Okja | Boon Joon Ho's genre-bending Netflix fable offers food for thought

Okja An Seo Hyun
(Image credit: Netflix)

Okja An Seo Hyun

A plucky youngster striving to save a beloved creature from harm is a familiar enough story. Yet Bong Joon Ho’s bizarre tale of a 13-year-old girl and a giant super-pig is quite unique, even if it does share some cinematic DNA with Spielberg’s E.T. and a host of other films.

Loveable, loyal and highly intelligent, Okja the super-pig is as big as a hippo and has been reared for ten years in the idyllic mountains of South Korea by orphaned Mija (An Seo Hyun) and her grandfather (Byun Heebong). But Okja is part of a global contest to combat world hunger devised by a colossal multinational corporation headed by Tilda Swinton’s purportedly idealistic CEO. Now, the company wants to return Okja to New York for the climax of the competition.

Okja Tilda Swinton as Lucy Mirando

Rambunctious havoc

Mija’s efforts to be reunited with Okja, which involve her with a rag-tag band of animal-rights activists led by Paul Dano’s apologetic eco-terrorist Jay, go from episodes of slapstick adventure – including some rambunctious havoc in a Korean shopping mall – to far darker sequences in New York.

The film’s shifts in mood, from cute antics to bleak drama, via farcical comedy and anti-capitalist satire, will disconcert viewers looking for family-friendly fun. Okja the film isn’t always as cuddly as its animal protagonist. And Jake Gyllenhaal’s OTT performance as a squeaky voiced TV celebrity vet, the corporation’s public face, is immensely annoying. But that won’t stop you rooting for Mija and Okja, who is in any case an astonishing CGI creation. And there’s no denying the film provides enough food for thought to make you think twice about that next bacon sandwich.

Certificate 15. Runtime 131 mins. Director Bong Joon Ho

Okja debuts on Netflix on Wednesday 28 June.


Jason Best

A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.