Okja

Why is Bong Joon Ho so obsessed with Tilda’s teeth?

This first came to my attention in the director’s previous film, Snowpiercer, which never received a cinema release in the UK but which I purchased on DVD when travelling in New Zealand in 2015. And as a commentary on how western capitalism is eating itself, I think Bong Joon Ho’s earlier film works better than Okja.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot to enjoy about Okja. The performances from Seo-Hyun Ahn as Mija, and Hee-Bong Byun as her grandfather are delightful, Paul Dano is … well, sweet, actually, and without the usual creepiness, and Jake Gyllenhaal is ludicrously note-perfect as the TV animal expert trying desperately to save his career. His is a performance that I guess is likely to divide, and I can understand that. But I loved the campy, over-the-topness of his characterisation, and the fact that he appeared to revel in it.

I wish I had the same affection for Tilda’s character(s) however. They were too much of a caricature to be taken seriously, with Tilda delivering her lines in a manner more reminiscent of a poorly written soap opera, and nowhere near her best work. And what a waste of the talents of Giancarlo Esposito. His character feels like he had a much broader part to play but which has been trimmed down to that of personal assistant.

The mix of Korean rural culture and New York business is an interesting one, and Bong Joon Ho uses his idiosyncratic style to fuse the two in a way which conveys his message. For a global platform such as Netflix, maybe this is the start of a genuinely universal method of film making, which doesn’t involve shooting a random scene in Shanghai to please Chinese investors.

However I would have been happier to have had it even darker, to make less of a comedy out of Tilda’s character(s), and less of the vaguely hopeful ending, which would have had a stronger, more lasting effect. True, the dark scenes are truly awful, and I have heard from others how it has genuinely challenged their view on the food they eat. But I’ve not eaten meat for almost 30 years, and already appreciate the theme, so I don’t need convincing of the message.

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