Year: 2017
Director(s): Bong Joon-ho
Writer(s): Bong Joon-ho, Jon Ronson
Region of Origin: US, South Korea

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 118 mins

Synopsis: Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja. (Source)

If birth and death are black and white, then life is the endless shades of grey caught in the middle. With Okja, director Bong Joon-ho explores the space between these absolutes by focusing on something we all need – food. Equal parts corporate satire, adventure and social awakening, Bong illustrates how all of our actions, big or small can create ripples throughout an interconnected world. Masquerading at times as a blockbuster, Bong focuses on sustainability, not just in terms of raw resource, but in action and deed. Are our actions, the way we treat each other, animals and use precious resources a valid solution for survival, and at what cost? Suddenly ideas that should be an easy answer turn into something infinitely more complex, with Bong taking a critical look at the state we’re in as a global race. Throughout, Bong’s film is forceful, taking command of our emotions with a plea that we never forget the value of life. As complicated as Bong’s questions are, so to is his film, featuring big action sequences one minute and harrowing moments of quiet desperation the next. On every level, this is an astonishing achievement, one that rattles our soul and lingers with purpose.

In 2007, CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) of the Mirando corporation secretly announces a weapon against world hunger and global overpopulation – a super pig. Genetically advanced to leave a light eco footprint, these technical wonders carry far reaching implications. Before unveiling them to the world, however, Mirando has spread 26 of the creatures throughout the world, allowing them to flourish naturally before unveiling the best specimen to the public. One of these, Okja, grows up in South Korea under the wing of a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong). 10 years later, Mirando is ready to collect Okja, unbeknownst to Mija, who has created an unbreakable bond with her companion. After being taken from her, Mija embarks on a mission to bring Okja back no matter the cost, meeting a mix of wild characters along the way including ALF, a group of animal activists who want Okja for their own agenda.

There is a lot going on beneath the film’s surface, but if there’s an anchor, it’s Bong’s exploration of how good intentions can unexpectedly go awry. How far is too far, and when do noble deeds cross the line and carry destructive consequence. Through it’s not hard to follow the film’s stance on life, animal or otherwise, Bong is interested in the ways we try (or don’t) to reach an unattainable balance, or how we can be so blindly invested in our own interests that we lose sight of the bigger picture. In that sense, the titular super pig turns out to be a common need between three distinct factions, each tied together by a force they can’t control, and all scrambling in futility against nature. The diversity and perspectives populating Bong’s film provide plenty of nuance and subtext, allowing for a film that continually transforms with thrills and shocks but also delicate moments of grace. If you want pure spectacle, you’ll get it, but there’s also tremendous heartbreak and purpose pulsing through every frame and detail.

Like the film itself, the cast is expansive, boasting an ensemble who carry wide-ranging implication. At the center of everything is Mija, and Ahn Seo-hyun is a commanding force that we can’t look away from. As the embodiment of innocence, Mija is headstrong and pure, a smart way for us to look at the film’s ideas with fresh eyes, as Ahn carries the film on her shoulders with a rare ferocity. As Lucy Mirando, Tilda Swinton turns in another wild character, balancing interior motives with bottom line. Swinton is whacky, but also has conviction. The whistle-blowing Animal Liberation Front seeking Okja in order to take down Miranda is a blast. Consisting of Paul Dano’s Jay, Steven Yeun’s K, Lily Collins’ Red, Devon Bostick’s Silver and Daniel Henshall’s Blond, the crew are colorful, loud and fun, themselves a smart dissection of unsustainable justice. Jake Gyllenhaal is the most cartoonish of the bunch, but really hunkers down for one of the film’s most devastating moments.

At this point in his career, it’s impossible to not call out Bong Joon-ho for being what he is, a total genius with a keen eye for social dissection and cinematic artistry. Okja is a virtually perfect film that balances unanswerable questions with precise emotion and a challenge for us as a society to do better. You can come for the irresistibly cute creature at the film’s center, but there’s also a sobering message about the humanity lost amidst by-the-numbers, mass produced necessity. There’s bound to be something that resonates here with everyone, with Bong’s ambition matched only by his global scope. Okja is exactly the type of intricate, meaningful film that’s has been absent from Hollywood for too long, proving that you can blend entertainment with heartfelt relevance and soul.

SG