A young girl battles to save the genetically modified super pig she has raised in Bong Joon-ho’s razor-sharp yet sweet satire on environmentalism, animal ethics and corporate avarice
Satire works best when it manages to hold the line before becoming too preachy for its own good. Bong Joon-ho has managed here to perfectly nestle into the magic zone of making us think with making us feel judged.
While there is much to ponder about animal ethics and our treatment of non-human animals in society, especially as factory farming has turned sentient beings into manufacture line produce, there is also wiggle room for nuisance and discussion over such issues.
Director Bong has a sophisticated understanding of how ethics works, with its various grey areas and need for escalated discussions, but most of all he never deviates from his primary profession – that of a filmmaker looking to entertain.
On that front, Okja might be Bong's most fun film, despite the litany of social progress issues he manages to illuminate at the same time. Here Bong works with a Korean lead and a largely English-language ensemble cast to pin issues that are most likely global in nature anyway.
Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), CEO of the Mirando Corporation, has overseen the creation of a drove of genetically modified super pigs. The 26 specimens are sent to farmers across the world with a winner for the best bred pig to be announced in 10 years’ time.
Jumping forward a decade, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) lives in South Korea with her grandfather and their super pig from the Mirando Corporation, Okja. Suddenly visited by Mirando spokesperson and zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), he inform them that Okja has won the super pig competition and is heading to New York.
Despite her grandfather’s efforts to make Mija feel better by giving her a gold pig, she is devastated and runs away to track down her best friend. However, Okja is intercepted by the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) led by Jay (Paul Dano), who plants a recording device on Okja to expose the Mirando Corporation’s treatment of animals.
Okja is then recaptured by the Mirando Corporation, who agree to let Mija accompany the pig to New York, where she must grapple with Okja’s destiny, or try and stop it.
As ever with Bong, the film is a mixed assortment of differing feels, managing to be funny and sad, sweet yet dark, profound but fun and entertaining.
The performances from the English-speaking actors can be considered ripe and overstated, almost cartoon-like, while Ahn Seo-hyun adds to the never-ending run of fine Korean child performances. Perhaps the film is stolen by the CGI-created Okja, who silently imparts a sweetness that makes us care deeply for this gargantuan grunter.
It also enters that pantheon of film outings that might have been a disaster if it was not helmed by the brilliance of Bong Joon-ho and his ability to juggle varying tones and messages, delivered in a neat bundle of jollification and intelligence.