by Adam Riske
Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.
Okja is the biggest foray into feature films to date from Netflix. Bringing in South Korean auteur Bong Joon-ho and an international cast with many recognizable faces (including Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Lily Collins), Netflix has commendably allowed Bong to remain idiosyncratic and afforded him an expansive scale in his telling of a friendship between a young girl named Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), who lives in the mountains with her giant pig-like pet named Okja. Various groups have interest in Okja, ranging from animal right activists to a powerful, multi-national company ran by Swinton, who wants Okja and her species to sell as high-quality commodity foods.
Okja is a bit of a high-wire act. It’s never too much of anything, but sometimes it’s not enough of some things. I am of two minds on the titular creature, who I thought looked less like a giant pig and more like a hippo version of Clifford the Big Red Dog. It’s cute and I responded to it in the way I respond to most animals in movies (e.g. connection with their soulful eyes, admiring their beauty in their natural habitat etc.), but the visual effect of the creature never comes alive as much as I wanted it to. Unfortunately, I think the design would work better in a movie theater than streaming on your television. Even the best HD presentation has a way of sapping the majesty from visual effects when they’re shrunk out of the intended scale. Then again, there’s a powerful sequence towards the end of the film (no spoilers) where we see many of these creatures, and the context, the implication, and the build-up to that moment render it very powerful despite the waning connection I had to the lead creature. The movie works very much in that way as a whole. There’s not one performance or moment that makes the movie soar, but it plugs along and it’s always interesting to watch, selling its big moments just well enough. Okja is the definition of a three out of four star movie.
Snowpiercer, Okja feels more basic and less emotional than those previous gems, but it’s a film worth celebrating because it’s the new Bong Joon-ho movie and any time we get a new work from a filmmaker of his talent we should give it the proper analysis and respect. Okja gets my recommendation and I give it a “Mark Ahn.” Not every movie has to be “the” movie.
Come back next week for Rob DiCristino’s return as we review multi-talented genius Edgar Wright’s, latest “the” one and only Baby Driver. See it this weekend and leave a comment with what you thought of Okja below. Until next time, these seats are reserved.