Satirical fairy tale ‘Okja’ lets great actors go hog wild
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“Well, we’d have to be talkin’ about one charming … pig. I mean, he’d have to be 10 times more charming than that Arnold on ‘Green Acres,’ you know what I’m sayin’?” – Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules in “Pulp Fiction.”
The titular pig in “Okja” may or may not be 10 times more charming than Arnold, but there’s no disputing she’s about 10 times the SIZE of any pig we’ve ever seen on screens big or small.
We’re talking about a pig the size of a hippo. We’re talking about a gigantic pig with a head that more closely resembles a dog’s than a pig’s.
If that sounds creepy and disturbing, that’s because it IS creepy and disturbing. The enormous CGI pig in “Okja” is a gentle and sympathetic creature, and this film is a fable of sorts — but it’s not for the little ones. If the little ones watch this movie, they will be haunted in their dreams until they are no longer little.
The greatly gifted and consistently eccentric writer-director Bong Joon Ho’s “Okja” is an uneven but never complacent mix of fantastic fairy tale; social satire; heavy-handed commentary on corporate greed and our consumer-crazed culture, and bizarro action film. It also contains fascinating, wildly over-the-top performances from a couple of our best actors.
Oh, and it’s the second film this year to employ John Denver’s gentle 1970s ballad “Annie’s Song” as a countermeasure to a violent action sequence. (The first was “Free Fire.”) How is that even possible?
Lisping madly through her shiny braces, Tilda Swinton’s Lucy is the face of the Mirando Corp., an enormous (and of course nefarious) agrochemical corporation attempting to retool its image. (Lucy has a twin sister, also played by Swinton, who in both performances seems to be having a great time doing some sort of weird, winking–at-the-audience, deliberately overacting thing.)
Lucy announces the Mirando Corp. has figured out a way to genetically engineer a special breed of pig. Some 26 piglets will be placed with farmers around the world, and in 10 years we’ll find out who has grown the fattest, biggest, most amazing pig of all!
No, I’m serious. That’s the setup.
Fast-forward a decade. A girl named Mija (An Seo Hyun in a charming performance) has become best friend and caretaker for the amazing super-pig Okja. (Obviously Okja is a pure CGI creation, but it’s a pretty amazing CGI creation. We like this pig. We feel as if Mija is really interacting with this nice pig.) Theirs is an idyllic, sweet friendship, like something out of a benign children’s movie — but things get really dark and really weird when a sweaty, jerky TV host (Jake Gyllenhaal, bouncing all over the place as if he’s just downed an entire pot of strong coffee) shows up to take Okja to New York City, where she will eventually be turned into enough bacon to feed the entire city for a month.
Paul Dano shows up as the oddly sadistic leader of the Animal Liberation Front, a radical group with some questionable methods. (You know you’re in a strange territory when Paul Dano gives only the third weirdest performance in a film.) Gyllenhaal’s unhinged TV host subjects Okja to some cringe-inducing torture. Meanwhile, the plucky and resourceful Mija is in New York, trying to save her beloved companion from the slaughterhouse.
And then comes the bloody action sequence set to the sounds of “Annie’s Song.” It’s my second favorite bloody action sequence set to the sounds of “Annie’s Song” this year.
Netflix presents a film directed by Bong Joon Ho and written by Jon Ronson and Bong Joon Ho. No MPAA rating. Running time: 118 minutes. Premieres Wednesday on Netflix.