Movie #86 2020: Okja (2017)

Once again, I delve into the Bong Joon Ho directory of films and I’ll start with just one question: can this dude even make a bad movie?

Bong is easily comparable to James Mangold in that he can master every style. Each one of his films is completely different to the last, which is similar to the way Mangold’s repertoire contains highly opposing works, such as Logan, Walk the Line, Ford v Ferrari, and Girl, Interrupted. When you look at those movies on paper, you simply would not guess that they had the same director unless you had prior knowledge of it.

Okja is yet another unique, strange trip into the universe of Bong Joon Ho’s mind. For me, this one sits between Parasite and Snowpiercer in terms of quality, with the former being the masterpiece whilst the latter is the ‘just okay’ movie. Okja is somewhere in the middle of those movies – although still very good – for a variety of reasons.

Although parts of this movie were slightly slow, when it was exciting, it was really exciting. Once again, Bong attracts a stellar cast, including Jake Gyllenhaal as a flailing former TV star, and Tilda Swinton as the antagonistic rich businesswoman. (Side note in regards to Tilda: she really should work on her American accent…)

Another positive is that Bong’s ability to genre-bend really shines through once again. I was under the impression that Okja was some sort of fantasy epic, but it ended up having a bit of everything. The movie comes with themes of capitalism, cruelty, animal rights, platonic love, ethics, globalisation, suspense, comedy… the list is almost endless. It take a really special writer/director to achieve something like this whilst still ensuring that it all makes sense. The movie flows really well throughout, despite – as I already touched on – some sequences seeming mildly unimportant at times.

What I loved on a personal level was the shoutout Bong made to Tarantino and Reservoir Dogs by naming some of the secondary characters ‘Silver’, ‘Red’, and ‘Blonde’. As we saw at the Oscars this year, Bong has no qualms about outwardly expressing his gratitude and appreciation of other directors, which makes him all the more appealing not only as a director, but simply as a human.

It is this humanity that seeps through his camera lens and into this movie. As I previously mentioned, there are topics explored in Okja that call into question what it is to be human, and how humans treat the animals that depend on them. I personally believe that this is partly what makes Bong’s movies so successful.

Don’t be fooled by the title character’s cute, fantasy-style facade; this is not really a family movie. If you have kids under the age of 12, it’s more than likely they won’t follow it very well. This movie is actually rated 15, but I can’t help but feel that that’s a little harsh as it could serve as a great introduction for children aged 12 and above to a variety of real, important topics.

It’s not the best movie in Bong’s catalogue – we’ve already established that. But should it still be watched? Absolutely.

Okja is available to stream on Netflix UK.

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