| Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a massive animal named Okja.
It may have angered the ‘cultural elite’ at Cannes by daring to be a Netflix film, but let’s not beat around the bush, it is highly unlikely that a film like this one would have been made with such freedoms were it a studio flick. “Okja” is a satirical, often allegorical, look at our conception of animals, and even human beings, in the midst of distractions such as financial profit, and it is all done without pulling many heart strings or conveying a deep and emotional feeling. It should not at all be absorbed in a serious and critical manner, as the message goes far beyond the simple conclusion, but the film’s flaws oblige us to do so.
There are some beautiful scenes and frames in “Okja”, in which Bong Joon Ho takes the time to show us the amplitude of his energy, of his view. However, Bong Joon Ho can’t seem to indicate his path clearly to its audience. May that be voluntarily or not, it leaves up too many gaps and unconvincing moments. Some directors get so obsessed with certain things that they develop a kind of tunnel vision that ignores all of the other important aspects of making a good film. You may think that this is an overreaction, especially considering how Bong still has yet to make a bad film, but I can see it coming if he doesn’t right the ship.
“Okja” does exhibit some of the usual positives you get with Bong’s films. You have a genre-bending experience, with lots of quirky, partially awkward humor that this director seems to be drawn to. This film also showcases some very nice natural environments early on, which is an added bonus. The score is mostly light and… hard to explain. It’s almost like something you’d hear at a circus, or maybe a polka dance? In any case, I enjoyed the music here. Special effects are also quite impressive for the big farting pig.
Through the first half of the film, the pacing feels very precise and metered out perfectly. We get our glimpse into the over the top world of the Mirando corporation, we’re introduced to Okja and Mija and get just enough sweet time with them before her adventure to get him back begins. Once past the first chase sequence– which is an excellently executed chase through Seoul which culminates with a giant pig running through a shopping mal– the movie feels lost with itself in where to go next. Joon-ho is left in a juggling act between the world of the meat industry and the journey of Mija and Okja, and both feel a little underdeveloped because of this. The first forty-five minutes are great, and the ending is great, but the hour in between feels muddled as the narrative loses track of where to go next. Joon-ho does manage to accomplish something in both of the areas he crafted in this film, but a lot of potential was left on the table for both as the film was stuck between the two.
The performances of most of the quite impressive ensemble cast is quite enjoyable, especially the little girl, Ahn Seo-Hyun. As for Jake Gyllenhaal… Look, it’s not a secret I’m a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal’s recent work (except for Life which was…ehh), but my god here he gives a career-worst performance as a “wacky”, perpetually drunk, borderline psychotic television host, and he alternates between channeling Jerry Lewis at a 10 and what I can only assume is one of the prisoners from Silence of the Lambs. It absolutely doesn’t work at all, comedically or narratively, and he is the very, very, very low point of the entire movie, completely at odds with the rest of the film.
Overall, ‘Okja’ is widly inconsisent but an enjoyable enough ride. Definitely Netflix’s best movie since Fukunaga’s Beasts of No Nation, but not at the same level by far. A film that works half way, where in parts it accomplishes its objective and in others it does not convince at all, but it manages to leave you with a sad and hopeful message at the same time, and that’s what it was was going for.
‘Okja’ gets a 7.2/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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