny Wilcox was easily the most captivating and humorously entertaining character in the movie. Seeing Jake in a role where he could afford to do anything he wanted, truly showcased his acting ability with surprising results. We get a truly demented animal loving zoologist who not only sells out, but loathes himself. Props to Jake Gyllenhaal.
Okja does not have either the happiest or saddest of endings. What it had was an ending true to the spirit of the film, one that makes you think about all sides. They even threw in an after credit stinger for good measure, which thanks to the wonders of Netflix streaming, you can fast forward to.
While rough around the edges, this film gets a solid 7.5/10 from me. I just can’t help but see this film as a massive recruitment ad for Netflix. It clearly screams, ‘come join Netflix with your great idea. We can get you the A-list talents,CGI budget and we have the connections needed to shoot your scenes in lower Manhattan.You can have all this, without the big Hollywood studios cramping your creativity.’ All of this, shown to Netflix subscribers around the world. Now that’s exciting.