Netflix’s Newest Major Release is Irresponsibly Stupid
As Netflix has moved away from acquired content and towards original programming, it has been valiantly trying to break into the mainstream filmmaking. With a plethora of acclaimed television programs (House of Cards, The Crown, Orange is the New Black), Netflix has asserted itself as a force in the television industry, yet it hasn’t had a major feature film success. Netflix has had a few under the radar hits (Beasts of No Nation, Barry, The Fundamentals of Caring), but Netflix is still waiting for a breakthrough à la Manchester by the Sea for Amazon Studios in 2016. Okja, the latest from South Korean director Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer), is Netflix’s most recent attempt at mainstream film success.
While categorized by most publications as an action-adventure; Okja defies genre convention, often because writer/director Bong Joon-ho seemingly has no idea what type of film he is making. At time, Okja flips between action and comedy, or vies to be a thriller or a satire; and sometimes Okja verges into slapstick comedy territory. This is on top of a mishmash of tonal notes; with Bong indecisive as whether his film is for a primarily Western or Eastern audience, and instead coming up with something not worthy of either. Trial By Films must admit embarrassment that Okja did not join the Film Aborted category, but we were too mystified by the absurd plot and ridiculously poor writing and acting to turn it off.
Okja, premiering at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival to a baffling four-minute standing ovation, tells the story of the Mirando Corporation and it’s business goal of delivering a profitable and sustainable food source for the growing world population. Led by Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), they scientifically engineer ‘super-pigs’, a pig/hippopotamus looking hybrid, and plan to breed them for slaughter. In a PR stunt starring zoologist ‘Dr. Johnny’ (Jake Gyllenhaal), a super-pig is given to a South Korean subsistence farmer for a period of 10 years to illustrate the Mirando Corporation’s commitment to animal welfare, and not just revenue. The farmer’s granddaughter, Mija, forms a bond with the super-pig (now named Okja); only to have it taken back by Mirando for slaughter. In comes an animal-rights group led by Paul Dano’s Jay that is in violent opposition to the Mirando Corporation’s apparently inhumane business practices.
You got all that?
We do, but we’re shaking our heads. This film is stupid, but just weird enough that we couldn’t turn it off; hoping something worthwhile would happen eventually. While everyone involved should be found guilty of high crimes against film, writer/director Bong Joon-ho is by far the worst offender. The writing oscillates between juvenile (poop jokes) and preposterously dumb (suddenly endowing super-pigs mid-film with the ability to rationalize complex situations to create pathos that will confound any viewer still awake by the third act). What’s worse is Bong’s lazy writing; providing plot development though animal-rights group led exposition scenes, where they explain in detail everything that has happened thus far in case you forgot, and what we should look forward to next.
The biggest name actor involved in Okja is the Academy Award nominated Jake Gyllenhaal. We hope that his character’s mannerisms and stylization was enforced upon him by Bong Joon-ho; because it is unforgivable if he came up with this performance on his own and someone didn’t stop him. Gyllenhaal is playing a cartoon anime character come-to-life that doesn’t remotely fit into the film’s setting. His character motivations (wanting to instill pain on the super-pigs as retribution for being an alcoholic and washed-up zoologist) are nonsensical.
None of the other characters are any more logical than Gyllenhaal’s implausible ‘Dr. Johnny’. Paul Dano, as Jay, is a pious animal activist whose violent streak waves in the face of his pacifying words. Tilda Swinton acts as both Mirando twins Lucy and Nancy; each with their own superfluous eccentricities.
For those that might say Okja is meant to be a social satire and the larger-than-life characters and hodgepodge tone are part of this commentary, they didn’t get to the final act in which Okja (the stupid film, not the stupid super-pig/hippo) transitions into an over-the-top somber finale where viewers get to see super-pigs being slaughtered (like pigs) in a factory. We get it – slaughterhouses = bad, super-pigs = good!
- Writing: 1/10 – Bong Joon-ho’s screenplay is foolish and irresponsible.
- Directing: 2/10 – The director at least remembered to turn the camera on, but we all would have been better served if he had forgotten.
- Acting: 1/10 – Everyone involved should be glad this didn’t get a theatrical release.
1/10 – An ill-advised production; Okja was filmed and distributed for a target audience that doesn’t exist, rendering the $50 Million budget maddeningly reckless. Netflix needs to go back to the drawing board because Okja is not the breakthrough hit they were hoping for.