Despite being mired in ugly controversy from the Hollywood faithful against the Netflix revolution, Okja is a beautiful film. It defiantly hits back at Hollywood in their belief Netflix can’t deliver the feature film goods and delivers a story that touches the heart-strings and tells a thought provocative story about corporate greed and globalisation. It’s not perfect; there’s a few wobbles with the story and character arcs but on the whole, Okja is a really solid effort from Netflix.
The film opens with Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) who addresses an eager crowd of sceptic press. After public controversy over GMOs and questionable business practices, Lucy’s business, the Mirando Corporation, unveil a new “Super pig” trial. 26 super piglets are to be distributed around the world with the best breeder creating the biggest pig after 10 years receiving a lucrative sum of money.
After a noisy, bright 5 minute opening, the story changes pace to a dreamy, tranquil backdrop of an Asian jungle where Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her super pig Okja live together. When her pig is taken away for winning the Super Pig competition, Mija follows Okja’s kidnappers to prevent the powerful multi-national company from taking him away from her. Its worth noting at this point that the film switches between Korean (with English subtitles) and English throughout the film with vast periods in just Korean. For those who aren’t up for reading lots of subtitles, this probably isn’t the film for you.
There’s no denying that Okja is a busy film, both thematically and with its plot. There’s a lot of ideas here, some of which executed well and others not so much. The ideas around globalisation, food stock, GMOs and more is really well done and highlights the consumer demand and the extent businesses will go to profit from it. The powerful scenes of the factories toward the back half of the film is one that’s both shocking and thought provocative for the way that we view food. It’s a bitter pill to swallow sometimes looking at the emotional animals and despite the happy-go-lucky feel the trailer leads you to believe, this is a dark film that isn’t afraid to show some shocking and distressing material.
For all that the film gets right (and it does get a lot right) there are moments in its plot where logic flies out the window. On more than one occasion Mija is able to infiltrate areas that should be heavily guarded or at least locked, leading guards on a wild goose chase through winding corridors and locking doors behind her. If this was utilized once it might be easy to overlook but the same trick is pulled on three separate occasions and it comes across as lazy writing.
The global corporation characters, including Mirando and squeaky voiced Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gylenhaal) are one-dimensional satirical caricatures and jarringly contrast with the animals rights group and Mija that have a little bit more dimension to their characters. I was going to criticise this heavily but on reflection, it feels more like a clever artistic choice to highlight the simple minds of the apathetic corporation that only care about greed and profits.
To summarise though, Okja is a beautiful, thought provocative film. Its story does have some inconsistencies but its strong themes do a good job of shadowing the issues. Mija and Okja’s bond is what keeps the film ticking to its bittersweet conclusion and although it does feel a little too long at just over 2 hours, its strong themes are thought provocative and relentless throughout. While its certainly not an Oscar winner, Netflix finally strike gold, translating their talent from TV shows over to one of their best efforts for a feature film.