Notable Cast: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Byun Hee-bong, Steven Yuen, Lily Collins, Yoon Je-moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Choi Woo-shik, Giancarlo Esposito
Acclaimed director Bong Joon-ho (Memories of Murder), who sky-rocketed to international acclaim with his first international feature, Snowpiercer, which featured an all-star cast from all over the globe, told fans that due to its success that he immediately had two new features in the works; one being an even bigger feature with an international cast and crew in mind, and another being a tighter-knit, more intimate feature back in his homeland of South Korea. Obviously he chose to run with the former firstly, and that comes by way of the enormous streaming and entertainment service, Netflix. Now, I won't be getting into my opinion of the company, as that isn't the focus here, but only to say that apparently a lot of directors are finding comfort in knowing that they can do their next big project through this service, which has been producing films for a few years now, and have complete creative freedom and control. When I first heard that Bong of all people was going this route for his new film, I admittedly was against the idea, but alas, here we are, and let's just focus on the overall finished product at hand, no pun intended . . . Okja!
|Go Mija, go, go, go!!!|
First off I want to say that this film is an absolute blast. It's fun, adventurous, and has some nicely filmed action scenes. Couple that with some sweet moments, and a darker turn in its final act, and you have all the ingredients for a perfect popcorn flick. Unfortunately, there are things in the whole of it all that don't seem to mesh so well. I feel that even with a running time of two hours, that Okja never has enough time to develop some of its many side characters as fully as Bong has done in his works prior. While the performances are fine all across the board, a lot of these players that the film lays out for us are just unrealized and sometimes even uninteresting. I really enjoyed Paul Dano's character Jay, the leader of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front), who has a large established group of like-minded individuals set out to combat the heinous intentions Mirando Corps. has in place for Okja and the other superpigs. I think he gives a fine performance, and I was more on board with him and his intentions than the other sidekicks at his disposal. Steve Yuen was fine as well, but again, it seems there were too many characters to juggle and try to flesh out in such a short time and it just doesn't work. Maybe the intent is just for them to be these disposable tools that help bring Mija closer to saving her beloved animal companion, but aside from herself, I just wasn't so into any of the characters, which is a problem I've never faced before with the director's other outings.
Another thing that bothers me is that some of the humor resembles elementary potty humor. The poop and fart jokes are funny at first, as Okja is an adorable animal, so no matter what she does it is still cute, but as things heighten for our hero, they just don't seem to be in place with the tone. I do love the cartoonish characters throughout and thought that Lucy Mirando (Swinton) and Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Gyllenhaal) were both very, very memorable villains. They aren't your typical bad guys by any means, but they do have an unforgettable presence to the both of them that I think fits well in the world that Bong has crafted. I enjoyed the over-the-top yet eerily familiar circus like tone that the scenes which took place in America and how they played out. Were they loud and aggressive and almost otherworldly? Yes, but again, it feels almost a little too much like home, but I'm not here to jump into that massive topic.
|Ahn Seo-hyun truly gives one of my favorite performances|
of the year as Mija. She is such a fun and strong character.
You can't help but immediately want to route for this girl!
I could type endlessly about Okja. I really did like it overall, but I can't say that I loved it in the way that I have the director's previous works. I would go as far as to say that it is my least favorite of Bong Joon-ho's feature films, but that is not to discredit it, as I think it is truly a great entertaining movie, but it just doesn't quite reach the heights that I had hoped it would. I feel it could have worked better as a lengthier series for the streaming company that produced it, to better chisel out those characters, but given certain things and how they have gone, I can most certainly see this story of a brave little girl and her superpig continuing, and I can safely say that I would most definitely be willing to continue this journey with them. See it and decide for yourself. I think it is a safe bet that most will be entertained by it, but perhaps the hardcore Bong Joon-ho fans will be left with a little more to desired.
Written by Josh Parmer