Okja offers food for thought
Jon Ronson's satire features a giant, test tube-born pig, an exceptional performance by Ahn Seo-hyun, and a strong social message
23 June, 2017 — By Dan Carrier
Mija, played by Ahn Seo-hyun, with her friend Okja
Directed by Bong Joon-Ho
THIS satire on how we feed the world was written by Jon Ronson, and has his trademark views stamped all over it. It means it is subversive, has a strong moral and social message running through it, and could have the same effect on the popularity of the bacon buttie as Babe the Sheep Pig did.
Okja is the name of a giant, test tube-born pig created by a global food company called Mirando, headed by warring twin sisters Lucy and Nancy (both played by Tilda Swinton). To make the bacon more palatable to the consumer, they decide to hold a competition by sending 27 of these sci-fi piglets to live with farmers around the world for 10 years – and then send the face of the company, a TV naturalist in the guise of a Steve Irwin-type character (Jake Gyllenhaal), to judge which one has fared best.
Okja is the best friend to farmer girl Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun – an exceptional performance, and by far the best thing about the film) and we meet the pair as they gallivant around the Korean countryside, happy as pigs in, well, you know the rest…
Our porkie friend in Korea is the winner, so little Mija has to be told that her mate’s time is up.
She doesn’t take this news well and embarks on a rescue mission – at which point the Animal Liberation Front also become involved and attempt to steal the porker and set him free.
Part of this film is splendid – the opening scene-setting, with a rural portrayal of life on a remote Korean farm, is wonderful stuff, as is the CGI creature. But it becomes a right pig’s ear of a plot when the action is transported to New York and the ghastly animal products factory.
Fair play to director Bong Joon-Ho, though – he has created a visually pleasing film, which reminds of the images Upton Sinclair wrote about in his seminal Chicago-based socialist novel The Jungle.
But there are some deep flaws throughout: Sadly, Gyllenhaal, normally so watchable, hams this up so badly it’s painful to watch, while Tilda Swinton’s turn as a GMO-pushing corporate baddie also detracts. That is a sign of how odd this film really is – to have such great contributors that make you groan each time they appear is a new experience. The story has a big heart, but ultimately, through its eccentricity, it wobbles like a porker’s belly rather than sizzles like fresh flesh on a barbecue.