Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Starring: Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Ahn Seo-hyun, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito, Jake Gyllenhaal
Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.
Well, this was an odd one. But I really liked the sound of it and got suckered into watching it on Netflix thanks to all the hype. What a massive disappointment. Okja isn’t awful but it also isn’t anything all that special. If it hadn’t been for the godawful & annoying characters played by Tilda Swinton (who I normally like) and by Jake Gyllenhaal (who I can take or leave), I may have enjoyed this film more. The “big name” stars were the biggest distraction and what took away from an otherwise intriguing story & setup. And I’ve been desperate to see Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer for ages now since it never got a proper UK release for some odd reason. Now I’m wondering if I’m not missing much. If it’s anything like Okja, I’m no longer in a rush to see it. And I still crave a good Nando’s so Okja clearly failed me in its efforts.
The good: I liked the parts of the film set in South Korea with Okja the “super pig” & the young girl, Mija. Mija helped her grandfather raise Okja from a baby super pig to a big, huge, yummy, adult super pig. Okja, as a character, was done pretty well. Hubby moaned about some dodgy CGI or whatever but I don’t tend to notice that unless it’s really bad or just too obvious & distracting. However, I didn’t connect with Okja or any of the human characters as much as I was hoping & as much as I think was intended. The girl, the grandfather & Okja herself are easily the most likable characters (well, the only likable ones) but, as I said, the other characters are so godawful that I think it took away from what at first seemed like it might be a promising film. I liked the relationship between Okja & the girl and, at first, was almost hoping I might get a My Neighbor Totoro vibe from the movie because of the whole “young girl & strange creature form a friendship” type thing. Unfortunately….
The bad: The film then moves to America and goes totally (pig)tits-up while Swinton’s & Gyllenhaal’s characters grow more & more annoying. They completely ruined the movie. I’m not necessarily blaming them as I assume they performed these roles as written & directed. I just don’t understand why these characters were written/directed/performed this way. Was the film going for a dark humor thing that just didn’t work? I think it’s what made the film’s message fail to have any sort of impact on me.
The message: Yes, this movie has an extremely obvious & blatant message (which I’m sure you’ll have figured out by now if you’ve not yet seen it). My concern beforehand was that it would be heavy-handed and preachy, which is a huge pet peeve of mine. I don’t watch movies to be told how I should think/behave/feel and to have a filmmaker’s values shoved down my throat. So, going into Okja knowing this may happen, I thought the message was handled just fine. Heavy-handed? Maybe. But it was done in a way I didn’t find offensive and I didn’t feel like I was being forced to feel a certain way. It’s a pretty unique story and it felt like the movie’s focus was on telling a good story more than on telling humanity how to behave. I have no issue with a movie having a message: I have an issue with how that message comes across. I tried to explain this when reviewing the movie Zootopia (which I didn’t like). I want a movie to entertain me. I want a good story. If the effort is first put into making the story good, any message the movie may have will then come across much more naturally and will be more likely to make people think. I don’t want to watch a “message” that’s then had a weak story written around it.
Summary: I’m going to wrap this up since I think I’m making a pig’s ear of explaining my feelings on this film… I did appreciate Okja’s originality. I think the message is handled in the correct way despite its blatancy. The story is told well, the character of Okja is unique & certainly memorable, the relationship between Okja & the girl is enjoyable, and the film gets off to a pretty strong start while it’s just Okja, Mija & the grandfather in the South Korean countryside. Oh – I’ve not even mentioned Paul Dano & his group of activists! They were okay (it may be the first time I didn’t slightly hate and wasn’t thoroughly creeped out by Dano). BUT! The film’s positives are pretty much entirely undone by the outrageous silliness of Swinton’s & especially Gyllenhaal’s obnoxious characters. I pretty much hated the entire second half of the film, which was disappointing after liking the start. Luckily, I can at least say that I liked the very end just fine. This helped save the movie a tiny bit. Overall, Okja feels like two films and like it’s not sure what it wants to be or how to get where it’s going. It’s a shame as I thought it had some good potential. I’m thinking I prefer South Korean horror. Train To Busan, The Wailing, The Host, A Tale Of Two Sisters… I recommend all of these before Okja.
My Rating: 6/10
**I posted a couple of polls yesterday where you can vote for which movie(s) I should review next. You can go & vote HERE. The one currently winning is Star Trek Beyond. What? Why?! It sucked. Here’s my review: Star Trek Beyond sucked. I fell asleep for about an hour somewhere in the middle. Briefly woke up & said “Is that Idris Elba?” then zonked out again. Woke up for the final ten minutes & decided I couldn’t be arsed to ever watch the hour or so that I missed. The end. Rating: 4.5/10. 😉