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Okja – Bong Joon-ho and Netflix’s summer sweetness – The Lost Reel

Innocence on the side

by Aritra Dey

An unique bond, too special to be comprehended.

TLR Rating: 8 1/2 Reels.


Purity of soul is a rarely applauded these days. With the critics far more disposed towards films with a ‘deeper meaning’, the ‘feel-good’ genre is slowly going extinct in the list of ‘appreciated movies’. ‘La La Land’ was immensely popular among the audience, as was ‘Lion’. But several critics had panned these films, citing them to be ‘formulated’ and ‘boring’. In such an environment, the South Korean maverick, Bong Joon-ho decided to make a simple film about a child and her lovable pet. ‘Okja’ released on 28th June this year on Netflix (Trust that channel to strike gold) and is slowly creeping its way into the hearts of the audience world-wide.

Paul Dano was calm, composed and not villainous.

The Story

Okja’ is a super pig, created by the food conglomerate Mirando to reap gigantic profits for these genetically enhanced creatures. To promote this venture, the company decides to give 26 such specimens to farmers all over the world to raise them using their traditional methods. Orphan girl Miya lives with her grandfather in the lush green mountains of Korea. After receiving Okja as their ‘ward’, the little girl finds a constant companion in the super-pig. The film focuses on their relationship, the hurdles which come rushing in and culminates on a bittersweet note.

A pig running amok in a shopping mall doesn’t seem to be that bad an idea; unless it is ‘Okja’.

The Theme

In its basic form, ‘Okja’ is a perfect children’s movie. It shows the selfless love between Miya and Okja, their unwilling separation and Miya’s determination to reunite with her best friend. Bong Joon-ho isn’t a man to lay low on the deeper meaning though. ‘Okja’ is a fight against the raging capitalism which is engulfing the world rapidly. The conglomerates think about their purse only and nothing else quite matters to them. The sense of decency and moral ethics take a background. Humanism is simply a method of promotion. Bong Joon-ho stresses on these points quite emphatically throughout the tenure of his movie.

The film has been misinterpreted by a few critics as a ‘vegan propaganda’. ‘Okja’ is far from such a childish theme. It pits morality against greed and asks the audience to be the sole judge. It speaks about staying within the laws of nature. ‘Okja‘ berates those who inflict pain on the animals by going against it. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is the primary law of nature and ‘Okja’ never goes against it.

Ahn Seo-hyun was simply charming as Miya.

The Characters

Miya is the perfect child protagonist. She is extremely adorable and her spirit is undaunted. The ghosts of her dead parents seldom haunt her as she has made peace with her loss. Her love for Okja is unquestionable and she is prepared to go to any length to save her.

Jay, the leader of the Animal Liberation Front, is upright and ideological. He has a code of honor and never betrays that. His love for animals and his commitment to his mission drives his life.

The twins, Lucy and Nancy Mirando, were entertaining enough as the antagonists. Lucy was the eccentric one while Nancy was the cruel one. Both of them were greedy and craved for the spotlight as astute business-people often are. However, the reason behind the twins’ split was unanswered and no great character depth was offered.

 Dr. Johnny, the crazy zoologist and TV personality is hilarious. He is amazingly comical and chillingly cruel. The scientist seems to have stepped out right from the comic books.

Bong Joon-ho painted a wonderful friendship in a serene scenery.

The Direction

It is astounding to see someone who had made a thriller (probably the best till date) like ‘Memories of Murder’, create something as purely emotional as ‘Okja’. The film is littered with moments which points to an expert director. The relationship between the pig and Miya was explored beautifully amidst the lush green hills. Bong Joon-ho narrates the story at a brisk pace and never allowes the tempo to fall at any point. Like ‘Memories of Murder’, he familiarized the audience with the countryside of Korea. Simply he makes the viewer fall in love with the pig and its innocence.

He gave certain moments in ‘Okja’ which would leave a mark on the audience’s mind for sure. The climax is one of such scenes. The captured pigs know their fate and squeal for help when Miya walks past with Okja. She wants to rescue them all but is helpless. One pig pushes its piglet through the electrified fence so that it can be rescued. That particular act is overwhelmingly emotional and extremely symbolic and is bound to bring a tear or two in the eyes of the viewer.

Tilda Swinton might not have been at her very best, but she did justice to her bit part; the arrogant and eccentric twins.

The Performance

Ahn Seo-hyun was absolutely charming as Miya. It takes quite a lot of guts to portray a character like Miya and the little girl simply nailed it. She was cute and determined, strong and emotional. It is amazing to see the talent she has. The world will be looking at her to deliver such brilliant performances in the future.

The noted Hollywood trio of Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal provided able support to the film. Critics haven’t been easy on Jake who played Dr. Johnny. Gyllenhaal has been stereotyped unfairly as the leading character in thriller movies. This role is a testament to his versatility. He was comical, crazy and cruel as the moment demanded him to be. To be frank, it was quite refreshing to see him in such a role. Tilda Swinton wasn’t great but then again, her character wasn’t a well-written one to begin with. She did what she could and it wasn’t bad. Paul Dano was calm and determined. He was simply awesome in ‘There Will be Blood’ and this character never offered him the scope to eclipse that.

Jake Gyllenhaal played a very different character in Dr. Johnny, the crazy zoologist.

The Reception

It did receive a share of boos at its Cannes premiere but that was directed at the technical glitches during the presentation. A four minute standing ovation at the end speaks volumes about the impact ‘Okja’ made on the attendees. Several critics have panned the film. But for the reasons cited above, you can ignore the comments. Bong Joon-ho gives us a film to be cherished; to fall asleep with a smile on our faces. ‘Okja’ instills pig-love once again after a certain ‘Babe: A Pig in the city’.

Useful Tip: Don’t miss the post-credits scene.

The author is a software engineer at Infosys and a passionate film and football buff, with a special interest in deciphering the literature behind the movies.

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