Netflix Original Film Review: OKJA (South Korea/USA 2017) ****

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okja.jpgMeet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.

Director: Joon-ho Bong (as Bong Joon Ho)
Writers: Joon-ho Bong (screenplay) (as Bong Joon Ho), Jon Ronson (screenplay)
Stars: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Seo-Hyun Ahn

Review by Gilbert Seah

Ever since films like LASSIE COME HOME enchanted audiences, a lost pet reuniting
with its owner has been a favourite theme. In the new Netflix original movie OKJA, director Bong (MEMORIES OF MURDER, MOTHER, SNOWPIERCER) has broken all rules with the darkest kids movie since BABE IN THE CITY.

OKJA courted controversy at Cannes when it was argued that films like this Netflix original not slated for theatre release be disqualified from competition. Surprisingly, OKJA opens at the TIFF BELL Lightbox same day it opened on Netflix last week.

OKJA is a tale of a girl and her lost pet. The only difference is that the pet is a super pig named OKJA. For 10 idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja – a massive animal and an even bigger friend – at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves and transports her to New York, where an image-obsessed and self-promoting CEO has big plans for Mija’s dearest friend. With no particular plan but single-minded in intent, Mija sets out on a rescue mission. She encounters the Animal Rights group helping her.

The film can be divided into three parts. The first and most family friendly shows Mija in the Korean countryside playing with OKJA. Bong includes a suspenseful sequence where OKJA saves Mija’s life. The second occurs after OKJA is abducted to Seoul. This is the funniest segment which shows how an individual can infiltrate a big conglomerate armed with a strong will never to give up. No glass doors or metal walls can stop Mija. It is hilarious watching the little girl pursued by security calling her ‘a little shit’. The third and darkest segment is OKJA ‘s rescue from New York City. Mija sees an abattoir complete with pig carcasses, something really unpleasant to even an adult. Bong does not shy away from violence. The animal rights group are the main target for the violence as many of them are beaten with batons and kicked on the ground.

Mija is played convincingly by South Korean child actress An Seo-hyun. Hollywood stars Jake Gyllenhaal has a field day with his over the top performance as TV personality Dr. Johnny. Tilda Swindon plays the villain of the piece, Lucy Mirando who wants to put OKJA on the dinner table. Paul Dano is equally winning as the animal rights group leader who aids Mija rescue her pig.

The question is why Netflix financed a film like OKJA. It is reported that most studios would stay away from films that do not fit a certain mould, like the recent Brad Pitt Netflix movie WAR MACHINE. It is clear the reason studios might be afraid of the adult dark tale of OKJA with its dose of violence and company satire. But thanks to Netflix, Bongs’s OKJA got to be made. OKJA is a brilliant dark and original piece of filmmaking complete with excellent special effects. Highly recommended!


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