At first glance, one could take from the one-sheet of Netflix’s “Okja” and want to sit down with the family and watch a film about a girl (Seo-Hyun Ahn) and her superpig a la “Pete’s Dragon,” as she helps protect her friend from an evil corporation led by a CEO with nefarious intentions (Tilda Swinton) while being helped out by a group of animal activists headed by Jay (Paul Dano). Rounding out this cast with the likes of Giancarlo Esposito, Shirley Henderson from “Trainspotting”, Steven Yuen, Lily Collins, and Jake Gyllenhaal, this has all of the makings of “Snowpiercer” director Joon-ho Bong’s shot at Disney.
But it TOTALLY isn’t.
Due to the fact that this film is going straight to the world’s most dominant streaming platform, it does not have to be rated by the Motion Picture Association of America. Therefore, it requires the potential viewer to do some homework to find out if it is worth their time and who the audience should be. Let me save you some time here: this is less the Korean “Pete’s Dragon” and more “E.T.” meets “Fast Food Nation”. If the MPAA were to give its rating here, they would need to go no further than about ten minutes before that “R” stamp would be thrust upon it with the force of a bullet fresh out of the chamber. The profanity is a plenty, the violence is prevalent (granted, where it needs to be for the story, but it IS still there), and unless you are one of those that really needs to have those conversations with your children that you may not be prepared to have, there are much better options here.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film by any stretch; it is just not what I expected it to be. The story moves at a great pace given the fact this this is a solid two hours of film, but its shock value in certain spots just tend to cause moments that are cheap plot devices that don’t achieve the cool left turns that they are intended to. Most of the “surprises” are visible even to casual moviegoers from a mile away instead of reveals that cause “ooh, I need to go back and watch this again to see where the signs were”. The signs themselves almost smack you upside the head with the subtlety of a cricket bat. The performances are fine, with Ahn leading the way and by far the most convincing with Gyllenhaal at the other end of the spectrum while still good, just became annoying at a certain point. Swinton pretty much plays the same style of role she played in “Snowpiercer,” and it worked better there. Visually, this is truly an achievement (especially as the film goes longer and the story itself calls for more complex stunts and effects), but not enough to get me past the language alone. There is also a political and social message to this that seems a bit too overt and preachy. I do wonder if I had been a bit more prepared for what this film would be, I may have enjoyed it a bit more, but even with a post-credit scene that is more of a non-sequitur that made me wonder if Bong was trying to pitch a spin-off film, it was just strange to me. Watch both trailers and make that call for yourself, but if you are trusting my opinion, this IS on the list to watch, but it is closer to the bottom than the top.