This Cannes film selection that sparked controversy after its rights were purchased by Netflix will hopefully be remembered and celebrated for more than just sparking that conversation. The film centers around young girl in South Korea who lives with her grandfather and– now bear with me– a super-sized pig named Okja who is the winner of an international competition. When the pig’s official owners (American business people) come to reclaim the pig and bring it back to New York, a plot involving the brave girl, her beloved pig, evil corporations, and animal protection liberationists unfolds. The film is a moving dialogue on the horrors of industry and hypocrisy.
The film is directed by the acclaimed Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer) with such a confident expertise that looking away from the film seems impossible. Every single shot that Bong, along with cinematographer Darius Khondji (Evita), composes is visually striking and serves genuine story-telling purposes. Bong’s sense of blocking is also startling as every movement manages to convey more character than most lines of dialogue in contemporary cinema. The film’s pacing is also exceptionally well-done as every single second of the film is utilized and gives us enough time to comprehend the situation and connect with the characters while it never at one moment loiters. But what really makes me wish this film had had a release date much later this year (because Bong deserves a goddamned Oscar nom for this film) is the way in which Bong obviously had an overview of the whole film as he shot each scene. Although the film takes us through an abundance of various locations, there are certain small details (especially in the interactions between Okja and the girl) that have an overarching resonance throughout.
Joon-ho Bong and his co-writer, Jon Ronson (Frank), also deliver a truly remarkable screenplay that juggles more concepts than most movies while still remaining simple and effective. Their dialogue, plotting and pacing is truly wonderful and evidently gave Bong such a strong foundation to work with. The clever usage of symbolism and metaphor also gives the film a certain flair and uniqueness that makes the movie so impeccable.
And at this point it’s starting to seem like I should have given the film ten stars… Well the writing also poses one major problem: two characters, who both have significant screen time, who seem so horribly misplaced that one wonders if a pollen was cut out in post-production. The characters are those of a fading television personality who is used as the ‘face’ of the super-pig company (played poorly by a misplaced Jake Gyllenhaal) and the other is the CEO’s personal assistant (Shirley Henderson). And what seems a little fishy is that these two characters only appear when they are needed to push other characters forward leading me to believe that there was a subplot with the two characters that was taken out at some point of the process (my theory is further proven as each character has moments in which they seem to be set up to take action against the CEO, but nothing ever happens).
Other than the two above mentioned characters, the rest are very interesting and are backed up by strong performances. Child actress Seo-Hyun Ahn delivers an incredibly touching and sweetly subtle performance that legitimately brought tears to my eyes as I watched the film. Tilda Swinton as the evil CEO delivers a performance that is so unique that it takes some time getting used to. But once we start seeing her interact with her advisor, played delectably by Giancarlo Esposito, we see the wonderfully interesting dynamic that defines her character. But perhaps the best performance from this film comes in the shape of a menacingly interesting performance by Paul Dano who plays an animal rights liberator whose character is so nuanced that has such interesting character flaws that he steals every scene he’s in. Steven Yeun and Byun Hee-bong also turn in great work as Dano’s companion and as Ahn’s grandfather respectively.
Overall, almost everything in this film works perfectly and helps get Bong’s intricate message across stylishly. The performances are strong, the screenplay intricate, and the direction is brilliant. The film also shows off great visual effects, technical capability and a beautifully effective score and soundtrack. Seriously there is no reason or excuse to miss this strikingly delicious movie.