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Okja

For 10 idyllic years, young Mija has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja - a massive animal and her best friend - at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But that changes when family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation takes Okja for themselves. With no particular plan, Mija sets out on a rescue mission.
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WHAT ARE PEOPLE SAYING?

Billy Donoso Profile picture for Billy Donoso

I have a hard time with 'Okja,' and it's a similar difficulty to the one I have with 'Snowpiercer.' Bong Joon-ho was a sociology major and once said at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival that he "know[s] very little sociology but cares a lot about society and the issues in it." I don't expect him to be an academic in his work, as his natural proclivity is clearly towards dark humor and the hypocritical ironies of socio-economic and socio-political systems. I'm okay with him taking artistic license and weaving elements together in somewhat unrealistic ways to tell the story; in fact, I truly commend his ability to take risks and be bold with so much frenetic energy in his films. 'Parasite' is a masterpiece. But I just don't know how to approach a movie like 'Okja,' which is a hodgepodge of sociopathic melodrama from Jake Gyllenhaal's character, an obnoxiously blunt series of lectures from Paul Dano's character, and scathing satire of Tilda Swinton's character, while they drag along the virtually voiceless Ahn Seo-yun's character. It is impossible to see how any of these characters could actually mesh in the environment they're presented in, but they are pushed along at rapid-fire speed to accommodate the plot so that we don't have time to dwell on the tonal incoherence. For something as philosophically complex as animal welfare, the genre bending of this movie just goes too far to present any comprehensible and serious information to the dialogue. The central conundrum they present is a genuinely interesting thought experiment: designing a creature that 1) leaves minimal footprint on the environment; 2) consumes less food and forage, producing less excretions, 3) tastes good, and 4) has the capability of ending human hunger. It's a fascinating premise and frankly, a better alternative to the beef, poultry, and pork industries we have now, and yet there is zero debate about the morality of such a system. It is instantly condemned by what amounts to a 'Winnie the Pooh' kind of sentimentality. It's hard to dislike this movie because I agree with a lot of what they have to say and the evil at the core of buzzing along like a drone in society oblivious to the injustices done to animals every day, but it's not a pleasurable or satisfying experience to be talked at or be expected to hate ill-constructed caricatures from the bottom of my heart. I just don't have the capacity to hate what I don't believe could ever be real, and the level of fantasy in this story is just why I can't take 'Okja' seriously.

Meagen Tajalle Profile picture for Meagen Tajalle

I hesitate to describe a film about the cruelty of the livestock industry as delightful, but as Bong Joon Ho leans fully into the absurd, this film is as entertaining as any film can be. The performances are pitch perfect, with particular stand-out work from Paul Dano and Jake Gyllenhaal. Stephen Yeun is downright fantastic as well, and it's always exciting to see Tilda Swinton transform for a role. This film takes on its subject matter with an attention to detail and unique tone that it feels like only Bong Joon Ho can achieve. It's serious when it needs to be, but every scene makes room for character-driven humor. The richness of the world of this story is engrossing, and it stands on its own while making clear and explicit connections to the world around us. This may be my favorite Bong Joon Ho film, but it is perhaps tied with The Host because of the directorial balancing act that both films demonstrate.

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WHAT ARE CRITICS SAYING?

60

Time Out London by Dave Calhoun

The creature effects are charming.... But the pig-chasing antics and cartoonish corporate nastiness that dominate much of the film become seriously grating.
80

New York Magazine (Vulture) by Emily Yoshida

The film is packed with so many strange gems of moments, and while a few feel like Bong losing the plot (specifically any time Okja decides to loosen her bowels) it always snaps back together.
83

IndieWire by Eric Kohn

As with Snowpiercer, this is a story almost too eager to fire in multiple directions, sometimes with messy results, veering from broad satire to softer exchanges with little regard for finding balance between the two.
100

The Playlist by Jessica Kiang

This is a gorgeously realized popcorn movie of the most satisfying, comforting, restorative kind: full as its heart is, it has a lot on its mind, yet you’d also quite like to curl up on its belly and doze in the sun.
70

Variety by Peter Debruge

Downright charming at times and irrepressibly gonzo at others, Okja hews to an all-too-familiar trajectory.
60

The Telegraph by Tim Robey

Okja is plenty of fun, and smart around the edges, but the girl-and-her-pig stuff can drag, and it feels like it’s pressing for resonance more than properly achieving it.

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