Man at His Best

Netflix’s Okja Got a Four-Minute Ovation at This Year’s Cannes; Will it Get Your Approval?

A swine gets the spotlight.

BY Wayne Cheong | Jul 3, 2017 | Film & TV

This is a story about a girl and her pig. A superpig, to be more precise, borne from the good intentions of one Lucy Mirando… though as they say, the path to hell is paved with good intentions but we’ll get to that later.

The premise: In trying to erase her father’s dubious company practices, Lucy Mirando (played by Tilda Swinton) rebrands the corporation as an answer to solving the world’s food problem—26 genetically-engineered superpig are shipped off to farmers all over the world and, in a PR stunt masquerading as a competition, at the end of 10 years, the superpig that thrived the best is declared the winner.

Cue Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) and her best pal, Okja, a clever, hefty cross among a hippo and an elephant—and strangely less-of-a-pig. The animator imbue a soul into Okja as it cavorts among the greenery of the Korean mountains; not since Babe or Muppets Most Wanted, has a pig be so charming in its performance. Okja’s interaction with Mija is absorbing and adds a fine point to how much this obstinate village girl is willing to do everything in her power to rescue her friend after the animal is shipped off to New York after its affirmed as a clear blue-ribboned victor.

She’s aided by the movie-version of the Animal Liberation Front headed by the gentle Jay (Paul Dano) with a ragtag crew consisting of Red (Lily Collins) and K (Steven Yeun) and eventually, the group manages to reveals Mirando’s evils of mass production and the chipping away of the soul in order to achieve it.

Swinton is mesmerising as Lucy, who is always trying to escape from the eclipse of her father’s misdeeds and her twin sister’s (played also by Swinton) clinical handling to increase the bottom-line. Jake Gyllenhaal’s portrayal of a Steve Irwin-type is an odd choice, which distracts more than it endears. The best parts of the film are the quiet moments between Mija and Okja; those interactions are heartwarming and, I daresay, it might even turn you vegetarian. Might.

Director Bong Joon-ho, who helmed Snowpiercer and Mother, comes at you with all the subtlety of a blunt hammer with regards to the ethics of breeding pens and animal rights but he also orchestrated a fun romp, one with a multinational cast and a genre-busting (Is it a sci-fi, a children’s flick? What?) story that can only be made possible with the deep coffers of an online streaming medium.

At heart, this is a story about a girl and her superpig but the bigger picture is about environmentalism, corporate greed and the dirty, dirty means, in how we get our food but these are almost insurmountable issues that can’t be easily resolved by the antics of an animal-rights group.

However, we can still affect change within our own power. Like a little girl on a quest to save her friend. It’s on a small-scale but it adds up in the end.

Okja is out now on Netflix.