In 2013 Snowpiercer was robbed of the wide release it deserved. A unique and passionate genre film, Korean director Joon-Ho Bong proved that he could strongly helm a film, and a fantastic one at that. Many were intrigued by his next film, though were skeptical about a Netflix distribution. The platform allows for more leniency since it doesn’t rely on box office success to stay afloat. The freedom can be extremely accommodating for a stylistic director, though it is possible for a film to not be grounded enough. Unfortunately for Bong, the latter feels like it was more prevalent in this film. Okja is a heartfelt story, that will move even the most heartless of people; though doesn’t stick the landing nor knew exactly what it was, especially when being compared to the directors last film.
“As unforgiving as it may sound, one adjective that comes to mind when evaluating this film: adequate.”
IMDb’s logline for Okja reads, “Meet Mija, a young girl who risks everything to prevent a powerful, multi-national company from kidnapping her best friend – a fascinating animal named Okja.” The film has a stellar cast supporting the newcomer who plays Mija, a young Korean girl. The 13-year-old, Sea-Hyun Ahn, has been in a few prevalent Korean films though is a fresh face to America. Sadly (and more than likely it was the director’s choice) her performance felt enormously emotionless; she always kept a straight face and never had me believing that she wasn’t an actress talking to a green screen. Her co-stars include the amazing and always perfect Tilda Swinton, a zany and bit too over the top Jake Gyllenhaal, and Paul Dano whose composure should be studied by all drama students. Each character was well fleshed out; flawed yet optimistic in their own right, but the actor’s portrayal of all was a bit messy and muddled.
The CGI of the being, Okja, was fantastic at times and downright embarrassing at others. A scene of Okja and crew parading through a mall was trivial and silly fun that was consistently spoiled by discomforting computer graphics. I have no idea how to create visual effects so I can’t say for certain what the issue was, but when so many films use the technique to its full potential (The Jungle Book, War for the Planet of the Apes, Life of Pi) it’s easy to spot when its quickly strewn.
The main concern was the film’s attitude; it wanted to try and be a simplistic and juvenile story while also maintaining a mature feel. Throughout, you can almost envision producers talking to investors and asking them, “imagine if E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial was rated R?” An interesting question, but not one that audiences were entirely keen on getting answered. The graphic content and harsh language wasn’t done for realism or weight; it was done for availability.
At times, when it’s more conservative, it is a compelling and forceful drama. Paul Dano shines as he always does when playing a character who couldn’t have been portrayed by any other thespian. The tone of the picture begged for scenes of one on one conversation, nevertheless those were few and far between and only a handful were able to use it to their advantage.
The film’s not bad by any means, yet it’s also not good. It’s memorable, but doesn’t stick with you. As unforgiving as it may sound, one adjective that comes to mind when evaluating this film: adequate. In an age when streaming platforms are pumping out film after film every few weeks, it’s not enough to just be a notable movie; you have to be good.