Thursday, July 6, 2017

Compassionate 'Okja' Strikes A Cord

Okja film poster.
Are there silent tears of the dead swirling on your plate?
Most likely.
Okja is an eye-opening film that asks tough moral questions, aiming to grab audience empathy. It is an honest, critical look at slaughterhouses, raising animals purely for consuming them without repercussions of the cruelty inflicted upon sentient beings. 
Okja and her caretaker Mija (An Seo Hyun) are a sincere pair.
The tale begins with false promises by the Mirando Corporation. They want to create a new brand of meat. Okja is one of several thousand genetically created super pigs raised in different pockets of the earth. She has been kindly raised in Korea by a sweet girl named Mija. They roam expansive mountains gathering fruit, playing games, and saving each other from harm. In other words, more outgoing than a housecat and much larger than a dog, Okja is a different sort of pet. Still, she is intelligent, affectionate, and trusting.

That is, until everything drastically changes for her.

Mija (An Seo Hyun) and the translator K (Steven Yeun) is a shocking scene.
When Okja is taken away, Mija gives a rampant chase that takes her away from her continental homeland all the way to America. Along this compassionate journey, she meets a secret animal rights organization who have their own agenda for Okja as well.

Jay (Paul Dano) and K (Steven Yeun) join forces to get Okja returned home with Mija.
Graphic in nature, Okja is filled with twists and turns that could change a few perceptions on meat industry. For example, the slaughterhouse scenes are viciously terrifying and painfully brutal. Between giant pigs behind electrical fences huddled together with little interactive space or the conveyor belt of them crying out because they sense upcoming torture, there are plentiful bitter pills to uncomfortably swallow.

Another glaring scene is when K told Mija to learn English. It is grossly offensive. English is the only language I speak and write. There is validity in having a native tongue, a rich history that is part of your own cultural makeup. As a black person in America, speaking English is the main part of colonialism's triumph. The language has authority over us. K is lucky to know Korean tongue. He is the only one in the van that can speak to Mija. That is an honor. How many of us wish we knew where our origins hailed? Knew the language of our ancestors? By the end, K understands and appreciates the gift that he has. 

Tilda Swinton (Lucy Mirando) is the perfect villain, especially considering that she stole what should have been an Asian role for Doctor Strange, but that's another story.....
In a world of mostly Asian extras, Okja features a terrific cast led by incredible newcomer, South Korean actress An Seo Hyun (technically not new, she's been acting since 2009). She is believably brave as Mija, daring, and heroic, charging into battle, sleek and purposeful, willing to risk anything, even her integrity for her beloved pet. Giancarlo Esposito is amazingly brilliant as Frank Dawson, playing both sides of the evil fence, a most charming schemer. Steven Yeun is given tons to work with and delivers a flawed character that some will hate and be appalled by. Also impressed by Paul Dano, Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal (almost unrecognizable), and even Shirley Henderson's small role.

Okja's eyes have gone from warm to victimized agony due to many pains inflicted upon her, but she eventually recognizes her dearest friend.
Director/writer Bong Joon Ho (behind one of my favorite films, Mother) produced a solid piece with Okja-- moving, intense, and thought provoking as it simultaneously tackles on mass animal harm, and capitalism together. The pigs are beautifully rendered, especially the superstar Okja, whose eyes tell emotional stories throughout.

Okja asks, "where does compassion meet and sympathy end when it comes to animals?"

Despite its seemingly serene end, there is no happy, peaceful conclusion.

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