Entertainment Movies Okja: Netflix’s sick take on kids’ flicks fails to bring home the bacon

Okja: Netflix’s sick take on kids’ flicks fails to bring home the bacon

Tilda Swinton (left) and Seo-Hyun Ahn star in Netflix's visually striking but bizarre new film. Photo: Netflix
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A potty-mouthed subversion of a children’s movie complete with a bleak slaughterhouse finale sounds like a wrong-town riot, right?

It’s a pity then that Okja, the latest genre-splicing satire from South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon Ho, is a wild bore.

This is despite the Netflix-produced film featuring an outstanding CGI super-pig and a young girl’s desperate attempt to save it from certain death.

Bong’s films have always been tonally whack, revelling in pulpy political messaging.

From the kooky class warfare of dystopian Snowpiercer to monster movie The Host with its commentary on aggressive American imperialism, Bong never pulls his punches.

Okja is no different. The dastardly deeds of global corporations with mighty marketing and design departments are in the firing line, as well as the macabre industrialised horror of the mass-produced meat industry.

Sadly, the horror and humour are dead on arrival. Despite an all-star cast featuring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal and Paul Dano, the performances are also wildly bad.

Jake Gyllenhaal does a poor man’s impression of a Steve Irwin-like TV star. Photo: Netflix

Swinton delivers a career-worst performance as pink-suited, teeth-baring New York CEO Lucy Mirando, who announces a bold new plan to feed the world.

Her badly behaved multinational’s latest disruptive innovation is to mass-breed mammoth super-pigs.

She engineers a global competition to breed the biggest and fattest.

“They need to taste f***ing good,” she sneers.

Despite this filthy signal this ain’t no Disney flick, sadly Okja can’t bring home the bacon.

The movie jumps from Mirando’s world to a Jungle Book-like idyll somewhere in Korea where Mija, played by 13-year-old Korean actress Ahn Seo Hyun, frolics blissfully with her uncle’s giant pig.

She’s named her pig Okja and she’s become her best friend in the 10 years since the competition was announced.

When Mirando’s company turn up to claim Okja and take her back to New York City, Mija sets out to save her.

While there’s always the risk that kid actors can be painfully precocious, Ahn is the exact opposite. Devoid of charisma, the film suffers terribly for her lacklustre performance.

In a film littered with poorly-judged turns, Gyllenhaal’s Steve Irwin-like faded animal TV star is probably the worst.

His tilt into mad scientist mode manages to make an excruciating Shirley Henderson look restrained.

Even the wild machinations of Dano’s Animal Liberation Front anarchists (including Australia’s Daniel Henshall) fail to elicit much of a spark.

A truck chase through Seoul offers a brief moment’s excitement in what is otherwise a tedious two-hour affair.

Once the action shifts to New York and the dark underbelly of the abattoir industry is exposed, the harsh reality of the finale hangs much-needed meat on the bones of Bong’s movie, but it’s way too little, far too late.

The one thing Okja gets right is the lush-looking visuals, with Darius Khondji’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-like technicolour cinematography and whizz-bang CGI from Oscar winner Erik-Jan De Boer brilliant.

It begs the question that ultimately got Okja booed at its global debut at the Cannes Film Festival. Why go straight-to-Netflix instead of taking advantage of the big screen?

Okja is streaming on Netflix now.

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