She has beautiful eyes. As 14-year-old Mija caresses her nose while resting on her massive face, Okja's eyes reflect pure loyalty towards her human. She lets Mija sleep on her belly as they both rest for the afternoon after their daily chores and later also takes the fall (literally) for her, in the mountains of South Korea.
Their world is perfect as they retire for the day with fish stew and rice. It's almost too perfect, and that's when the Americans show up. Jake Gyllenhaal is in costume borrowed from a Sacha Baron Cohen movie-set, and things are about to get uglier than the dialogue in a Cohen film.
Netflix's Okja directed by Bong Joon-Ho (Snowpiercer), is the story of a genetically modified pig (resembling a hippo) reared by an American corporation and left in the wilderness till they're ripe enough to be killed and consumed. 26 hybrid pigs are being bred around the world over 10 years, which includes our very own Okja. The film sees a little farm girl from South Korea take on the corporation to save her pet pig. There's a scene where the giant animal torpedoes through an underground shopping mall in Seoul - giving us a clear picture of Mother Nature pounding capitalism one step at a time. It involves themes of animal activism, corporate greed and the ethics of being a non-vegetarian in 2017. The film even becomes a journey where childlike innocence gets slaughtered.
The tone of Okja borders on the absurd, as it quickly shifts from the comedic to adventurous to full-power brutal. It confronts its viewers with the ethics of meat consumption, and when the debate involves an animal you've grown to love during the film's running time, it's hard not to be invested. Paul Dano salvages some of the American pride, as he heads a group called the Animal Liberation Front, determined to free Okja and expose the cruelty inflicted by multinational corporations on their livestock. As they enter the New Jersey facility, and the camera pans to the thousands of Okja's kind being held behind barbed wire, it's hard to not feel for the animals stuck in a concentration camp of their own.
The best role of the film definitely goes to the mighty Tilda Swinton, playing the eccentric corporate honcho Lucy Mirando. From the very first scene she steps on a pedestal, and people help her get ready to face the world. And face the world she does, as she perfectly delivers her plan of 'saving the world' by solving food scarcity with the help of these hybrids. We're repeatedly told about the falling reputation of the Mirando corporation which only raises the stakes for the scheme to work. In steps Lucy with her friendly towards mother nature (the hybrids will have a lesser footprint), which culminates into a decade long PR exercise.
Lastly, Bong Joon-Ho's film is carried on the young shoulders of Seo-Hyeon fighting the world to save her sibling-like pet pig. In the process, she finds out more about the world than she had bargained for. The sequence towards the end as she walks out of the New Jersey facility, she is no longer the child who entered. The film asks questions about our food habits, which remain with us long after we've finished watching it. The director executes some truly brilliant action sequences, one of which involves Okja being tugged out of a running truck.
Being hailed as the best original film to have come out of Netflix, I wouldn't bother with definitive pronouncements like those. However, I would strongly recommend getting on the hype train for this one. You'll be rewarded.