Gi­ant pig film ‘Okja’ gives us much to chew over

The Washington Times Daily - - LIFE - BY MARK KENNEDY

Just in time for sum­mer comes a film that se­ri­ously threat­ens the core com­po­nent of bar­be­cues, base­ball games and block par­ties. To be blunt, “Okja” may force you to put down that hot dog.

Di­rec­tor Bong Joon Ho’s un­even movie is about a girl, her gi­ant, adorable pet pig and an evil cor­po­ra­tion that wants to sep­a­rate them — and also to sep­a­rate our porcine hero­ine into ba­con strips.

There’s not a lot of nu­ance here: The bad guys are very bad and the he­roes are very good. It makes the fin­ger-wag­ging of “Avatar” seem de­mure.

But it’s not al­ways a well-mar­bled ride. There’s an in­con­sis­tent tone, with hor­rific moments spliced with satire and de­tours into vaudeville and a few moments when it’s kidnapped into a heist movie.

“Okja” also has too much Tilda Swin­ton, a cu­ri­ous Jake Gyl­len­haal and some weird mu­si­cal choices. But Mr. Bong must be con­grat­u­lated for forc­ing us to see what’s for din­ner, even if his mes­sage is as heavy-handed as a public ser­vice an­nounce­ment for ve­g­an­ism.

“Okja” al­ready has got­ten plenty of at­ten­tion, but not be­cause of its mes­sage. It was the sub­ject of hand­wring­ing from tra­di­tional film folk be­cause it was picked to com­pete for the cov­eted Palme d’Or top prize at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val de­spite Net­flix’s plans to re­lease the movie on­line in most mar­kets, by­pass­ing the movie the­aters. In what­ever form you see it, the ef­fects that bring the lum­ber­ing ti­tle char­ac­ter to life are re­mark­able.

The film cen­ters on the fate of Okja, who was cre­ated by the malev­o­lent Mi­rando Corp. — a less-than-sub­tle stand-in for the Mon­santo Co. The sow is a ge­netic freak cre­ated in a lab, one of two-dozen hip­popota­mus-size mir­a­cle pigs with skin like an ele­phant, floppy ears, un­der­stand­ing eyes, a wag­ging tail and nostrils that flare ex­pres­sively.

The com­pany, led by Miss Swin­ton, chan­nel­ing the public re­la­tions savvy of Gwyneth Pal­trow and the ici­ness of Anna Win­tour, in­sists th­ese beasts will re­duce hunger and waste.

“The world is run­ning out of food and we’re not talk­ing about it,” she says.

All this comes as an un­der­stand­able shock to the South Korean girl who has been raising Okja for the past decade in a for­est that re­calls Eden it­self. An Seo Hyun plays Mija as a self­pos­sessed young woman with un­de­terred, dogged love and the re­source­ful­ness of Lara Croft.

The early part of the film spends time with th­ese two as they gam­bol in ex­quis­ite na­ture, hug­ging and work­ing to­gether to gather food. A mo­ment when the su­per pig shows in­tel­li­gence and al­tru­ism fore­shad­ows the hor­rors to come.

Okja is snatched back by the Mi­rando Corp., and Mija pur­sues her pet all the way to New York, aided by a group of very po­lite an­i­mal rights ac­tivists. There are car chases, poo jokes and the cu­ri­ous use of John Den­ver’s “You Fill Up My Senses.”

There’s also an un­hinged Mr. Gyl­len­haal, who plays a Steve Ir­win-like wildlife ex­pert who has sold his soul to the evil cor­po­ra­tion. He starts out as if in a slap­stick com­edy, ends up like Heath Ledger’s de­mented Joker and speaks in a falsetto for rea­sons only he may know.

Things take a grim­mer turn in the last third when we witness a pig rape, elec­tri­cal shock­ing and a slaugh­ter­house that re­sem­bles a Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camp. Miss Swin­ton makes an­other ap­pear­ance as the twin of the Mi­rando Corp. head, this time tak­ing her love of us­ing false teeth to a ques­tion­able de­gree. A sec­ond serv­ing of the very hammy — sorry — Miss Swin­ton seems too much.

Mr. Bong, who also wrote the story, has cre­ated a film with echoes of other kid-an­i­mal flicks, es­pe­cially “Pete’s Dragon,” “Fly Away Home,” “Babe” “Free Willy” and “Chicken Run.”

But “Okja” could never be con­fused with a kid­die movie.

What it is, how­ever, is less clear. It could be an in­dict­ment of cap­i­tal­ism, but busi­ness seems to win. It adores na­ture, but a lab-grown ge­netic freak proves to be its play­ful hero­ine. It’s more like an in­ter­species love story, one that prom­ises to make lunch order­ing very hard from now on.

Bon ap­petit.

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