By Rich Cline
As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea’s Bong Joon Ho, it’s perhaps unsurprising that the resulting movie defies genres. Not only has it sparked a debate about Netflix-produced films that people want to see in cinemas, but it’s also a story with huge political resonances laced through its premise. That said, this is essentially a movie about a girl and her beloved hippo-sized pig. And it’s warm, witty and remarkably engaging.
Swinton plays twins Nancy and Lucy, who take over their family’s multinational corporation after their ruthless father dies. With a desire to feed the world, Lucy has bred a series of gigantic pigs and placed them with farmers around the globe. Ten years later, her celebrity judge Johnny (Jake Gyllenhaal) crowns the winning pig as Okja, raised in the Korean mountains by teen Mija (An Seo Hyun) and her grandfather (Byun Heebong). But now Mija is horrified that they are taking her best friend away, so she sets out on an epic quest to Seoul to find Okja before she’s put on a plane to America. Meanwhile, a group of animal rights activists led by Jay (Paul Dano) is also trying to free Okja, and they hatch a plan to take Mija to New York and stage a very public rescue.
The film has a snappy, witty tone that propels us into the story, with moments of satirical comedy, earthy humour and some exhilarating, inventively staged action. And the reason it works so well is due to the title character: thanks to seamless digital effects, Okja emerges as a smart, playful and brave creature whose bond with Mija is very strong indeed. This adds a powerful emotional kick, balancing the cartoonish but still remarkably textured performances from Swinton and Gyllenhaal. By contrast, An nicely underplays Mija, while Dano and his gang (including Lily Collins and The Walking Dead’s Steven Yuen) add an intriguing edge of soulful compassion.
Basically, the story is so involving that we almost forget that this is a pungent social commentary. Bong is exploring the callousness of corporate globalism, in which companies pretend to save the planet only to exploit it further. So while Lucy tries to be a more caring company boss, Nancy’s cynicism (“If it’s cheap, they’ll eat it!”) is actually more honest about how corporations value profits over everything else. Yes, these are fairly intense themes, so the film’s comical tone can’t help but shift in much darker directions as it goes along, becoming downright distressing at times. But it’s a rare movie that entertains, pulls at the emotions and then leaves us thinking.
Facts and Figures
Production compaines: Plan B Entertainment, Lewis Pictures, Kate Street Picture Company
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Cast & Crew
Director: Bong Joon Ho
Producer: Ted Sarandos, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Bong Joon Ho
Screenwriter: Bong Joon Ho, Jon Ronson
Starring: Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando / Nancy Mirando, Paul Dano as Jay, Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija, Byun Hee-bong as Heebong, Steven Yeun as K, Lily Collins as Red, Yoon Je-moon as Mundo Park, Shirley Henderson as Jennifer, Daniel Henshall as Blond, Devon Bostick as Silver, Choi Woo-shik as Kim, Giancarlo Esposito as Frank Dawson, Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. Johnny Wilcox, Phillip Garcia as Diego Alejandro, Lynn Marocola as NYPD Police Officer, Myles Humphus as Black Chalk Mercenary, Bettina Skye as Pig Balloon Handler, Kristoffe Brodeur as NYPD, Lena Avgust as Parade Goer, Jamar Greene as Commanding Officer, J.C. Williams as Mercenary, Michael D. Joseph as Protestor, Milo Shandel as Executive #1, Boyd Ferguson as Translator, Cory Gruter-Andrew as Teenage Taster, Barbara Wallace as Woman Taster, Eha Urbsalu as Lucy Mirando double, Rebecca Husain as Jennifer’s Assistant, Zachary Belgard as Parade Patron, Adam Auslander as Pig Balloon Handler #2, Pavla Tan as Off Camera Mija Performer, Marian Volk as High School Student, Marshall Axt as Parade Goer, T. Sahara Meer as Tattoo Woman, Colm Hill as Sarcastic British Reporter, Carl Montoya as Blond Double, Martin Lo Rimorin as ALF Soldier, Amber Snow as Nancy Mirando’s Personal Stylist, Ann Evans as Nancy Mirando’s Personal Hair Stylist, Rickland Powell as Pig Balloon Handler, Michelle Clarke-Brown as Supervisor, Justin McGriff as Parade Patron, Nancy Amelia Bell as Elderly Reporter, Alex Kabel as Feedyard Worker, Andreas Fronk as Black Chalk Mercenary