Director: Bong Joon Ho
Starring: Ahn Seo-Hyun, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins
Released: Out now on Netflix
It’s not often that a collaboration between the eastern movie and western movie scene actually gets a great review. In fact, for many people, the slightest hint that an Asian publication or release is getting a western remake and it seems everyone has an opinion on it before a trailer is even released. But not this time. With Okja things are very different.
With the first announcement that Korean director Bong Joon Ho (known for movies such as Snowpiercer, Mother, and The Host) would be collaborating with Netflix, there seemed to be an air of excitement for what else he had up his sleeve. As time went on with the cast, characters and trailers being released there seemed to be more interest outside the usual Asian film addicts and movie buffs. People seemed to get very attached to the characters (even if they didn’t understand what was going on), instantly falling in love with the lead CGI puppy/hippo/pig named Okja. Luckily for everyone involved, it looks like Okja could possibly be the next big hit from Netflix.
The story follows Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) as she tries to save her best creature friend Okja from Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), who has plans to butcher and sell Okja’s meat. With the rural Korean landscapes, to the bustling city streets of New York, the transactions between the two contrasting countries are beautiful and give an honest look at the differences between the high life of American culture, to the more subdued and traditional culture of Korea. Along the way we are introduced to the slightly crazy zoo-ologist Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal), who lightens up the movie, then takes you on a wild ride of emotions as it plays on. A special team of non-violent animal activists are also a big part of the story, consisting of K (Steven Yeun), Jay (Paul Dano), Silver (Devon Bostick), Red (Lilly Collins) and Blond (Daniel Henshall). Over the course of the movie they help create conflict in the viewer’s mind.
It goes without saying that Okja is a little more than a story about a girl and her friend. It has deep roots with the way we treat animals, vegan and vegetarianism, GM crops and food. Generally how we treat the planet, our food and the people around us. But instead of preaching like many before have done, which leads to information going in one ear and out of the other, the core message is driven home due to the fact there is now a mascot, something that everyone can relate to. In turn it may result in a change, if not a realisation, about the way you live your life.
The eastern and western movie collaboration scene is a hot topic when spoken about, given that many good stories, ideas and creations are marred with over-westernised casts, over-dramatic theatrical moments, and boring scripture. They seem to take out anything that’s unique to the original idea, and make it more ‘western likeable’. For example: the American adaptation of The Ring series, which wasn’t horrifically bad, but lost the horror that was famous from the original. The Korean Oldboy is a gore filled revenge classic when compared to the American remake, which left you questioning why you bothered to watch it in the first place. Lastly, although it made a reasonable mark in the movie industry, the American remake of Ghost In The Shell did hit all the visual and CG beauty, but was let down with the storytelling and over-westernised character concepts.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great movies out there, but for the first time in a very long time, Okja has joined two different cultures and made it work, something that truly hasn’t been successful in previous attempts. From the beautiful scenery, great script, clever CG, and the underlining story, Okja (and Netflix) could create a path for further collaborations between foreign directors, actors and entertainers to come forward into the Hollywood scene with their unique and beautiful stories. Whatever Netflix has ready for future productions, lets just hope they have as much luck as they did with this movie.
In all honesty I would recommend this movie to everyone to watch. Fun, lighthearted, cute, sad, with a few scenes that could make you question the way you live your life or view the world around you, but in the end it’s truly entertaining. 10/10!