A huge en­ter­tainer

As South Korean direc­tor Bong Joonho’s mon­ster mash de­buts on Net­flix, Chris New­bould gives his ver­dict on the en­viro-fable

The National - News - Arts & Life - - FILM REVIEWS -

Direc­tor: Bong Joon-ho Stars: Tilda Swin­ton, Jake Gyl­len­haal, Ahn Seo-hyun

How do we feed a planet with a rapidly ris­ing pop­u­la­tion of seven bil­lion?

This is a ques­tion that sci­en­tists, ecol­o­gists, philoso­phers and politi­cians have been grap­pling with for years – but for the Mi­rando Cor­po­ra­tion (no prizes for sub­tlety when it comes to which sim­i­lar- sound­ing, much-ma­ligned agro­chem­i­cal busi­ness might be the in­spi­ra­tion here) the an­swer is sim­ple: cre­ate a new species of gi­ant, ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied “su­per-pigs” that grow to a huge size and pro­vid­ing max­i­mum food while eat­ing less than reg­u­lar an­i­mals and with a lesser en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact.

The com­pany’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Lucy Mi­rando ( Tilda Swin­ton) takes 26 of the best spec­i­mens and sends them to farms around the globe to dis­cover which en­vi­ron­ments they can live and grow most suc­cess­fully in.

Thus we meet Mija (Ahn Seo­hyun), a young Korean girl who has been rais­ing Okja, one of the spec­i­mens, on her grand­fa­ther’s moun­tain­top farm for al­most 10 years.

Okja is both her pet and her best friend, their idyl­lic days are spent frol­ick­ing and get­ting into var­i­ous scrapes atop the moun­tain. But with the 10-year trial end­ing, it is time for Okja to re­turn to New York for judge­ment day.

En­ter celebrity TV zo­ol­o­gist Dr Johnny Wil­cox (Jake Gyl­len­haal), the “Face of Mi­rando”, to tear Okja away from her moun­tain home – and cue the start of Mija’s quest to res­cue her four-legged friend, aided by a group of pleas­ingly com­i­cal an­i­mal-rights ac­tivists, led by Jay (Paul Dano).

This Net­flix orig­i­nal movie is es­sen­tially a “love­able hero sets out to res­cue kid­napped pet” story in the vein of 101 Dal­ma­tions or ET, but direc­tor Bong Joon-ho ( The Host, Snow­piercer) deftly jux­ta­poses this with a damn­ing in­dict­ment of mod­ern so­ci­ety’s at­ti­tude to con­sump­tion. He does not go over­board with the moral­is­ing but plants enough of a ( non- ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied) seed to force you to ques­tion the ethics of mass food pro­duc­tion and ge­netic en­gi­neer- ing. Bong has clearly de­cided the key to ap­proach­ing a com­plex, dif­fi­cult sub­ject in an ac­ces­si­ble way is through com­edy, and the per­for­mances re­flect this.

Swin­ton’s Lucy is a bum­bling par­ody of the well-mean­ing, but ul­ti­mately doomed, face of en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly cap­i­tal­ism. Her sis­ter, Nancy (also played by Swin­ton), is a pan­tomime car­i­ca­ture of cap­i­tal­ism with no such fluffy pre­ten­sions.

Dr Johnny is the sort of pa­thetic, washed- up B- lis­ter you ex­pect to find sell­ing his soul to the Celebrity Big Brother house (or an agro­chem­i­cal cor­po­ra­tion) in the hope of one last grasp at fame, and Jay and his crew are ba­si­cally a com­edy troupe with bal­a­clavas - one mem­ber, Sil­ver (Devon Bo­stick), is so ded­i­cated to the en­vi­ron­men­tal cause that he’s con­stantly on the verge of faint­ing from hunger be­cause he won’t even eat fruit in case it has been tainted by chem­i­cals.

The film at­tracted at­ten­tion dur­ing its pre­miere in Cannes in May for all the wrong rea­sons when an al­ready hos­tile au­di­ence of cin­ema purists, averse to a Net­flix pro­duc­tion be­ing al­lowed into the hal­lowed fold, were an­gered by the film be­ing pro­jected in the wrong as­pect ra­tio.

Now that it is fi­nally avail­able on Net­flix, it should be able to at­tract plenty of at­ten­tion again, and this time for the right rea­sons – as a thought- pro­vok­ing and thor­oughly en­ter­tain­ing movie.

Net­flix via AP Photo

Ahn Seo-hyun as Mija with her gi­gan­tic pet and best friend in direc­tor Bong Joon-ho’s film Okja – the film at­tracted at­ten­tion dur­ing its pre­miere in Cannes in May for all the wrong rea­sons.

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