You Should Be Watching: ‘Okja’ (for The Buffalo News)

For my latest Buffalo News “You should be watching” column,” I looked at “Okja.” This Netflix release is one of 2017’s best films.

Head over to Netflix where you’ll find the listing for “Okja,” a new Netflix original film. Pictured is the title creature, a large, cuddly animal resembling a cross between a walrus, a hippo and an obese dog. Make no mistake, though, Bong Joon-ho’s “Okja” is not a film for children. Instead it’s a brilliant, harsh, emotionally overwhelming story of corporate greed, animal abuse, and, to a lesser extent, the bonds of friendship. It’s one of the finest films of 2017.

Title: “Okja”

Year it debuted: 2017

Where it can be seen: Netflix

Who’s in it: Ahn Seo-hyun, Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Jake Gyllenhaal, Lily Collins

Running time: 120 minutes

Brief plot description: The powerful Mirando Corporation led by CEO Nancy Mirando (Tilda Swinton) announces a worldwide contest in which hand-picked farmers will raise a newly bred superpig. One of these farmers lives in South Korea with his granddaughter, Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun). She has formed a special bond with their superpig, Okja. However, it is now time for Mirando and TV zoologist Johnny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) to bring the animal to New York City. With the help of the animal rights group Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Mija attempts to save Okja from a grim fate.

Why it’s worth watching: “Okja” is an important release for Netflix. It is directed by a major-league filmmaker, the man behind cult classics “The Host” and “Snowpiercer.” It features a heavyweight cast. It premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. And finally, “Okja” is the first Netflix narrative feature that could garner some Oscar interest, particularly for its effects work. The film is a deliriously inventive swing for the fences that uses CGI to bring to life a believable, lovable beast.

While the friendship angle is moving, “Okja” is even more effective as a sharp critique of multinational big-business cruelty. There are a number of brutal, difficult-to-watch moments, mainly a scene in which a wild and wacky Gyllenhaal tortures Okja. At times, the actor seems to be channeling Charles Nelson Reilly – and that’s as strange as it sounds. While certainly over the top, it works, and so do the stunning action set pieces. One, an attempted rescue of Okja by ALF leaders (including Paul Dano and Lily Collins), ranks among Bong Joon-ho’s most memorable. “Okja” might be his most original film. Plus, it’s a Netflix must-watch. But be prepared for some heartbreaking moments. And keep the kiddos away.