Okja – not the bacon of hope for Netflix

Okja, is the latest movie offering from Netflix that has been touted in some circles as being the streaming version of a blockbuster. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves people.

Okja and Mijo

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Netflix have moved into feature films with limited success, which could have something to do with bringing Adam Sandler of board for some of their exclusives.

Hey Netflix, the 90’s called and they want their fart jokes back!

The film courted controversy at Cannes this year due to the fact that it was not set for theatrical release. Who gives a shit? Those high-brow film festivals are for industry wankers whose other problems include worrying about where they’re gonna berth their yacht for the weekend.

People like you and I just want something decent to watch after a hard day’s work.

Okja at the very least seems to be an attempt to emulate the success Netflix has had with their exclusively produced TV series in that they are bringing something highly original to the mix.

But could Okja be too original? To be perfectly honest, just like the creature and film’s namesake, I don’t think Okja knows what the fuck it wants to be.

Korean director Bong Joon-Ho (best known for the recent and decent post apocalyptic train movie Snowpiercer and earlier classic Korean Kaiju movie The Host) has a lot to say with this film, and in doing so, ends up overwhelming and ultimately confusing.

Okja looks part hippo, part swine and is what is known as a “super-pig”, allegedly discovered (not invented) by the Mirando corporation who just so happen to specialise in genetically modified food. Headed up by Tilda Swinton’s eccentric Lucy and Nancy Mirando, (she plays twins) their super-pig project is set to revolutionise the global food industry. It seems Bong Joon-Ho has a bit of an affinity for Tilda, having previously cast her in Snowpiercer, and he gives her ample opportunity to ham it up in this film, pun intended.

These super pigs are part of a ten-year project or competition where 26 super-piglets were sent to various locations around the world to be raised by farmers and monitored by the Mirando corporation. At the end of the decade they’re evaluated and the healthiest happiest super-pig is crowned the winner.

Okja lives free-range in the mountains of Korea with Mijo played by Seo-Hyun Ahn and an old man who may or may not be her grandfather. They seem isolated on their farm in the mountains and Okja and Mijo have and incredible bond. She is her pet, but she’s also her friend. They are inseperable and through this relationship you are able to see how gentle, sensitive and intelligent a creature Okja is. She’s capable of real emotion and on several occasions throughout the film you even see her shed tears.

The relationship between Mijo and Okja are the absolute highlight of the movie and the only thing that hold it together, especially through the second half.

Of course establishing this relationship is to get you invested is the setup for the inevitable. The ten-year competition is coming to an end and it’s time for Okja to go back and meet her makers. Mijo however is under the impression that her grandfather has purchased Okja from the Mirando corporation and she was there to stay. She’s not, and they take her away, and this is where the adventure begins.

Mijo relentlessly pursues Okja throughout the course of the film fighting for her freedom and exposing the evils of the Mirando Coporation and their industry along the way.

This film is a mixture of English and Korean and it blends both cultures fairly successfully. The appeal to western audiences is due mainly the big names they’ve pulled into the mix, including the aforementioned Tilda Swinton­ – who has been criticised in the past by members of the Asian acting community for whitewashing, specifically with her role as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange (the Ancient One in the comics was a Tibetan man). By whitewashing they’re talking about using western actors to play Asian characters, the same ting happened with Matt Damon in The Great Wall. Now Tilda has a Korean director telling her what to do, so take that whitewashing accusers!!!

She’s joined by Breaking Bad’s Giancarlo Espositio as Frank Dawson, who is fairly understated as Lucy MIrando’s advisor and The Walking dead’s Steven Yuen who pops up an animal liberation activist, he’s Korean though, so no whitewashing there but I can’t really see him as anyone else other than Glen from the Walking Dead right now. I think Yuen and Swinton also had a hand in  this film as producers, so they were very invested.

The most notable westerner besides Swinton is Jake Gyllenhal who is so goddamn irritating as wildlife documentary host Johhny Wilcox. He honestly made me want to stab my eyes out and pour acid into my ears every time he is on screen in this movie. He was fucking terrible.

This split between western and Korean has also led to ridiculous accusations being levelled at director Bon Joo-Ho for selling out by making movies with westerners in them. The same ting happened when he made Snowpiercer. All this really does is detract from the original and very valid whitewashing argument and dilutes it with ill informed social justice keyboard warrior bullshit.

Coincidentally, social justice is exactly where Okja loses it’s way. The underlying message about loyalty, conservation, sustainability, not fucking with nature and caring for all living things is right and honourable, but I think this movie struggles with who the audience is supposed to be and ultimately with exactly what it wants to say.

There are moments where I think it could be passed off as a family movie, almost like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory but with meat, until they start throwing around the word fuck as much as they do. There are other times where it is very much a black comedy moves slightly into horror and has moments of high action adventure. Then there were other times where it seemed arthouse and wacky, it reminded me of Jean-Pierre Junet’s Delicatessen in some ways.

The whole time however, it is all over the place.

And maybe that could have been part of its charm, but when Gyllenhal comes on the scene and start adding to the wackiness it quickly devolves into a clusterfuck.

The tomato sauce on this meat pie of super-pig shit was the ridiculous ending, after everything the movie puts you through, for it to wrap up the way it does will just leave you wondering if they ran out of time, or really did not know what they were doing.

There were enjoyable parts. There were parts I even laughed out loud at but there were a lot of parts that just made me wonder what the fuck they were thinking.

Okjo gets two and a half out of five.



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2 Comments on Okja – not the bacon of hope for Netflix

  1. Too bad, ever since seeing the trailer I was quite looking forward to this one. Too bad it that it ended up being a disappointing film. If the end of a movie makes the experience even worse that is even more disappointing. Well, your review was entertaining though 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks man. There’s a lot of positive reviews for it out there, so don’t put too much stock in my two cents. You may find you really enjoy it… but it wasn’t for me, and I did really want it to be good. 👍🏻

      Liked by 1 person

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