“Okja” is written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, and stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, and Ahn Seo Hyun. The movie is a Netflix original about a little girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) named Mija, and her relationship with a biologically created “super pig,” named Okja. When Mirando, a worldwide company that owns Okja and the rest of the super pigs, come to take back the now fully grown Okja, and plans to harvest her meat, Mija does everything she can to save her beloved animal friend.
I remember watching the trailer for this movie a while back, and immediately being very skeptical. I have mostly been impressed with the Netflix originals I have seen, but this one looked quite ridiculous and off-putting. When “Okja,” started getting glorious reviews, I was stunned, and knew I had to make time to give it a watch.
Starting with the performances, our main human character, Mija, played by Ahn Seo Hyun, was phenomenal. Because she resides in South Korea, she speaks very little English, so it is not easy to be impressed with her performance, but I always felt her emotion and her power, even though she was rarely speaking. Tilda Swinton, who played the CEO of Mirando, was awesome. Her role was one that included a very distinct style, and one that was uniquely cast, but Swinton was still able to hit all her notes. Also, Paul Dano was a perfect choice for the character he played. Paul Dano was Paul Dano, and he is always fantastic, so I am more impressed with the casting choice here than anything here.
Now, diving more into the movie as a whole, one of the reasons I was so impressed was that director Bong Joon Ho took such an arbitrary idea and made it feel very grounded, which is an extremely tough thing to do when revolving a movie about a humongous “super pig.” When I watched the trailer, and even when I began watching the movie, I was thinking to myself that Joon Ho has some work to do, and that It’s going to take a lot for me to buy into this. Within 20 minutes, I was completely bought in. I found that the first hour flew by, as I was genuinely invested in the concept being portrayed. Joon Ho did not take the easy way out and set this film in some fantasy universe where everything that happened is totally normal and follows the laws of nature of that specific universe. Instead, he set it in present-day Earth, and did not try to hide from it. He had to make his audience believe in super pigs, and even as skeptical as I initially was, I was all in right away. Bong went down paths I did not expect him to venture down in this movie, and I loved how courageously bold this film was.
Lastly, I thought Bong and his crew did a very good job of bridging the nationality gap that existed here. With a decent portion of this film being in another language, it can be easy to tune out, especially when you have a premise like this one that is already hard enough to be bought into, but that never happened for me throughout this film.
While I know I just raved about how daring and grounded this film was, there were certainly still many elements that were just too unrealistic to be onboard for. The lengths that Mija went to to save her friend were brave and touching, yet very nearly impossible. I understand that Okja was her best friend, but at a certain point, there is only so much a little girl can do. However, this did not bother me too much, as Joon Ho cleverly allowed Mija to receive some help throughout the film. Nonetheless, it still did not all fly for me.
I am a huge Jake Gyllenhaal fan, and I seriously thought that Gyllenhaal, yet again, was very good. However, I hated his character. This was not easy for me to admit, but I did not have a problem with how Gyllenhaal delivered his lines and how he portrayed his character, but I had a major problem with how this character was written. Gyllenhaal plays Dr. Johnny Wilcox, who is comparable, in this universe, to the late Steve Irwin – a television personality that has close encounters with animals. I thought his character was extremely over-the-top, and unnecessary. I really would’ve been fine if his character would’ve been totally omitted from the film. I thought this was one of Joon Ho’s only flaws in his otherwise intriguing script.
My only other flaw was that the second half did tail off a bit. As I mentioned earlier, I was all in with the first half, and then I just felt slightly less interested and less impressed with the second half. This hurt because Joon Ho clearly dove into a more serious tone with the second half, and I thought it lost some emotion, for me.
“Okja,” is an impressive, fairly enjoyable movie with a good message as a silver lining. It included great performances from Ahn Seo Hyun and Tilda Swinton, and was written and directed wonderfully by Bong Joon Ho. Overall, I would certainly recommend “Okja,” as it came as a pleasant surprise.
What did you think of “Okja”? Comment below with your thoughts.