Okja ★★★★½

Korean film is really hitting a renaissance period right now, as the first wave of filmmakers who grew up in the post-democratic era are all hitting their peaks - a generation of filmmakers utterly unfazed by any challenging idea or concept, and it really shows.

This is a longabout way of saying that OKJA is really, really good, and complex, and doesn't shy away from ideas which are potentially in conflict with themselves. A lot of reviewers have focused on the fact that the movie is about factory farming of livestock (which it is), but it's also about protest, and the morality thereof; about the profit motive and how it can, in fact, be purer (not less evil, but more easily dealt with) than desires for self-image; and it's also a movie about what we do for our friends.

When I say it is complex, I mean that this is a film where most of the characters are complex. Paul Dano's activist is moral and ethical and proclaims that he abhors violence - except when it's necessary (as he views it), and the film does not shy away from the fact that this is hypocritical. Steven Yeun's Korean translator activist keeps you focused whenever you watch him. The first half of Tilda Swinton's dual role is completely compromised by her psychological crutches and it's brilliant work (as one would expect) from her.

Really, the only characters who aren't complex in this are the hero (Ahn Seo-hyun, an obvious talent) and the other half of Swinton's dual role, who might seem to be positioned as the villain but honestly comes across as less villainous than most of her contemporaries because she is without illusion. She admits that her father was a monster, but then says "...but he knew business!" and that's all you really need to know about her and what she values, and because of that she becomes a perfect antagonist in this movie. The movie almost admires her, to be honest, which differentiates itself strongly from SNOWPIERCER. (There are going to be a lot of critiques of OKJA which compare to SNOWPIERCER, which is a movie that is devoutly anticapitalist, but OKJA seems more a critique of capitalists to me than capitalism. A fine distinction, maybe, but an important one.)

And yes, Okja herself is adorable, as you know she needs to be, but adorable in the way that other farm animals can be. Which matters.

(Loses half a star for Jake Gyllenhaal's performance, which is dreadful and detracts from the rest of the movie greatly, and would have been a whole-star drop because it's just that bad, but the rest of the movie is just that good.)