Susan Granger’s review of “Okja” (Netflix)
Inventive director Bong Joon Ho (“Snowpiercer,” “The Host”) has concocted a satirical action-comedy, blended with a controversial, socially-conscious allegorical fable.
The prologue introduces Lucy Mirando (Tilda Switon), the ethically-challenged CEO of a powerful, multi-national, agrochemical corporation. She announces that her company will breed a new pig-like creature, a gigantic mammal, to solve the world’s hunger problem, distributing 26 genetically modified super-piglets to locations around the world to be raised by local farmers within their own “eco-friendly” culture.
Ten years later, on a remote mountaintop in South Korea, orphaned 14 year-old Mija (An Seo Hyun) has bonded with her grandfather’s super-pig, Okja. Now as big as a hippopotamus, Okja is Mija’s constant companion, romping through the tranquil countryside, even saving her life on one harrowing occasion.
Suddenly, an obnoxious celebrity TV veterinarian, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), appears at their farm. He takes one look at Okja and proclaims her the Super Pig Winner. Which means she’ll be shipped back to the United States, displayed in New York and then dispatched to a blood-soaked slaughterhouse in Paramus, New Jersey.
Unwilling to part with her beloved beast, determined Mija joins idealistic members (Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Steven Yeun) of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front) to rescue Okja. That leads to a zany rampage and chase through an underground Seoul subway mall.
Brashly scripted by Bong Joon Ho and shrewdly adapted into English by Jon Ronson (“Frank,” “The Men Who Stare at Goats”), it was filmed in two languages and three countries (South Korea, Canada and the United States) for about $50 million.
The artistry of cinematographer Darius Khondji blends seamlessly with the astonishing visual effects conceived by conceptual artist Hee Chul Jang (“The Host”) and created by Erik-Jan De Boer (Oscar winner for the tiger in “Life of Pi”). So An Seo Hyun and Okja are the real stars.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Okja” is an audacious 8, playing in a few select theaters for Oscar consideration and widely available for streaming on Netflix.