Monday, 10 July 2017

OKJA : Tuesday 4th July 2017

'OKJA' which I saw from the comfort of my own home last week, courtesy of Netflix which is the chosen method of releasing this film for South Korean Director, Screenwriter and Co-Producer Bong Joon-ho in only his second English language release following 2013's excellent 'Snowpiercer'. The film had its Australian Premier as the closing film for the recent Sydney Film Festival on 18th June, and was in official competition for the Palme d'Or at this years Cannes Film Festival, where it received a four minute standing ovation following screening. The film cost US$50M to make, was released on Netflix on 28th June, and has so far garnered largely positive Reviews.

And so to the story. The year is 2007 and we are greeted by new Mirando Corporation CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), addressing her team in a huge warehouse like building. She is reading from a teleprompter, as it seems that she has recently taken the reins of her fathers company of whom she speaks none to highly off, nor her grandfather either for that matter nor the company they created - manufacturers of napalm no less! She announces that her company has been breeding a 'superpig' - big enough to provide ample supply of food products, delicious to taste, environmentally sustainable, carbon neutral and not in the slightest genetically modified (as she knows that the population at large would not withstand that!). She further announces that the 26 best such superpigs have been sent to the locations around the world where Mirando have a corporate presence, and distributed to farms for their rearing over the next ten years. In 2017 the best of the best fully grown, healthiest pigs will be crowned an outright winner and attend a lavish ceremony in New York. All of this is a big PR exercise in an attempt to re-brand her company and shake off the shackles of her fathers and grandfathers legacy.

Fast forward to 2017, and on a remote farm high in the mountains of South Korea lives young teenager Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) with her grandfather Heebong (Byun Hee-bong). They were chosen as one of the 26 farms with which to raise a superpig ten years ago, and since then Mija has been lovingly caring for Okja every single day. They have forged a certain bond over that time, an understanding of each other, and a dependence upon one another as both have grown over the ensuing decade.

One day, the time comes when Mija and Okja are visited by representatives form the Mirando Corporation for the purposes of judging the superpig in the 26 strong competition. They are visited at their mountain farm by a small group of representatives that include spokesperson and extroverted celebrity zoologist Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal, hamming it up and clearly loving it!). They quickly inspect Okja and announce that she is the outright winner and will take her to New York. Meanwhile Heebong takes Mija to the burial site of her parents, and says that he was unable to buy Okja from Mirando, and so his saved up money was invested in a solid gold pig which he presents to her. Devastated by this news Mija returns home only to see the Mirando truck driving away down the mountain side with Okja inside. She gives chase but the truck is too far in front. She returns to the farm, collects some essentials, and leaves for Seoul to the Mirando office there to track down Okja.

Upon arriving in Seoul Mija forces her way past the Mirando Offices security in her search for Okja. From a window above she looks down on Okja being roughly man-handled and secured inside a truck ultimately bound for NYC. As the truck leaves down the side streets Mija gives chase on foot eventually jumping onto the roof of the moving truck. As the truck enters a road tunnel, it is intercepted by another truck of the same size, containing masked and hooded members of the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) who are seeking to liberate Okja from returning to the unscrupulous Mirando Corporation.

Okja is set free from the Mirando truck inside the tunnel with the intention of getting her inside the ALF truck, but chaos ensues as the panicked Okja goes on the rampage trashing several now parked up and backed up cars in the tunnel and frightening the bejeezus out of onlookers. The commotion continues out of the tunnel and down into a subway and a shopping precinct there where several shops come off worse for wear. However, the ALF come good and safely retrieve Okja and Mija before the armed authorities close in.

The ALF soon realise that Mija is Okja's owner, and leader of this ALF Group Jay (Paul Dano) tells her that their plan is to put a camera recording device in Okja's ear and let her be re-captured by the Mirando Corporation to show the world how brutally they treat their animals. In the meantime, social media coverage of Okja's rampage through Seoul has gone viral, and Lucy has to go into damage control with her company executive board members including her closest aide Frank Dawson (Giancarlo Esposito). Lucy hatches a plan to reunite Mija with Okja onstage in New York City so that the world can see what a loving, caring, sharing company Mirando really is. Meanwhile, at the test laboratory where Okja is taken she is forcibly bred with another superpig, and Johnny Wilcox extracts meat samples for testing purposes, all of which have a traumatic effect on the humble animal.

The day of the eagerly awaited carnival arrives and with it the revealing to an awaiting world of Okja as the competition winner, to be welcomed on stage by Mija, Lucy and Johnny. Mija has been tipped off by Jay in her hotel room that the ALF still plan on going ahead with liberating Okja while she is on stage and in front of a worldwide television and live audience. 

On stage Mija is reunited with Okja who heavily traumatised by her ordeals in the laboratory does not recognise the young girl and tries to attack her. More chaos ensues and the world watches on too as the ALF screen secretly filmed footage of Wilcox's mistreatment of Okja. The gathered crowd of onlookers soon turn against Johnny and Lucy, and in the ensuing fracas Jay, Mija and Okja and the other ALF Members - K (Steven Yeun), Red (Lily Collins), Blond (Daniel Henshall) and Silver (Devon Bostick) attempt to escape but are thwarted by armed heavies deployed by Nancy Mirando - sister of Lucy and former CEO of Mirando Corporation (also played by Tilda Swinton) who has been waiting in the wings for her sister to fail.

Okja is captured once again, and the held ALF members are beaten up, but Jay and K are able to escape. They take Mija to a huge slaughterhouse plant where they believe Okja will end up as various cuts of pre-packaged meat destined for the supermarket shelves. Eventually through the night time flood lights Mija sees Okja being led up a ramp and cattle prodded to be slaughtered. Finding entry into the slaughterhouse she sees many dead and butchered superpigs, hanging carcasses and scenes of horrifying animal treatment. She arrives just in time to see Okja being prepared for slaughter. She pleads with the man operating a huge machine that will administer a lethal shot to the head just as Nancy arrives with her entourage.

In turn Mija tries to reckon with Nancy that Okja should be spared, as they have grown up together and have formed a special bond. Nancy will have none of this, until Mija produces the solid gold pig from her grandfather and offers to buy Okja in exchange for the figurine. Nancy agrees seeing much greater value in the gold than one worthless superpig, and allows them to go home, but has Jay and K arrested. As Mija and Okja are exiting they witness many more superpigs being led to the slaughter.

Okja is a film that will make you think, and all credit must go to Director Bong Joon-ho for bringing his story to the big screen and to Netflix for allowing the Director's vision to be fully realised as he intended. This is a film about love and caring unconditionally on the one hand between the two central characters - a CGI superpig and the impressive South Korean child Actress Ahn Seo-hyun who carries the film with a professionalism and a grounded realism well beyond her years. On the other hand the film is about corporate greed, animal welfare, good versus evil, and the way in which we as humans think less and less about the animals we eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day and in vast quantities. The film has moments of real tenderness between Okja and Mija, has moments of tension and action too, and others that will make you smile and laugh out loud. It's a coming of age story, a heist action drama, and a cautionary tale of the little guys against the corporate behemoth. It is beautifully shot, with strong performances, impressive CGI, a compelling message and it will stay with you after the end credits have rolled . . . and wait for these, as there is also a post-credits sequence! 
-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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