“Have I ever given you a boring show?”
I feel like these words sum up the master behind the camera Bong Joon Ho, whose latest film Okja is yet another fine example in his impressive filmography. For those unaware, the South Korean director is also responsible for films Snowpiercer, Memories Of A Murder and The Host (and no not the terrible US version). So, having heard his new film was produced under Netflix, suffice to say I eager to see it and unsurprisingly, I was not disappointed. Okja is a touching but also a charmingly funny film that balances humor with elements of a story that can also be very bleak to watch.
I raise these juxtapositions of attributes because the story focuses on the friendship with animals and the counter side to society’s often grim reality for those species that we love to eat. When I watch any film that is centered around man’s relationship with animals, I’m typically expecting it’s going to be fairly melancholic because hey, the track for animals so far hasn’t been that great *cough* Marley and Me *cough* Blackfish *cough*.
But whilst Okja isn’t afraid to present those sides of the story because let’s face it, the truth of the matter is hard to angle in a non-negative light otherwise, Bong Joon Ho creates a story that has a lot of wonderfully fun aspects to it, and that elevates it as a story that isn’t just another rehash of what we already know. I don’t like to kill cows, but I love to eat their meat, so how can one make a story that balances those elements and doesn’t just present the dark reality to make me feel like absolute shit all the time? Well, Okja manages to do it.
And it does so mainly with many engaging characters. The film has some incredible acting talent behind it with Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Giancarlo Esposito, Paul Dano and Steven Yeun as the main stars, and I enjoyed seeing them all play roles that supported each other nicely. I will highlight Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters, who were just so eccentric, interesting and funny that every time they were on-screen it was a blast to watch them act. I also really liked how their characters changed over time and how new layers were added to them.
I also want to highlight that the story’s unique concept which was coupled with the talent of its director. There’s a lot of distinct shot choices and blocking where the characters were meant to be placed, which was all great to see. Every scene had a reason as to why that particular person was sitting with her back turned from the others or why the camera was placed from a distance to emphasize visually the feeling of being alone on a character. It wasn’t just basic shot reverse shots of people talking, which is an aspect I hammer on about in other reviews, so I’m glad I can highlight a film that doesn’t do that and why it’s so much better because of it.
Okja is a rare case that tackles a difficult subject which can so easily be led down a dark alley with no real hope and manages instead to shine some humorous light towards it. Yes, I will admit that by the end of the film, I was quite moved from watching one of the final sequences which still hits me right in the feels every time I think about it (goddamn you Bong Joon Ho). But I also remember the wit and comedic commentary that’s present, and that makes me smile. I had a blast watching this film and I’m glad Netflix gave $50 million dollars for Bong Joon Ho to do whatever he wanted and I’m recommending you watch it when you can as it’s out both in Australia and in the United States. See it.
I watched Snowpiercer at the Rome Film Festival and Okja at home and both left a knot in my throat and eyes wide open and a feeling that I’ve just seen the future and it’s not all that splendid. We need more of that. Great stuff. And a good review.