The year is 2017 and times have been tough recently for the multinational Mirando corporation thanks to mismanagement by the now-deposed patriarch, and following that bad publicity when one of his twin daughters took over. As it stands, the other daughter, Lucy (Tilda Swinton) is in charge, and has nurtured a brainwave to solve the global food shortage which has come to fruition in a project that sees over twenty of these genetically engineered animals given to owners across the planet to see to looking after them; the beast in the best condition will win their owners a prize. But the fact remains, even after ten years of rearing, these bulky, affectionate creatures still need to be eaten, and in South Korea, Mija (An Seo Hyun) has only just realised...
Mija being one of the owners of the animals, who has grown up with what amounts to a very large pet out on the forest mountain in the Korean wilderness, the natural surroundings perfect for them both to mature healthily, though nobody plans to eat her when she hits puberty. In case you hadn't noticed, this was a pro-animal movie, in that it was anti-eating of animals and to do so had a team of special effects experts design a character that was supposed to be loveable in a comedy hippopotamus sort of way. Imagine National Velvet if the bad guys wanted to chow down on the horse, or Lassie Come Home if the pooch was on the villains' menu, and you had some idea of what the curious tone was like.
Needless to say, there was a sense of director Boon Joon-ho and his co-writer Jon Ronson giving in to polemic instead of crafting a storyline they had thought through: if this could have been ideal as a children's yarn to inform them about the meat industry, it was a distant second to Babe in its effectiveness to generate empathy for the dumb animals when they insisted on including swearing and violence that made the production entirely inappropriate for that junior target audience. Quite why they had taken the template of a thousand family flicks and applied the more extreme aspects was baffling, and suggested neither Boon nor Ronson quite had a handle on their material and a few further drafts were necessary.
Coming across like Babe: Pig in the City rewritten with an urban, satirical edge, Okja (which is what Mija calls her pet) was not assisted by a clutch of performances from usually reliable actors who all came across as if they were acting in different movies, nobody settling on any kind of coherent tone. Swinton overacted in two roles as the twins, mysteriously decked out with a set of fake teeth that made her resemble Dick Emery's comedy vicar in chic fashion duds, and as the antagonist(s) had Glenn Close in those misbegotten 101 Dalmatians remakes looking positively restrained. One supposed to make an impression in such a manipulative piece she felt the need to go way over the top, but what succeeded for Gary Oldman in The 5th Element was merely offputting amidst a strangely drab presentation.
On the side of the angels was Paul Dano, leading the Animal Liberation Front's move against these modified beasts; apparently Boon was unaware, or Ronson had forgotten, that there was a real ALF which was responsible for terrorist attacks against those they regarded as being cruel to animals, making a different name perhaps a wiser move for a fairly big budget effort, albeit one that largely had to be sought out on NetFlix after a perfunctory cinema release. Once Mija has followed Okja to The United States, we were offered car chases mixed with what presumably was intended as comedy (Jake Gyllenhaal as the manic television presenter yet another airlessly unfunny misstep from a professional thesp), and a slab of social commentary that appeared to be telling us the only thing that would overcome the meat industry was dependent on how much money you could offer them to desist. Fair enough, make the consumer aware of where their food comes from, there are some unlovely practices involved that you must accept should you choose to eat meat, but this was so hamfisted it verged on anti-propaganda. Music by Jung Jaeil.