Thursday, 13 July 2017

Film Review: Okja

A little girl goes on a rescue mission to get her best friend, a giant pig back from an evil corporation.

This is my review for film Okja.

Poster by Netflix

So what is Okja about? First, check out these two trailers:

This film follows a little girl, Mija (played by Ahn Seo Hyun) and her gentle giant pig, Okja. Okja is a mutated, generic-engineered product of Mirando Corporate, a multi-national company. As the company takes the giant pig away from the little girl, she decides to go after them. On her way, Mija runs into animal activist group that wants to expose the powerful company and promise to help her rescue Okja.

Okja was directed by Bong Joon Ho, a South Korean director. In case you don't know, here are a few other well-known films written and directed by him: Snowpiercer, Mother, The Host, and Memories of Murder. Snowpiercer was the first movie by Joon Ho in which English was primarily spoken, making Okja his second. Tilda Swinton is in both Snowpiercer and Okja.

I think Okja is an exceptionally told story. This movie does not aim to convert people to veganism, but merely a truthful depiction that invites viewers to make a connection to the characters. Director Joon Ho and his team only show you a glimpse of actually occurrence in a slaughterhouse. Yes, for research, they did go to a slaughterhouse, which was indeed a traumatic and impactful experience for the director as he remained a vegan for two months and is currently trying to gradually become a pescatarian (read more here and here).

A brilliant factor of this film is it can be hilarious and serious all at the same time. Jokes and serious conversations are intermingled. This flow of humour and sober moments is effortless and nonstop. I cried and laughed watching Okja. The chase in Seoul cracked me up. Korean humour lies in its silliness, which is something I always love about South Korean movies. I watch my fair amount of South Korean films, so no, I'm not bullshitting just to sell you Okja. Since this is a Korean-English with English predominantly spoken, there are things that can easily be lost in translation. One example is this joke in Korean, that unless you speak both languages, you won't be able to notice. Find out which joke I'm talking about in this article (contains spoilers obviously). Also you may want to read this interview with Steven Yeun, who director Bong Joon Ho wrote this part for!

Film without a good story is often a guaranteed disaster or maybe not to that extent, but usually forgettable. Luckily, not only the story of Okja is great, but its storytelling is outstanding also. You can't help, but care so much about Mija and Okja, especially Okja as the story unfolds, you start connecting with them on an emotional level, and maybe on an personal level if you've ever lost a pet before. Yes, supposed to be a giant pig, but you can see that Okja has characteristic of a pet - she loves to play around, snuggle, and is very goofy and sweet. This portrayal reminds viewers of a pure relationship between non-human and human animals and how it's often forgotten in this detached world we're living in. Farm animals or your dogs and cats, they are all beings with emotions and no one kind is more lovable, less important than another. The line between farm animals and pets is so blurred here that it's hard to ignore the hard truth of how humans have come to treat animals. The film challenges you to think about this relationship.

If you don't get it by now, I'm telling you straight: watching Okja, the audiences are essentially invited on an emotional rollercoaster. In my opinion, one of the most powerful details of this movie is the high frequency of focus on Okja's eyes. You had better believe that "the eyes are the windows to the soul". I could remember tears just started welling up in my eyes whenever I looked into Okja's eyes. Okja may not speak the human language, but you feel/see her emotions vividly just through such expressive eyes. This speaks volume about a feature many of us ignore or forget when seeing an animals. Look an animal in the eyes and you can see if they're happy or sad or suffering. This certainly applies to humans, too of course.

The rollercoaster doesn't stop there of course. As I mentioned above how proper research was done at a slaughterhouse in preparation to make this film, slaughterhouse is what you'll get to witness in this film. A glimpse of it is enough to prompt you to rethink the food you've been eating all your life. It's that impactful. I'm a vegan, so I already know the drill, but it doesn't mean it gets any easier watching this horror - and it will never be easy to. I was watching in tears by then as all of it just reminded me of Earthlings and all the videos of animal cruelty I'd seen.

Okja is most definitely a must-watch movie. It has all the key elements for a great movie: excellent story (and storytelling), humour, thought-provoking subject, and top-notch CGI level. The aim may not be about vegamism, but it brings the idea to the masses. Most importantly, Okja urges viewers to think critically about the relationship between human and non-human animals.

Available on Netflix. Ready for laughing fits, but remember to have tissues at hand, too for all the tears you're going shed watching Okja. Thank you for such an incredible and meaningful feature, director Bong Joon Ho 🙏  Oh, also all the praises to Ahn Seo Hyun who portrayed Mija because she was incredible in the film.

Now, I just need to have a Bong Joon Ho movie day haha. Memories of Murder has been on my watchlist for at least two years already 😅

P.S. In all seriousness, can we all agree Okja looks more like a hippo than a pig?

*UPDATE (14/07/2017): added trailers*

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