(director/writer: Bong Joon Ho; screenwriter: Jon Ronson/story by Bong Joon-ho; cinematographer: Darius Khondji; editors: Yang Jin-Mo/Meeyeon Han; music: Jaeil Jung; cast: An Seo Hyun (Mija), Tilda Swinton ( Lucy and Nancy Mirando), Paul Dano (Jay), Lily Collins (Red), Colm Hill (Sarcastic British Reporter), Giancarlo Esposito (Frank Dawson), Shirley Henderson (Jennifer), Jake Gyllenhaal (Johnny Wilcox), Jungeun Lee (voice of Okja), Byun Hee-bong (Hee Bong), Yoon Je-moon (Mundo Park), Steven Yeun (K), Daniel Henshall (Blond), Devon Bostick (Silver), Woo Shik-choi (Kim); Runtime: 120; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Bong Joon-ho, Doo-ho Choi, Dede Gardner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Jeremy Kleiner, Woo-Sik Seo, Ted Sarandos; Netflix; 2017-USA-in Korean & English, with English subtitles when needed)
“It’s another of the director’s weirdly provocative one-of-kind messy films that show how the real monsters on this planet might be the humans and not the animals.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
This uneven (it gets lost in silly tangents and its sentimental ending is tacky) social conscience farce about animal rights, the food we produce, the art of protesting and the malfeasance of big corporations, tells a subversive tale that shows the power of American corporations over international borders. Its broad comedy ranges from satirical to vulgar to just plain wacky. But the more it plays it straight as social commentary, the more cogent it seems.
It’s an original made by Netflix for fifty million dollars that was the streaming service’s first feature to compete at Cannes. The artistic and innovative filmmaker from South Korean Bong Joon Ho (“Snowpiercer”/”The Host”) directs from an unusual story he wrote and one that he co-wrote the screenplay with the British author Jon Ronson.
In 2007 Lucy Mirando (Tilda Switon) is the image conscience narcissistic and ruthless new CEO of the powerful, multi-national, agrochemical corporation, headquartered in NYC called the Mirando Corp., that was founded by her late psychopath father and was recently run by her more mean-spirited sister Nancy (also Swinton). Lucy hopes to put a friendlier face on the company for the public. Pretending that her company can solve the world’s hunger problems while really only concerned about how much profit it can make, Mirando launches a program that has her company supposedly discover an unusually gigantic pig in Chile and then in secret genetically manufacture super-sized pigs from that original pig and distribute 26 genetically modified super-piglets to locations around the world to be raised by traditional local farmers in the natural settings they usually raise their pigs. After ten years the giant pigs will be brought to their NYC headquarters where a parade will be held to announce the super-pig that looks and tastes the best.
The story picks up ten years later in 2017 on a secluded South Korean mountain top, where the orphaned 14 year-old Mija (An Seo Hyun) has raised with her grandfather (Byun Hee-bong) the super-pig named Okja (a CGI creation), who has become the size of a hippo.
Mija’s tranquil life is altered when the obnoxious hyper celebrity TV host, an animal expert and spokesman for the company, Dr. Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), suddenly appears at her farm and takes publicity pictures of the super pig and informs the child that the super-pig is to be transported to NYC to be put on display. This makes the child very angry and she is unwilling without a fight to let them take the super-pig she has bonded with away. In Seoul, at the company’s building, a pacifist environmental activist group led by the well-dressed, articulate and polite Jay (Paul Dano), the leader of the ALF (Animal Liberation Front), are beaten back in their attempt to rescue the super-pig. They then plan other actions in NYC, as they get Mija’s aid when they tell her Okja will be taken to the company’s slaughterhouse in Paramus, New Jersey, where her parts will be sold in the meat market. The radical plan is to place a camera inside Okja and expose the company as liars and of misinforming the public about the true nature of the super pigs.
The Big Apple rescue of Okja shows the piggish flunky executives at Mirando (Shirley Henderson and Giancarlo Esposito) doing all they can to get the pig to the slaughterhouse. On the other hand, the activists such as Red (Lily Collins) and K (Steven Yeun) do what they can to attack the secretive greedy corporate structure and let the meat eaters see how bloody the inside of a meat-factory looks in order to turn them off from ever eating meat again. They also warn the public against the dangers of eating genetically modified products that are produced artificially at factory farms (as does the real Monsanto company it seems to be referring to).
It’s another of the director’s weirdly provocative one-of-kind messy films that show how the real monsters on this planet might be the humans and not the animals.
REVIEWED ON 10/23/2017 GRADE: A-