By John Skerritt (Lonon, Engand,UK)
In light of the incessant wave of recent live action Disney remakes, you could be forgiven for thinking Okja is something in the same vein: a film so charming it has the hallmarks of something akin to a Mayazaki anime masterpiece. Imaginative and beautiful, Okja tells the story of a young girl, Mija, on a farm in South Korea, who has helped raise one of twenty-six ‘super’ pigs that were genetically engineered and bred by the Mirando Corporation (run by the as ever brilliant Tilda Swinton). Her super pig and best friend, Okja, is announced as the best of all the super pigs and is taken to New York, and we follow Mija’s intercontinental adventure as she attempts to track down and rescue her beloved Okja.
The film starts off at a slow pace which nicely highlights the rural lifestyle of the two friends, and from the offset has the audience onside with how cute and charmingly simple their relationship is. We are treated to juxtaposed moments of sweetness and upset, of drama and adventure, and moments that are hilarious and downright unsettling. The latter unfolds in the climax of the film at the killing plant, and watching Mija walk down the path past the hundreds of super pigs that you know will ultimately die leaves you feeling very bittersweet. The pay-off of the golden pig is equally laughable and deplorable (particularly the interaction between Swinton and Seo-hyun), and just furthers my conviction that Swinton is damn near faultless as an actress. She relishes being able to play two facets of villainy, one character disillusioned and the other so cut-throat you want her to feel every bit of pain that Okja had to endure in the lab with Dr. Wilcox.
No film is without its faults of course, and there is only one with Okja; one so small I shouldn’t even really bring it up. But I’m going to: Johnny Wilcox. It’s not so much that Gyllenhaal’s acting leaves something to be desired – far from it – but there is something two dimensional and unsatisfying about Jake’s character. Playing a caricature of yourself is a well-known trait of TV personalities, and it makes sense for Wilcox to be this bold, over-the-top TV personality when playing up to an audience. But there are some moments in the film when Wilcox just seems to be needlessly dramatic and flamboyant away from said audience and undermining the ‘persona’ he has for the television. That being said, as the film progresses the dark, sad truth behind the cost of fame and fortune rears its ugly head, and Jake evolves from an irritating clown to a sympathetic villain which is enjoyable to watch. Of course, as soon as he is sober, he reverts back to annoying form and I find myself grimacing at Gyllenhaal’s overacting once again. There are a few funny moments where this pays off, but for the most part it misses the mark.
All in all, Okja is an ingenious masterpiece of cinematography and acting, and Bong Joon-Ho cements himself as a visionary whom I’d say is on equal footing with the likes of Mayazaki and Ang Lee. The film is charming, cute, funny, sweet and upsetting, and gloriously energetic: a film that never suffers from a lull in its pacing, and is a satisfying film if ever there was one.