Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. South Korea/USA, 2017. Kate Street Picture Company, Lewis Pictures, Plan B Entertainment. Story by Joon-ho Bong, Screenplay by Joon-ho Bong, Jon Ronson. Cinematography by Darius Khondji. Produced by Joon-ho Bong, Dooho Choi, Dede Gardner, Lewis Taewan Kim, Jeremy Kleiner, Ted Sarandos, Woo-sik Seo. Music by Jaeil Jung. Production Design by Ha-jun Lee, Kevin Thompson. Costume Design by Se-yeon Choi, Catherine George. Film Editing by Meeyeon Han, Jin-mo Yang. Cannes Film Festival 2017.
A food corporation looks to both improve its villainous image and help with world hunger and population growth by breeding a giant superpig that will feed the masses, taste great and make little environmental impact. The lengthy project involves sending the impressively large creatures to farmers all over the globe and then, years later, bring the best of them back for a beauty contest whose publicity will further promote the company’s sales. Among the candidates for the top prize is a porcine beauty named Okja who lives a happy life on a rural Korean farm with an old man and his irresistibly charming granddaughter, with whom she is wholly attached. Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) spends day and night with her best friend, the both of them idyllically happy in their rural paradise until the company’s authorities come to take Okja to North America for both the beauty contest and, we assume, her transformation into breakfast bacon. Mija refuses to accept this turn of events, heading first to Seoul, then to New York City in her quest to get her friend back, aided along the way by a group of reckless PETAesque animal rights activists who either help or hinder her at various turns of the plot, and eventually locked in a showdown with the corporation’s nutty director (Tilda Swinton, once again a gleefully kooky caricature). Joon-ho Bong’s heartwarming but cynical adventure has a great deal to say about environmental issues, corporate greed and the power of love, but it also reminds us at regular intervals that there is plenty of selfish motivation behind many of the good things we do too; the activists are there to help reunite a very appealing main character with her very adorable big pig in the name of animal rights, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be as blindly destructive as Swinton and her boardroom of soulless suits. The glorious anarchy of the plot shows itself physically in a number of beautifully directed sequences, the best of them a marvel of stunt work and visual effects that has Okja running wild through the streets and tunnels of Seoul, while another sequence in which she rescues her human friend from nearly falling off a cliff is up there with the best of the film’s moments and hooks you in early. The best thing about this one, though, is that Bong never lets the technical achievements overtake the storytelling or the depth of the characters’ interactions (the way his shallow, mostly conceptual Snowpiercer did). The beautiful blend of successful elements means an even bigger letdown, though, when the ending isn’t quite up to the standard of the rest of it, with a plot turn in the conclusion that feels far too convenient and comfortable for everything wild and expressive that preceded it, compromising what could have been an eccentric classic. The wonder of a believable relationship between a little girl (performed so exquisitely by Ahn) and a visual effect will still be the takeaway, and the film is more than worth the effort.