By Quentin Basnaw
So a young girl has a giant pig monster for a friend. The unsavory corporation that created the monster (named Okja) wants the monster. The ALF (Animal Liberation Front), a group that dresses like insurgents but only care about saving animals, wants to save the monster. A TV reality spokesperson wants to make money off the monster. A woman wants to prove her family wrong by having the monster as a successful food product. And so on.
Written and directed by Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer), Okja excels in many areas. Joon-Ho takes the route of longer, sustained shots throughout this film. Whether the action involves people talking, people running, or trucks driving by one another, there are quite a few wonderful takes that I was happy to see. In fact, every frame has this vibrancy to it; whether it’s emotional, funny, action packed, or stationary, it all feels like a live action anime film. The landscapes are colorful, detailed, and engrossing. Different outfits are wonderful and stand out, and all the characters are wonderfully animate in their own ways.
Speaking of the characters, the cast is amazing, but not all of their characters are as good as the others. We have Tilda Swinton (Snowpiercer) playing Lucy Mirando, leader of the Mirando corporation. Her performance as an insecure woman obsessed with public image is wonderful. Paul Dano (Prisoners) plays Jay, leader of the ALF. He plays the role with a comedic yet serious edge that I can’t quite describe; my point is that Paul Dano is once again fantastic at everything in this film. Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) plays Frank, a manipulative “advisor” and business associate of Lucy Mirando. Esposito echoes Gus Fring from Breaking Bad, if he wasn’t a murderer. He plays the role deftly, and with a comedic edge that helps fuel the satire of the whole movie. We also have Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) as K, a new, young, enthusiastic member of ALF. Jake Gyllenhaal plays an eccentric TV celebrity who’s an eccentric, but fake, Steve Erwin. Since he is portrayed by Jake Gyllenhaal, I have nothing but praise to give to the character and the performance.
Going against all these talented actors is Ahn Seo-hyun, playing Mija. She is a determined young girl who wants her pig monster best friend back, and will go to any length to accomplish this. All of the characters mentioned shine and are enjoyable. The rest don’t. They are not bad, but aren’t particularly memorable. That isn’t a huge problem overall, but the likes of Devin Bostick (The 100) feel wasted as a background characters.
Despite this minor problem, Okja is a great time. It’s filled with more humor and heart than I was expecting and I was consistently entertained and laughing repeatedly. As stated earlier, the film feels like a live action anime film, and I mean that in the best way possible. It has fun with its premise, and by the end of the movie, tugs on your heartstrings and presents an interesting take on corporatism, consumerism, and friendship. You can find Okja on Netflix.