Review by Sean Boelman
Bong Joon-ho already had a couple films in the Criterion Collection (Parasite and Memories of Murder), and while fans are waiting for the inevitable box set for the South Korean auteur, his 2017 Netflix satire Okja joined the Collection this month. Making it even more special is that this is the first time the movie has been made available on physical media, meaning this is one fans will surely be excited to add to their shelves.
The film is an environmentalist satire, and while it’s imperfect, like the rest of Bong’s work, the script sharply uses its genre leanings to explore its themes. And even five years after its release, what the movie has to say about industrial farming and the dangerous path the world is on still rings true.
What allows the film to work so well is that the script by Bong and Jon Ronson really emphasizes getting the audience invested in the story of this young girl and her pet “superpig.” It has all of the emotional resonance of a kid-and-their-pet movie without being as trite or manipulative.
The real highlight of the movie is the acting, though. Child actress An Seo Yeun is simply extraordinary as the protagonist, giving a performance that is stunningly restrained and emotional. Paul Dano’s chemistry with her as her animal rights activist ally is also fantastic, and he gives a performance that is typically brilliant.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Jake Gyllenhaal and Tilda Swinton, who are also fantastic but giving thoroughly flamboyant performances as the antagonists. It’s particularly fun to watch Gyllenhaal chew up the scenery, and it fits given the surreal, whimsical nature of the film.
The visuals of the movie look quite good on the Criterion Blu-Ray, but it’s not an upgrade or anything given that the film was already released in high definition on streaming. Still, the world which Bong has built for this movie is immersive, and it’s nice to see it preserved in a format like this.
Admittedly, the biggest disappointment about this Criterion edition is that it is a little minimalistic when it comes to bonus features. While it does include a few new interviews and such, the truth is that it will take a lot more to get anyone who isn’t a diehard fan to purchase a film that they can already watch on streaming, and this doesn’t quite justify it.
There’s no denying that Okja is a good movie, but the question is whether or not it’s worth picking up the Criterion Collection edition of it. While it is a bit on the bare side, the chance to complete your Bong physical media collection means it’s at least worth getting while the sale is still running.
The Criterion Collection edition of Okja is now available.
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