옥자 | Okja (2017)
From the South Korean filmmaker whose innate ability to juggle different genres at once and introduce sudden mood shifts at the most unexpected moments is virtually second to none in today’s world of filmmaking, Okja is Bong Joon-ho’s sophomore English-language feature after Snowpiercer and finds the notable writer-director in total control of his craft. An exquisitely balanced, deftly layered & skilfully narrated adventure that’s as bold as it is beautiful, as weird as it is wonderful, as amusing as it is saddening, and as provocative as it is touching, this emotional roller-coaster ride is a fresh breathe of life that entertains & enlightens in equal measure.
Okja begins with the new CEO of a powerful corporation announcing her plans to fight global starvation by breeding a special kind of superpig, some of which are given to different farmers around the world for raising with intention of providing special treatment to the finest specimen a decade later. The story follows a young girl named Mija who lives a happy life in the countryside of South Korea with her grandfather & her superpig Okja, who has now grown into a massive animal. But when the company recalls their superpig back to America after the tenure is over, Mija embarks on a journey to bring Okja back home, and finds unexpected allies along the road.
Co-written & directed by Bong Joon-ho (best known for Memories of Murder, The Host & Mother), the first act of the film is devoted to establishing the strong bond between Mija & Okja, and is approached with such tender & affection that it brims with a sense of warmth & feels genuine. But once the foundations are paved, Bong shifts to next gear, brings his unique skillset into play, and confidently directs each & every segment in a way that keeps the viewing experience fresh & lively till the end. The screenplay is no slouch either, for it retains all of Bong’s trademarks, and packs an idiosyncratic set of characters who end up adding flavours of their own into the final print.
Shot in numerous locations, ranging from the quiet, serene countryside to the dense, crowded streets of Seoul & New York, Okja utilises its surroundings to its advantage, allowing for some fun & exciting moments, and is thoroughly captivating from start to finish. Cinematography operates the camera as per the requirements of the scene and makes splendid use of colour tones & lighting to correctly reflect the mood & feel of the ongoing segment. Editing is one of its strongest aspects, for its events unfold in a smooth, streamlined fashion and maintain a steady pace throughout its runtime. And last but not the least, music plays its complementary part by enriching the film with its colourful tracks.
Coming to the performances, Okja features an international cast in Ahn Seo-Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Steven Yeun & others, and their wicked input adds considerable weight to the eccentric characters they play. The best work comes from Ahn who plays Mija with full conviction yet has a charming & innocent quality to it. And her heartfelt chemistry with Okja, rendered to life with first-rate CGI, is the heart & soul of this picture. Swinton is fascinating in the role of the CEO of the company that’s looking to profit from Okja. Dano plays his part brilliantly and chips in with a grounded performance. Gyllenhaal, however, hams it out of the park with a batshit crazy rendition yet seems to be having most fun of them all.
On an overall scale, Okja is another quality addition to director Bong Joon-ho’s filmography, and is excellent enough to garner a spot amongst the finest films of the year, so far. Expertly directed, smartly scripted, excellently photographed, cleverly edited, aptly scored & nicely performed, the film opens on a calm & soothing note that instantly builds a deeply heartfelt friendship between a young kid & her puppy-like superpig, becomes an endless chase in the middle that’s full of heart & laughter, and ends up in a hellish place during the final act to paint a gruesome picture of the realities of mass food production, which in itself is powerful & disturbing that it may compel few viewers to give up meat for a while, if not forever. To sum it all up, Okja is a hilarious, heartwarming & heartbreaking cinema that’s absolutely worth your time & money. Don’t miss it.