Movie Review: Okja (2017)


Okja is a moving and amusing satire. It's a story about family, values, the environment, and--I have to say it--the power of being pigheaded. Ohoho. Anchored by An Seo Hyun's performance and a script with plenty of twists, the movie skewers consumerism and capitalism while also showing the lengths and limits of earnest heroics.

Okja's strong opening, complete with cheery music from your nightmares and Tilda Swinton's bananas performance as Mirando Corporation's CEO Lucy, establishes the tale: Mirando has created "super pigs," and kicks off an international, ten-year competition to see who raises the best piggy. The winning pig will get a parade in New York City. Cut to Mija and Okja's idyllic life in the mountains of South Korea, where it becomes clear that girl and pig have a long history and a very special bond. Trouble comes when Jake Gyllenhaal's TV presenter character shows up to judge how Okja fares compared to the other super pigs (spoiler: she's the best!).

Hijinks ensue as Mija chases after Okja, first to Seoul, then all the way to New York. She receives help from an unexpected group, led by my secret boyfriend Paul Dano (so secret even he doesn't know!) and which includes The Walking Dead's Steven Yeung, who deserves better than that show anyway. As Lucy tries to deal with the PR fallout, Gyllenhaal's Dr. Johnny falls to even lower depths, with poor Okja bearing the brunt of it all.

The settings, action, and writing are the film's strengths; however, the lack of character development detracts from the overall impact of Okja. For instance, Mija is the same throughout the movie: stubborn, determined, clever, and resourceful. She learns English, but that's about the only change she goes through. At the same time, Lucy is a one-note antagonist: clearly neurotic and borderline psychopathic, with a barely-concealed yearning for success and approval. And Okja is a damsel in distress: all she does is be magical, suffer for it, then get rescued.

Another gripe I have is the over-the-top performances, especially Gyllenhaal's. Even Swinton's oddball tics eventually underline how thinly sketched her character is. I enjoy scenery chewing, but these two were just sad and annoying. Which is perhaps the point...?

I think the biggest issue is the focus on pigs. Okja shows the brutality of modern factory farming, where land animals are kept in crowded, unsanitary conditions, then slaughtered and processed en masse by immigrants. Beef is by far the most resource-intensive product churned out by these factories, so it might have hit harder if Okja were a cute super cow instead of, let's be honest, a hippopotamus.

That said, it's a highly enjoyable movie with lots of startling turns and laugh-out-loud moments. One scene in particular stands out in its incongruous use of "You Fill  Up My Senses," but because of the "Hallelujah" scene in Watchmen, this is nothing.

TL;DR: Nutty CEOs! Super pigs! Tears! Laughter! Recommended!

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This post brought to you by a week-old cookie that I am slowly nibbling into nonexistence!