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    July 2, 2017

    NETFLIX'S OKJA IS A HEART-BREAKING REMINDER OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY

    Eccentric and extremely playful South Korean director, Bong Joon-ho returns with a brand new movie that pokes on the shady food industry and their capitalist business nature, while also putting the spotlight on animal rights and media manipulation issues. Joon-ho is almost like the Eastern version of Wes Anderson, often offering wacky narration on social classes ("Snowpiercer"), environmentalism ("The Host"), immigration ("Haemoo") and psychological state-driven empathy ("Mother"). "Okja", currently shown on the streaming platform Netflix, is not at all different from his usual staples.


    In fact, "Okja" is nothing less than a gem - brilliantly coaxing of the idea it tries to present and interjected in within its timeframe a full persona, black humor, realism, and emotion, The media platform needs this to be a hit original movie, after strings of disappointment offering on its recent full-length feature contents. Sure, they did. By the way, spoiler alerts incoming.

    STORY DEPICTS THE HEART-BREAKING SITUATION OF THE WORLD WE LIVE IN

    It is a movie about the eponymous character in the discussion; a super pig rear by a traditionalist farmer on the mountain range in rural South Korea and his grand-daughter Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). Okja's existence is given very early in the movie. Apparently, Okja is one of the 26 super pigs developed (genetically engineered of course) for a noble cause to solve food problem by a questionable and stereotypical agro-chemical industrialist Mirando Corporation (must be Monsanto in disguise), under the watch of its CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swindon). These porcines are sent to far-flung countries around the world to be rear, and ten years later, one of them will be crowned the best pig. One of these, of course, is given to Mija and his grandfather, who represent South Korea with pride.

    The introductory scene is absolutely figurative and very vividly an allegory to the current state of media manipulation and PR stunt constantly used by the corporation to cover up the true nature. Jake Gyllenhaal even plays Dr. Johnny Wilcox, a zealous zoologist and weird TV personality roped in by Mirando to MC this whole PR front. After a while, it is not that difficult to perceive that something is not right with these 26 super pigs (I repeat, genetically modified). No, they do not transform into Kaiju or super freaky monsters; but rather into commodities or properties, valuable raw materials that will eventually turn into spam, ham, jerky or tenderloin on a ceramic plate. No fancy pig pageants, in the end, guys.


    Another element depicted in this movie is on Mirando's treatment to Mija and his grandfather. It cannot be more accurate in depicting the allegations of how many big corporations are treating the farmers or laborers that produce raw materials for final goods. Starbucks and their coffee farmers, sweat shops for Nike and so on. The fact is this - farmers remain to be paid less for every amount of crop or livestock they grow, even if incentives has been raised over the past years.

    To counter the corporatist treatment on Okja, a group of animal rights called Animal Liberation Front (I see PETA all over this), led by a persuasive but calm Jay (Paul Dano) comes to the rescue. The second half of the movie is dedicated on how the Mija and the group come together to rescue Okja. It is natural to presume these rights groups may have agenda on their own (we know how PETA can be wrong most of the time). "Okja" does not give much less pleasing burden to ALF, although there is little internal strife of beliefs, credo, and opinions between Jay and his followers; who also comprised of Red (Lily Collins) and K (Steven Yuen) among others.

    BUT THE REAL STORY IS LOVE

    The elements about the greed of capitalism can be very ironic, but "Okja" also devote most of its running time to tell the real story -  which is love. Okja's relationship and presence in Mija's life are genuinely established. No thanks in part of Joon-ho's careful and meticulous set-up through his screenplay with Welsh TV writer Jon Ronson. Mija's set-up is quite straightforward. After all, the relationship between a child and a pet is almost always cast in within a sad history.

    Orphaned as her parents died when she was still young (no backstory was given), Mija's life revolves only around her grandpa and Okja. Knowing Okja since she was four, it is obvious that Mija somehow regards Okja not only as her pet but also her playing buddy. Okja may be a super pig (although looks more like a hippo and sized like an elephant), but she does have soft spot for Mija. Both are loner and orphan.

    Turns out their friendship is fated for only ten years, as mentioned and agreed to terms and conditions earlier. After ten years, Okja should be ripe, and Dr. Wilcox and his corporatist come to take Okja away. Mija is clearly devastated and even more so, after his grandfather openly informed her that he has been lying to her about the nature of who actually owns Okja. That's Intellectual Property, my friend, and it is a b***h in many senses. The unwillingness of Okja to let Okja go is what fuel the story forward. "Okja" can also be viewed like the Spielberg's classic E.T., in which both share a common notion of how a child essentially achieves moral insight and coming out of age with a non-human character.

    OKJA IS A MUCH NEEDED HIT FOR NETFLIX

    "Okja" is another well-pleasing social narration from a well-respected director. Joon-ho has been very consistent in his movie, by delivering a well-structured, simple yet allegory-filled plot and dark humor on where it is appropriate. There is a sense of forthcoming lingering around its star-studded ensemble casting which proves to be another excellent chance for Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal embracing wacky characters. They are fun to watch and the cast, in general, and especially Ahn is absolutely brilliant. But I do hear on some sections that Gyllenhaal's full lunacy does not resonate well.


    Being more of an adventure movie than action-filled, there are not much high-octane action sequences for you to watch, perhaps the action highlights only occur once in awhile. So, don't expect Bayhem or Godzilla fist-fighting in the mix. The CGI recreation of the super pigs are not at odds, rather simplified and well-match with the picture.

    Of course, "Okja" is not flawless. The flaws ironically and mainly came from the director's amazing vision. In the case of "Okja", it feels almost like Joon-ho is throwing everything to the wall, everything in his sleeve to try to impress. The result can occasionally come to feel overlong (118 minutes of drama) and awkward. And the constant bombardment of capitalist plots can feel convoluting, tonally tricky, and disgusting to many viewers. Do watch out for the last 30 minutes because the mood becomes excessively "violent and graphic".

    For me, "Okja" deserves a solid 4 out of 5.

    So what does it mean? That Netflix finally has another one damn good movie on its contents? Yes, they do - especially in their prolific resume, nothing from the past 2 years can really match the power of brilliant as in their first adventure into the movie business with 2015's Cary Fukunaga's Oscar-extremely underrated "Beasts of No Nation". Here's a prayer to this August's Death Note which is shrewd in so many controversies.

    A toast for Okja, the super pig that is mesmerizing and soulful. Fun fact, there is apparently a joke that flies under without much notice.
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