Where to Watch: Netflix exclusive
Best for: People that enjoy Korean films, vegans
This is a film that seems so utterly bizarre it might be a little difficult to describe. The film concerns a giant pesticide and agricultural products company called the Mirando Corporation (a not-so-subtle nod to the controversial Monsanto Corporation) which has prepared 26 “superpigs” that they claim were raised naturally and represent the future of agriculture. This project was the conception of the company’s CEO Lucy Mirando (played by Tilda Swinton- who else?), a woman that is trying to repair her image after inheriting the company from her grandfather, who had a poor reputation.
They distribute the superpigs out to farmers around the world in a competition to see who can raise the best superpig. The winner will be crowned in a ceremony ten years later. The film follows a young girl, Mija (played by Ahn Seo-hyun) who raises one of the superpigs with her grandfather on a South Korean farm. There are some beautiful sequences of the Korean countryside that highlight the bond Mija has to her beloved pig naked Okja.
This film has a tough concept to sell- a human forming a bond with a giant, computer-generated pig. One would think that could easily come across as cheesy or strange to the point of detaching the viewer from the plot of the story. Yet the talented director Bong Joon-ho (director of Snowpiercer and 2006’s The Host) manages to sell this concept extremely well in a way that few creative minds possibly could.
The plot thickens when an eccentric TV host named Johnny Wilcox (played by Jake Gyllenhaal in a role where you barely recognize him due to his odd fashion choices and campy persona) arrives at the farm with a group from Mirando Corp. to take the superpig away, as it has been selected as the “winner” of the best superpig competition. Mija will follow Okja to Seoul and eventually New York City in a journey that sees her teaming up with a group called the Animal Liberation Front (or ALF).
Okja combines several genres of films together so much so that it could even establish a genre all its own. Sequences where Mija rides Okja in a chase scene through the streets of Seoul are reminiscent of a Disney animated film or perhaps even the works of Studio Ghibli. Whereas the film’s satirical focus on society in scenes focusing on genetically engineered food, animal welfare, and corporate coverups rival the likes of Thank You for Smoking in their mirroring of society’s shortcomings. The movie manages to capture the fun of a family film about people bonding with animal friends with the dark humor you might expect from the works of Tarantino. After all, as Lucy Mirando says, the superpigs need to taste “pretty f*cking good.”
This film has been a bit controversial in the film industry for the studio’s decision NOT to release the picture theatrically before heading to Netflix. Theatrical releases today are mired with so many cash-grabbing “cinematic universes” and franchise sequels, that a movie that truly takes artistic risks such as Okja feels incredibly refreshing. If this film is any taste of what’s to come from streaming-exclusive movies, the industry will have some major catching up to do as it responds to an ever-evolving media landscape.
Okja is smart, inventive, and will make you feel for a CGI “superpig” in ways you didn’t think were possible. If you’re looking for a new movie to stream tonight, Okja is a serious contender. You might want to hold off on the bacon for a while, though…
I give it: 4.75 out of 5 stars