Okja review: Netflix announce their arrival at Cannes with this stunning piece of work from master director Bong Joon Ho.
Okja review by Paul Heath at the 2017 Festival de Cannes.
Netflix officially enter the weird world of Cannes with Bong Joon Ho’s latest offering, the fantasy epic that is Okja. Save for a minor hiccup at the start of proceedings at the first press screening at the famous Palais de Festivals on Friday morning – the waiting critics were shown the opening six minutes in the wrong aspect ratio with heads massively cut-off – the streamer was seemingly welcomed to the festival with open arms, the international press clapping and cheering when the Netflix logo popped up.
Read More: Watch the final Okja trailer
Snowpiercer helmer Bong Joon Ho directs this interesting epic; part family drama, part political offering with edge of your seat moments and laugh out loud comedic sequences. The film revolves around the Mirando corporation, headed up by brace-wearing CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton). Mirando is looking to turn the company around following hugely damaging PR from previous corporate heads that include her father and sister, Nancy. In 2007, the company set into motion a breeding programme for some so-called super pigs, breeded and raised to perfection on various farms positioned all across the globe. One such pig, Okja, lands in South Korea under the care of a local farmer and his granddaughter Mija (An Seo Hyun). Mija has cared and indeed grown up with Okja since she was four years old. Ten years on from when Okja first arrived in the mountains just outside of Seoul it’s time for her to return to New York where Mirando and her band of merry corporate suits have massive plans for her. Following a not-so-subtle intervention from the animal rights activists A.L.F. (Animal Liberation Front), fronted by the black-suit-wearing (!) J (Paul Dano) and K (Steven Yuen), Mija is forced to travel to the other side of the world on an ambitious rescue mission to save her life-long companion, quite literally from the jaws of the corporate machine.
Make no mistake, Okja is a huge film in terms of its scale and ambition. Featuring a CGI character that is in 90% of the movie is a massive investment for the streamer who, after choosing to debut this before the harsh Cannes press, is supposedly looking for more of a statement than financial return. Reaction is what they naturally received, and we’re pleased to see that it appears to be mostly positive. I loved the film almost from the off. I love the opening sequence introducing us to the Mirando corporation, Tilda Swinton’s devilishly performed Lucy an absolute treat, as too is Breaking Bad‘s Giancarlo Esposito’s Frank Dawson, who we first meet puppeteering high above a company press conference fronted by his boss. Then it’s front and centre for the very able newcomer to western audiences An Seo Hyun, who carries most of the movie alongside her trusty friend Okja.
As expected, the production design and computer generated effects are stunning. Beautifully shot by Darius Khondji, whose most recent work was on James Gray’s superb The Lost City Of Z, Okja definitely deserves to be seen on the big screen, but saying that, it certainly fits the Netflix model because of its massively off-beat humour, genre-spanning plot beats and huge likability. Okja is a film to be seen by the masses, which indeed it should on the platform that the Cannes newcomer offers. With major talent like Swinton, Paul Dano – fresh from his hugely lauded turn in Swiss Army Man (he’s equally good here) and even a way off-kilter, having-the-time-of-his-life Jake Gyllenhaal, this should draw people in, and deservedly so. Some may struggle with the scenes late on in the film – the story takes us to a slaughter-house for the final reel – which so very different to its Wes Anderson-esque opening.
Boon Jong Ho’s choice to bounce the tone from family drama all of the way through to intense, near-horror-like sequences in the climactic scenes may see one ask as what audience he is aiming the film at, but its very hard not to walk away from Okja with a massive smile on your face. Personally, despite some minor flaws, I loved it.
Okja review by Paul Heath, Cannes 2017.
Okja plays in-competiton at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. It will be released on Netflix worldwide on June 28th 2017.