Okja is a film that had an initial trailer which made me unsure as to whether it would be good or bad. When I saw the film, it could well be my favourite of the year.
What you might not know is that in New York, 2007, Nancy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) gave a press conference in New York about how around 805m humans are going hungry each day, 30m of them being in the US. A solution was required and this came about in breeding a super piglet – not just one, but 26, which were reproduced through natural non-forced mating and given to farmers in 26 countries where each of the branch offices are located.
We’re learning of this news now, because as we’re in 2017, with the piglets now being bigger than an elephant, and far more agile and faster, it’s time for one of the Super Pigs to be crowned the best in a ceremony in New York. TV personality Dr Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), who presents Dr Johnny’s Magical Animals, making me wonder if this is a US younger and over-excited version of the BBC’s Johnny Morris who hosted Animal Magic in the ’80s?
Either way, the entrants will include the one looked after by 14-year-old Mija (An Seo Hyun, above, with Okja) in South Korea, but having nurtured her all her life, with her grandfather, she doesn’t want her pet – who she has named Okja, and which possesses one big, giant nipple – to be taken, even if it is just for a show…
…But, of course, we know they’re all being bred for slaughter, such is the way the meat industry works.
Okja features a jawdropping scene as the Animal Liberation Front chase the wanted large piglet through a South Korean subway shopping mall, attempting to liberate the animal from the Mirando Corporation, who want to turn the piglet into a mass of food, leaving me creasing up with laughter. At other times, the masterful direction and story left me in tears in scenes at the other end of the scale – all I’ll say for those is when animals are left in extreme distress at the hands of evil corporate humans.
I am a meat eater, and it does taste good, but I don’t doubt that there are nasty companies behind some of the practices that step beyond the bound of what’s humane, as highlighted here as Ms Swinton, who not only plays boss Nancy Mirando, but also her twin sister, Lucy – leading to the moment where you’re looking forward to them meeting up, and it does NOT disappoint. On the other side of the coin, the liberators are portrayed by a cast including Paul Dano (Love and Mercy), Daniel Henshall (Snowtown) and Lily Collins, who stars in Netflix’s forthcoming To The Bone.
However, the star of the show comes in a wonderful turn from newcomer An Seo Hyun as Mija, her talent far greater than her years suggest.
Add to this exquisite cinematography of the South Korean forest, you have a hilarious comedy with perfect timing, plus one that shifts to drama which paints a heartbreaking tale about the meat industry, and is a rare film that can bring a tear or three to my eye.
I’ve never seen a film from writer/director Bong Joon Ho before, but based on Okja, I must catch up before long, including 2013’s Snowpiercer, a movie I’ve not got round to seeing over the years and which never saw a release in the UK, despite starring many big names including Ed Harris, John Hurt, Okja‘s Tilda Swinton and Marvel star Chris Evans.
I saw Okja on a standard definition press screener on a 50″ TV, but with its lush visuals, I bet it looks incredible in 4K on Netflix. I’d also have loved to have seen this get a big-screen airing, but the summer months are chock full of more mainstream fare like Wonder Woman, The Mummy and Transformers: The Last Knight, while absolute diamonds like this would not get a look-in.
In short: I laughed. I cried. I want to watch it again. Very soon!
In slightly longer, it’s difficult to say exactly why it grabbed my heart in the way that it did, but I hope it does the same for you, too.
Oh, and the title is pronounced “Oak-cha”, not as I first thought – “Okay-yah!” in an upper-class posh accent, assuming “Ja” is like the German’s word for “Yes”.
There’s also a post-credits scene, for which I’ll wrap a spoiler heading around:
Okja isn’t yet available to pre-order on Blu-ray or DVD, but click on the top image of Mija and Okja for the full-size version.
Running time: 121 minutes
Format: 2.35:1 (ARRIRAW (3.4K) (6.5K) (source format))
Released: June 28th 2017
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Producers: Dooho Choi, Dede Gardner, Bong Joon Ho, Lewis Taewan Kim, Jeremy Kleiner, Ted Sarandos and Woo-sik Seo
Screenplay: Bong Joon Ho, Jon Ronson
Mija: An Seo Hyun
Lucy and Nancy Mirando: Tilda Swinton
Jay: Paul Dano
Dr Johnny Wilcox: Jake Gyllenhaal
K: Steven Yeun
Blond: Daniel Henshall
Red: Lily Collins
Silver: Devon Bostick
6th ALF: Jihoon Park
Mundo Park: Yoon Je Moon
Jennifer: Shirley Henderson
Frank Dawson: Giancarlo Esposito
Kim: Woo Shik Choi
Okja’s Voice / Woman in Wheelchair: Jungeun Lee
Young Mija: Jaein Kim
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.