Netflix’s Okja is Bong Joon-ho’s and Jon Ronson’s satire-cum-expose of the genetically modified food industry through the adventures of a delightful Korean girl and an outsize giant pig.
Animal Farmby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Tilda Swinton is in fine fettle as eerily domineering Lucy Mirando, CEO of a ruthless multinational experimenting to exploit the world food crisis by engineering genetically modified giant pigs. As part of the ten-year trial, one such animal is homed in Korea, where it grows in idyllic conditions in remote mountains, under the care of a little girl Mija (an outstanding performance by An Seo-hyun) and her grandfather (Byun Heebong).
The giant pig, Okja, is an enormous, weighty, hippo-shaped creature with an appealing spaniel-like face, a docile, subservient temperament and an almost anthropomorphic hint of intelligence and perception in its eyes. Okja and lonely Mija have an incredible bond of love and trust, roaming all day together in the woods and streams, and at one stage Okja saving Mija’s life. The animatronics are amazing – Mija throws real fruit that Okja catches in her mouth and curls up to sleep on Okja’s exposed belly.
But when the company reclaims Okja after ten years and ships her back to the US for experimentation and ‘processing’, Mija is stubbornly determined to save her from her fate. Animal liberationists led by a solemn Paul Dano complicate Mija’s quest, wanting to kidnap Okja and use her to expose the unspeakable horrors of Mirando’s meat-processing operations. Irritation all round is provided by the public face of Mirando, TV celebrity vet Dr Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal having the time of his life in an over-the-top characterisation). There’s mayhem in Seoul and New York as the two sides battle for Okja, with destruction and violent demonstrations, including an unconventional salvo of defence from Okja.
Jon Ronson’s script in conjunction with director Bong Joon Ho (Snowpiercer, The Host) is sharp, meriting Okja potential cult status. Meanwhile, it’s a funny, shocking, fast-moving, aware and, at times, incredibly beautiful comment on the destructive dangers to humans and animals alike of the unbridled pursuit of profit from our food. Okja is a really enjoyable family film that deserves the widest possible audience for the excellence of its animation and the worthiness of its theme.
Okja is screening in the Official Competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival.