Okja film review from Cannes: Bong Joon-ho’s monster movie has heart and bite

A young girl races to save her monster in Bong Joon-ho’s Okja, reviewed at the Cannes Film Festival

A rescue mission to save a South Korean girl’s mutant pet pig sets off a bizarre chain of events in Bong Joon-ho’s (Snowpiercer, The Host) latest high-octane family adventure that cannily satirises the effects of global capitalism and places the meat industry on the chopping block.

Jon Ronson (Frank) co-wrote the furiously funny screenplay, and though Okja sticks it to the man time and time again it still allows its characters to act with a reluctant hypocrisy. It’s careful not to preach to its audience, preferring to appeal to the innocent kid in all of us.

Mija (a brilliant An Seo Hyun) has been caring for Okja for 10 years, since the day she was plonked on her family farm by the Mirando Corporation, a conglomerate headed up by CEO Lucy (Tilda Swinton) who is obsessed with re-branding her company name after the treacherous behaviour of her familial predecessors.

Lucy presents her harmonious ideas about organic farming to the press as a grand competition for farmers across the world to feed the world in an ethical manner. But it’s all a scam that ten years later sees 14-year old Mija heartbroken at the loss of her best friend who is taken away to be slaughtered for consumption.

Mija dives headfirst into her determined journey to bring Okja back to safety and meets a group of animal activists along the way. Paul Dano plays the leader of this bunch of peaceful protestors who strew rose petals and marbles as defence techniques and apologise if they hurt anyone, and the star of Swiss Army Man and Love & Mercy is so skilled at delivering sinister kindness that you never quite know if you can trust him.

A beautifully orchestrated car chase sees Mija catapult her way on to a high-speed truck that then turns into a dizzying animal charge across a crowded mall that’s as thrilling as the The Blues Brothers‘ police pursuit. There are a couple of weak links with some over-enthusiastic performances (especially with Jake Gyllenhaal who appears to be doing an impression of Johnny Depp in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas) but mostly Bong Joon-ho’s film keeps up a rowdy momentum throughout.

Mija’s love for Okja provides an emotionally engaging narrative that occasionally throws a few unexpected gut punches.