So far, I've been more impressed by Netflix original series than I have their original films. They struck a cord with "Beasts of No Nation," I'll give them that. But I feel like their movies have ranged from good to mediocre. While I would definitely say their TV shows have ranged from very good to great. I was beginning to think that Netflix was only good for their original TV shows and not their movies. That all changed tonight with "Okja."
Anybody could take a look at "Okja" and dismiss it as another "person and their creature" movie. It has lots in common with "The Iron Giant," "E.T." "Pete's Dragon" and the first "Transformers." But there is more to it than just another "person with a creature" feature. The may seem like its all about a girl and her "super pig" but that's all surface value. The real topic of "Okja" is the Industrial Food Complex that we live in. This is a movie about the food you eat, and how we as a nation ultimately consume it. Its a movie that has some very real things to say about how we process our food. You shouldn't expect anything less from Bong joon-ho. This guy is what science fiction storytelling is all about. The best science fiction take real social issues and twists them in a futuristic landscape, commenting and challenging those issues. Bong joon-ho is becoming the exciting modern science fiction filmmaker. Take his "Snowpiercer" for example, which was about of a group of people hijaking a train that contains the last of civilization, each car representing a different class. Sometimes his metaphors are big and obvious, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have anything important to say.
I can honestly say I have never really thought too much about where the food came from that I eat. I love food and I love to eat, and as my metabolism wanes more and more, I can really see how much I love food and how much I love to eat. You put a dish in front of me, and I will at the very least try it and I feel I become a more and more fearless eater as I grow older (except for salad, I can't stand dressings) But even I couldn't get through "Okja" without really thinking about the grief an animal must go through to achieve our consumption. Now, I am not going to suddenly say I am a born again vegitarian, but I think we definitely could become a little bit more humane about the way animals are raised to slaughter, and how we can keep our meats better for our bodies. Instead of process, process, process.
"Okja" first takes place in 2007, and a colorful businesswoman Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) is starting to notice that Earth is running out of food, but she discovers a "super pig" in Chile and grows twenty-six other super pigs across their regional offices all over the world. Whichever raises the best of the super pigs allows said pig to be the face of the company. It would take ten years for the super pigs to be ready for consumption. So then we move to present day and meet Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) whose grandfather raises Okja, the super pig in South Korea. After inspected by the Mirando company's zoologist (Jake Gyllenhaal) Okja is the best of the super pigs and they take Okja away. Mija isn't going to have it, and she leaves her home to go find her. With the assistance of the Animal Liberation Front (lead by Paul Dano) she will find Okja again.
The special effects work on Okja is quite frankly impressive. I have never seen a CGI beast that was able to emote so much. If you need any reason to see this movie, see it to marvel at the visual power of Okja.
The film is littered with great performances. Tilda Swinton plays twins in this movie, and she has mastered the art of slimy villains at this point. She does strange work in the film and it pays off scene after scene. You know else gives a strange performance? Gyllenhaal, and I do mean strange. He is about the weirdest character for a movie I have seen in awhile. But he does it with perfection. The Animal Liberation Front features Dano, Lily Collins, and even Steven Yuen, all of whom do strong work here. But the biggest discovery for me here was Ahn Seo-hyun. She's the lead here and the entire film hinges on us buying her love and care for Okja. Boy, does she bring that and then some! She's absolutely terrific in this movie, and I hope to see her again soon.
These are the types of films that Netflix needs to invest more time in. Something that makes you think, but also includes the entertainment factor. This is a film that includes excitement, deep thinking, outstanding visuals, and even some tender moments. Its a total package without the cheese.
FINAL GRADE: A