Part adorable fable of a child and her rhino-sized pig, part anti-corporate environmental parable; Okja strikes an uneasy tone, but strikes all the same. 

After Netflix’’s last attempt at a big budget romp to rival the big screen releases, War Machine, it was safe to say expectations were modest at best for Okja. The story of a genetically modified super pig, raised by 14 year old Mija ( Ahn Seo-hyun) for the last ten years in the wilderness of South Korea, the adorable creature Okja is whisked away by Mirando, the corporation that put it there as part of a publicity stunt, leaving Mija with a rescue mission on her hands.

If it sounds like a kids’ film, it isn’t. From Welsh writer Jon Ronson and director Bong Joon-ho, Okja takes aim at neoliberal corporatism of the multinational giants with bare faced brutality. Whoever signed off on letting the Apple logo be used to film the torture of the animal by the bizarre television personality Dr Jonny Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhall), has probably been asked to clear their desk.

Not withstanding stunning CGI and fantastic camerawork, particularly in the Seoul scenes as Mija chases down her enormous friend, the performances in the film are second to none. Young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) is a wholly believable grieving friend to the not-so-little piggy, delivering the majority of her lines in Korean. Tilda Swinton’s Nancy Mirando is borderline insane as the peroxide blonde CEO of nightmares, but its Paul Dano’s character Jay who doesn’t quite strike the right tone.

That’s not really his fault; Jay was burdened with lazy writing which quite literally has him spell out the backstory to Mija as if the writers simply couldn’t be bothered to write the scenes into the story. His band of animal welfarist, which includes Lily Collins as Red, scramble around in black like an environmental SWAT team, causing mayhem and destruction everywhere they go despite claiming they’re all for pacifism.

However, it’s the logic underpinning the plot that is stretched a little too thin. The publicity stunt which is intended to make people see the GM pigs as ‘real’ so that they wouldn’t feel disgusted at eating an engineered product, was presumably cooked up by the same press team that managed Theresa May’s election campaign. The cute and cuddly hippo-pig presented to New York City’s flag-waving crowds would be unlikely to elicit such overwhelming thirst for blood. It’s a bit like presenting a child with a bunny rabbit and telling them to name it, before slaughtering it in front of their eyes and serving it up with chips. Furthermore, Manhattan’s clamorous rabble appear completely temperamental when just moments later they are shown a video of the pig being tortured, which quickly changes their minds. It’s as if they didn’t know it was going to be killed.

Which brings us to the elephant in the room. Okja only really works as a criticism of the factory farming industry and big corporations if you accept that all animals are worth protecting, not just the GM ones. Mirando’s misplaced quest to do a positive deed by creating an animal that delivers higher yields on a tiny carbon footprint is solved by creating yet another animal to slaughter. It’s an uneasy tone, sitting somewhere between a parable and a satire, but doesn’t go in hard enough at either. Few reviews online have mentioned the attack on the meat industry, presumably because it’s not the fable they wanted to have seen.

So who did want to see it? Netflix found itself at the centre of controversy during Cannes as haughty film buffs, directors and judges sniffed at the thought of a Netflix film competing for the Palm d’Or. What the online platform has done, however, is to allow Netflix the freedom to make a film on an enormous build-in-audience-funded budget that sidesteps the traditional puppet masters of the Hollywood industry. It aims at capitalism, at the agricultural industry, at the USA in a way no other recent blockbuster has quite done. In a stroke of genius, the iconic White House situation room photograph is replicated, this time with the carnage centred around an enormous hippopoto-pig rather than Osama Bin Laden.

Okja is probably a bit on the upsetting side for kids, but perhaps with an environmental crisis burgeoning and largely spurred on by the meat and dairy industry, it’s something that maybe should upset them. Part fable, part action film, Okja is thoroughly enjoyable, it successfully takes aim at neoliberal capitalism, but at the same time doesn’t quite square the circle between satire and sentiment.

★★★☆☆