REVIEW: Okja

27 06 2017

Director Bong Joon Ho took oblique shots at social malaise through allegory in his films “The Host” and “Snowpiercer,” but he goes in for a more direct kill shot with his latest, “Okja.” The film is a blistering sendup of multinational corporations’ hunt for profit and the ridiculous measures they take to appear responsible while pursuing policies that cause harm.

The story is a bit disjointed, but that seems to be by design. After a brief prologue introduces the Mirando Corporation’s bio-engineered “superpig” program to the world, Bong cuts to ten years later where a well-adjusted creature, Okja, lives happily with her owner Mija (An Seo Hyun). The idea, perfectly engineered by company public relations, is to lease out these new creatures to farmers across the world who can raise them humanely. Then, the bells and whistles of sleekly-produced, insidious infomercials featuring Jake Gyllenhaal’s reality TV star  Johnny Wilcox – essentially Steve Irwin on smack – will convince the public that the meet made from these animals is safe for consumption. And delicious, to boot!

The farm-to-slaughterhouse pipeline gets disrupted when an animal rights group intervenes to save Okja. They call themselves the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) and establish their non-militancy before their ideals, a hilarious sendup of politically correct protest culture. These young idealists involve Okja and Mija in their plan to inflict economic damage on the Mirando Corporation and its CEO Lucy Mirando, played by Tilda Swinton as a woman who talks like she’s forcing every word with the energy of someone trying not to drown.

From there, Mija becomes a pawn in the tug-of-war between non-violent ecoterrorism and corporate propaganda when all she wants is to dwell in the simplicity of a story about a girl and her pet. The clash between the authentic bliss of her pastoral home and the Mirando Corporation’s overstimulating smoke and mirrors could not be more jarring. The pointed satire of contemporary business deception from greenwashing to social media (one employee forcefully requests of Mija, “let’s take a picture for our company Twitter!”) made even this carnivore reconsider how little he thinks about what forces produce the meat on the table. Mija comes to realize what most of us know but rarely admit: these corporations respond to money over morals.

But Bong does not limit the joys of “Okja” to these broad strokes of outlandish organizations and preposterous people. There are small moments of humor ranging from the droll conversation about claiming workman’s comp from Mirando when transporting Okja to outright fart humor with the superpig herself. Full, live fish can come out if her hind quarters are massaged properly. The comedy might be delightfully all over the map, but the message most assuredly is not. B+

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