Okja ★★★★

Let's get the slightly disappointing thing out of the way first. Bong Joon-Ho's Netflix hit is a fantastic, eccentric piece of entertainment but it has the most simplistic morality of any of his films. My favourite of his, Mother, feels like it realigns the viewer's sympathies with every scene. Here, it's pretty obvious where you're meant to set your heart. Okja is cute, and Mija loves her, therefore she does not deserve to be eaten. That's fine as it goes, but it cuts off some of the more interesting areas for debate. As a meat-eater, I felt like I was pinned squirming to the wall by the pro-vegan argumentation in Simon Amstell's recent Carnage. At the end of Okja, I couldn't help but think "That's all well, but that whole world hunger thing still needs addressing, right?"

Still, what a confident, wild, joyous, fearless film it is. I'm always excited for a new Bong Joon-ho film but my excitement was ratcheted up when Jon Ronson was announced as his co-writer. I've been a huge fan of Ronson ever since his very early days writing 'The Human Zoo' for the Guardian Weekend supplement. Here, he addresses the animal zoo as well. There are trace elements of his day job; the interest in public and private personas that emerges most clearly in Jake Gyllenhaal's character feels very Ronsonian, and he must have penned some of the pitch-perfect parodies of advertising and corporate gibberish. But part of the surprise is how well he subsumes his own personality into Joon-ho's world.

Actually, the clearest parallel between Ronson's journalism and Okja comes in a negative example. In 2007, he began writing about sub-prime lending, and thought it could be the material for a whole book. He abandoned it, and had to watch in frustration as countless other writers had bestsellers on the subject as the financial crisis began. The reason, he said, was because mortgage sellers are boring, and he worried he could only make a boring book out of them. If you want to do something really destructive and get away with it, he noted, you should be boring. No journalist will ever expose you.

In Okja the villains are very destructive indeed, and not at all boring. As his budgets have increased Joon-ho's films have become ever more deliriously iconographic; here we have two Tilda Swintons, one of whom dresses like Maddie Ziegler, and one of whom dresses like Theresa May, and you can sort of get the measure of who they are from that. Of course, that neglects what Swinton herself is bringing to the table. Lucy Mirando, the girlish one of the twins, feels almost like a burlesque of her Oscar-winning tormented corporate troubleshooter in Michael Clayton. Lucy does some terrible things, beats herself up over it, then does them again. The monologue she has midway through the film when she believes her plan has failed is interesting in its courting of audience sympathies; we don't want her to win, but she's not twirling her moustache either.

That job falls to her twin, and to Gyllenhaal's supremely weird children's TV presenter. In public he's Steve Irwin, in private he's some deranged cross between the Joker and Pee-Wee Herman with a dentist's drill of a voice to match. At first the combination seems too extreme, but watching him slip back and forth between his two voices as his mask slips is a memorably creepy-funny treat. The whole of the rest of Okja is studded with little gala appearances; Shirley Henderson as one of Swinton's lieutenants, Paul Dano as a frustrated Animal Liberation Front member, Steven Yeun as his hapless translator.

Dano actually gets to beat someone up here, which is an interesting how-the-other-half-live moment for American cinema's most punched performer. He does it because he feels his victim has betrayed the non-violent ideals of the ALF, which is the kind of gleefully silly level the film's humour exists on. It's an attitude that the film's titular beast embodies well, galumphing through streets and shops causing enormous destruction in a blameless, innocent way. This is the closest the film really gets to the exuberant destruction of a kaiju film; the rest is something different.

Netflix seem to be marketing Joon-ho to Western audiences as "the South Korean Spielberg", which is not a description I'd have countenanced before and it still isn't. (Comparing this film to The BFG, one major difference is that Joon-ho is much less apologetic about the toilet humour) But it gets somewhere towards the appeal of this film, which takes the kid-and-monster double-act of ET and, like the Mirando corporation does to its pigs, pumps it full of hormones to promote anarchic humour, satire, grisly horror interludes and sheer irresponsible fun.

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