“Hey let’s watch that new live feed from the Tyson factory farm that just posted!” said no one ever. That’s what makes Okja so appealing: it’s all of the message, none (or prettified little) of the gory truth.
Director Bong Joon-ho has done greater society a difficult service: craft an intriguing, aesthetically pleasing film that manages to be at best a thought-provoking analysis of society at large and at worst a predictable rigmarole for those used to the animal liberation trope.
The film opens with your regulation day-player, morality-devoid, flesh-slinging bigwigs versus the proverbial little guy — or in this case, a girl named Mija. You’ve got your insufferable diva of a company spokesperson, ass-kissing employee slaves and reality-resigned grandpappy. The film is a snoozefest of Okja and Mija wilderness-bonding/separation/purposeful rescue until the slaughterhouse scene.
As a long time vegan, I’ve seen my fair share of graphic animal slaughter footage. Joon-ho succeeds in making the mass production of an imaginary animal seem all too familiar, because, newsflash, most people eat animal flesh.
Under the palatable (or digestible) platform of slaughtering a “fake” creature, viewers simultaneously relate to both the novelty and the familiarity of the Okja factory farm scene.
It strikes a chord — at least it did for me — but the rest of the movie fell flat. It could also be due to the fact that Joon-ho wasn’t truly invested in the ultimate message of his film in the end, even though he did eschew meat for a bit after conducting research for the scene:
“When you’re finally there, there’s this smell. There is no smell in the films,” he said. For the next two months, he remained vegan.
Still, cathartic as that experience was, Joon-ho eventually went back to his meat-eating ways:
“Then I flew back to South Korea, and you know, Korea is a BBQ paradise,” he said with a laugh. “Every street on every corner is burning meat. I slowly, slowly came back to being a meat eater.”
I guess the intrinsic message of his film wasn’t enough. Talk about not practicing what you preach.
Vegans might relate most directly with the ALF, the animal-rights, irrationally malnourished terrorist group that uses guerrilla tactics to convey their message at any cost. Mirando is your typical unstoppable, unflappable mega-agri conglomerate. The over-the-top squabble between the two is a tiring, ennui-inducing two-step that had me googling about the movie instead of actually watching it, mostly because it was just a bit too hard to believe that:
a) Jay (Paul Dano), the ALF honcho, could so readily murder a subordinate
b) Lucy Mirando’s flamboyant CEO character would never fly in the real world — people would be way too turned off by her fakeness
c) A petite, no more than 120-pound prepubescent girl can break through a reinforced glass wall
I mean, yes, it is a movie. But aren’t movies supposed to be entertaining? I just found the unbelievability of the above a distraction, not something that kept me interested.
Bottom line? The boredom is a necessary tasteless chaser to get the audience to swallow that chalky pill of a slaughter scene. That’s the only nutritional payoff of Okja.