Tuesday, 4 July 2017

'Okja' Review

'Okja' was selected to be screened at the illustrious Cannes festival and as the screening started, it was met with boos from the crowd. This was due to the film being made from Netflix and an opinion was formed that the streaming service was killing cinema. However, once it had finished, it received a standing ovation, showing that Netflix is only helping the current state of cinema by providing a truly great film.

In 2007,  the Mirando cooperation set up a competition where 26 super pigs were sent to 26 different farmers all over the world. These pigs were to be farmed for 10 years before the winner was announced in New York. Mija (Seo-Hyeon Ahn) lives with her grandfather who has one of these pigs named Okja and she has grown up with the creature, growing to love and care for her. Once the 10 years have been completed, Mirando returns to collect Okja to the despair of Mija. Once Okja is taken away, an animal activist group reveal the true intentions of the company and with Mija, they look to rescue Okja and stop the Mirando cooperation from their evil doings.

The kerfuffle surrounding the film being released by Netflix is nothing but embarrassing. As film lovers, we should welcome all platforms that make original and quality content. That's exactly what they have done with their emotional latest project, 'Okja'.

As the film starts, it is fairly lighthearted. The wonderful Tilda Swinton starts it off by explaining the origin and concept of the competition for these pigs in an informative but also light-hearted way. After this, we get to see the sweetness of the creature as we are introduced to both Okja and Mija, with the pair spending their time exploring the woods and catching fish together. Okja is made to seem like a normal dog, just massively oversized with her tendencies whilst playing, sleeping and eating. These scenes of the two together really help build the relationship between the two, making you care for both of them which is helped by a scene where Okja saves Mija from death. Apart from this, the tone is kept rather fun as it develops its two main characters and the relationship early on.

That being said, the tone does change quite dramatically once Okja is to be taken back to the Mirando company. We see the heartbreak that Mija goes through once she realises what has happened to her best friend and she immediately fights with her grandfather and sets off to be reunited with Okja. This really helps solidify Mija who is played wonderfully by South Korean actress Seo-Hyeon Ahn as she is shown to be a strong and independent character despite being at such a young age. The threats to Okja are made even more clear with the introduction of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front), a group of animal activists who want to free Okja from the Mirando's grasps. The group unveils new knowledge about the Mirando's intentions, adding more drama and need for them to hurry in their quest. The film goes through many twists and turns, each with plenty of drama and emotion to keep you thoroughly engaged in the story.

The Mirando company by their motives do sound quite generic, their own personal greed powers them to do whatever they want to reach fame and wealth. However, that may be true, in this situation it works perfectly well. The evil co-operation Mirando look to use this super pig competition as an elaborate cover up what they are doing behind the scenes. Due to the kind of business that they look to use Okja and the other pigs for, it does draw them some easy heat as nobody is a fan of animals being treated unfairly. However, the film uses the business very well, using gruesome imagery to leave an effective mark on the viewer. If a cliche is done well, then it isn't a problem and that is the case in 'Okja'.

One of the film's key strengths is how well written the characters, their motivations and actions are. The protagonists Mija and Okja are made out to be completely innocent making you feel and care for them being stuck in such a horrible situation. The villains, portrayed by Swinton and Gyllenhaal are used well, being charismatic and interesting yet still making you dislike and root against them. But it is the ALF who have handled arguably the best. They are technically the heroes but they aren't perfect. The members of the group the complete good guys who do everything fair. In fact, there are many conflicting situations that make you question their morals to an extent. This happens none more so than in a scene involving Steven Yeun where he betrays the trust of many others. The good intentions are there, but the actions they take aren't always in the same bracket. 'Okja' creates one of the most interesting dynamics I've seen which helps bring a true harsh feeling of reality to the film. An added bonus is that the characters are all given distinctive looks that help them stand out and be even more memorable. Tilda Swinton has one of the most distinctive looks with a strange combo of braces and white hair. The ALF are given slick looks with small differences such as Paul Dano's slick suit look and Lily Collins' bright red hair. These characters are memorable and cool and may possibly be your new favourite characters.

That feeling of reality is also which makes it very emotional for the viewer. You can imagine these events taking place in real life, with there being many people to do what they can to make themselves look great when behind the scenes, there are much worse things going on. The finale is truly heartbreaking as we see the large production of these super pigs. The ending brings one of the most emotional and sad moments of the year, with the great use of CGI playing a key role in this. If you are a meat eater, you will definitely feel a bit guilty for being so after watching this film.

There are some clear weaknesses though and very surprisingly, it is from one of the more famous cast members. Jake Gyllenhaal plays the eccentric TV show host and face of the Mirando company  Dr. Johnny Wilcox who at first seems like quite a quirky villain. However, this schtick starts to become quite annoying at times and felt quite out of place in a film that was dealing with a serious storyline. Although Tilda Swinton's character had moments of humour, it was mainly through quick wit or remarks she made. Gyllenhaal seemed to be too cartoony which seemed like the wrong way to take the character. Another weak point comes again from the humour as the film relies on fart and poop jokes quite early on. These don't work too well yet are repeated and feel really out of place throughout the runtime.

Bong Joon-ho made a name for himself in the Western world with 'Snowpiercer' and he has only built on that with 'Okja'. This is a tremendously well-crafted story, filled with great performances, humour, and emotion. This is the kind of film people should be seeing as it will strike you on all levels, delivering high, enjoyable, entertaining moments as well as those that will have you fighting back the tears. There are great characters, the CGI is used very well and most importantly, the film has heart. This is one of the year's best films so far and is one that many should definitely seek out.

Final Verdict = 

So have you seen 'Okja'? If so, what did you think of the film? I hope that this review was useful for if you were planning on watching this film or not. Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my review, it is much appreciated!

By Angus McGregor