Review Roundup - Making Bacon

OKJA (2017)

After a number of years, director Bong Joon-ho returns to mixing up different genres under the guise of a creature feature. Just like the 10 year period in this story where the titular 'Super Pig' has been grown in the rural wilderness of South Korea, it's been a long time coming. Since The Host visual effects technology has developed and the cinema landscape itself has mutated and evolved. This is of course a Netflix release which has seen only a very limited theatrical run. But what has changed for the film maker over this time? Does the blend of satire and giant monster feel more refined after this lengthy period? Do the shifts in tone feel more natural and more finely tuned? Those anticipating another quirky but charming story know what to expect, but those stabs at the modern world are still pretty blunt.

The title character, despite the overtly porcine description provided by corporate CEO Lucy Mirando (Tilda Swinton), is part hippo and part fantasy creature. We spend a good amount of time with Okja and farmer's daughter Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun) as they lazily roam the countryside. There are a few moments of scatological humour and they get in a few scrapes together. It's all purposely designed to show their bond and make the whole situation endearing, since of course it can't last. Okja is a great creation, showing a nice mixture of lumbering oafishness and sly intelligence. A whole film just with these two bumbling around the woods like a live action Studio Ghibli adventure would have been good, but unfortunately there's more plot to be developed.

Okja is part of a food shortage solution for the world, and the Mirando Corporation has sent out a number of these animals to different locations as part of a big rebranding scheme. Their image needs to be changed after Lucy's father passed away, as he was a controversial figure who worried the public. So in an effort to make their business more consumer friendly the 'best super pig' competition was set in place a decade earlier, so that the biggest and best in this new breed can be unveiled at a press event in New York. Right before these curious creatures are be sold as a new and exiting pork product...

You can kind of feel where this shift in gears will start to stall itself as the clash of children's adventure story and two-faced corporate greed storylines begin to converge. It isn't helped by other elements including wacky animal loving TV presenter Dr. Wilcox (Jake Gyllenhaal) and the introduction of a pro-animal rights group called ALF led by peaceful activist Jay (Paul Dano). Both have their own sub plot and personal agendas. The gentle scenes of rural life and the spectacle of a big chase through Seoul early on that show this clash visually, as it begins to become apparent that there is a lot of material here fighting for attention.

Social commentaries are often fascinating ingredients in any genre movie, however they do need to be handled with some finesse. Here there is a distinct lack of subtlety as the story covers things like fickle consumer demands, shady business practices and modern advertising techniques. Often these things are highlighted or laughed at in a very heavy handed way, often to the point of brute force, which is jarring and takes away from the more engaging moments. It seems rather simplistic at times in the way the potential evils of GMO foods and mechanised slaughter houses are depicted. These are big issues that should be looked at with a little more more tact to say the least.

Generally speaking this is still a quirky and often entertaining story with a lot of strange and interesting performances, and some really believable digital effects work. But while much of the general story is well told and it's all great to look at, it's a shame that it begins to unravel in some sequences as things progress. In some cases it begins to become just a tale of what happens when children on farms give names to the family livestock, which is a shame. The initial charm factor in the first half or so could have been developed further to tell this kind of contemporary story far more effectively. Like the super pigs it's all a little too clumsy for it's own good, despite the persistant likeability. 



While I was initially excited for some slow and cerebral science fiction, this one doesn't really cover the kind of ground I was hoping for. Thomas Harbor (Robert Redford) is a scientist who says he's proven that after death there is an afterlife, prompting mass suicides across the globe. It's a fascinating premise right out of the gate. However there's a minor problem that people seem to be overlooking - nobody knows what this post mortem realm really is. The afterlife itself is treated as a mystery plot in the narrative of the film. The so called 'discovery' is that some kind of unknown energy has been recorded leaving the body when it ceases to function, and nothing else is proven. Is that really enough evidence for such a wide-scale amount of deaths? Nobody seems to be asking questions.

Elsewhere there are new developments when Thomas's son Toby (Jason Segel) arrives and finds that the afterlife research centre is being run like a strange cult for some reason rather than a real laboratory. People wear coloured pyjamas and look at his father like their own parent rather than a head of research. There are melodramatic turns as it is revealed that Toby and his Dad are estranged, and there's an unconvincing romance after a chance meeting with new arrival Isla (Rooney Mara). It's strange that the most interesting concepts and potentially religious and metaphysical ideas are dealt with in such an unsatisfying way, but ultimately the answers provided are never particularly interesting or shocking.