Streaming Releases: That'll Do Giant Pig!: Okja (2017) - Reviewed

Bong Joon-ho's newest film Okja, like the so-called "superpig" it's named after, is a strange animal. Part heartwarming children's film, part heavy-handed political symbolism, it never quite meshes these two halves together into a cohesive narrative. However, like all of Bong's films, the fantastic characters and wry humor keep it from being a total mess.

Okja is genetically modified oversized pig made by a the Mirando Corporation which is run by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton). Twenty-six of the modified pigs are sent to different countries where they are raised for ten years in a contest of sorts. Okja lives peacefully in South Korea with a old farmer and his young daughter Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). Unfortunately, Okja garners the attention of celebrity zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) and she is taken away for testing.

The first half of the film plays out almost like a Ghibli animation, with its playful tone and the whimsical visuals of Mija and Okja frolicking in the forest. There is a lot of great character development in this section and the CGI for Okja is quite good. Once Okja is taken, however, the tone changes drastically and it become a much darker tale. A leftist animal rights group known as ALF (Animal Liberation Front) gets involved and they are one of the more fun parts of the film. Even though ALF is a militant group they have a strict non-violence policy that it pretty hilarious in action. Paul Dano plays the leader of the group and he's well cast. Gyllenhaal's performance as the zoologist is just plain bizarre--he's extremely loud and flamboyant. I dug it, but I think that it might get a mixed reception. Ahn Seo-hyun is fantastic as Mija and she brings a determination to the character that is mesmerizing.

The film's biggest issue is pacing because the story jumps around a lot and it can feel rushed at times. The resolution of the film is a bit anti-climatic as well. The main thing that keeps the film moving forward are the characters. Bong loves to give even the most insignificant side characters a bit of a story or quirks to make them interesting. You actually care about what happens to them even if they hardly have any screen time. It makes the film feel more alive and inviting. The "all corporations are money-hungry and evil" theme is beat over the audience's head though, and I wish there would have been a little more complexity to how it was depicted. There is definitely a pro animal-rights ideology woven throughout the film, although this isn't necessarily a bad thing.

As an aside: it's great to see Netflix stepping up and giving filmmakers a chance to make films like Okja. I know this film was initially booed at Cannes due to the distaste for streaming media, but I think traditional theatrical releases and streaming releases can coexist. If anything, if it get us more creative movies like this, it will be worth it.

--Michelle Kisner