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Review. Some Pig—Bong Joon-ho's "Okja" on Notebook | MUBI
"The South Korean auteur's eco-action-drama wrestles with the idea that attacking capitalism's symptoms will never destroy its source."



"The maltreatment of the Super Pigs is of utmost concern to Bong Joon-ho. Obsessively detail-oriented, his wide-scale panoramas of society expand to include those forgotten by the rest: the innocents who suffer as collateral damage. In his debut feature Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000), it is not the murdered dogs that receive the brunt of the blow. Rather, it is the homeless man who is arrested for eating them, whose first crime was hunger. There are the abandoned victims of the monster in The Host (2006), whose bodies lay in the dark while the government devises a cover-up; and made more literal, the poorest children on the train in Snowpiercer (2013) who are eaten by the rich.

The Super Pigs join these as some of the lowest of the low on the food chain. They are born to die and tortured every step of the way. Unbeknownst to the public, the Pigs are beaten, trapped in cages, and forced to breed. To our horror, they even possess the consciousness to know that this pain is undeserved. The beasts are a two-fold metaphor. They are martyrs for animal rights; but in the context of the entire system that Bong wishes to confront, the Super Pigs are also representative casualties of capitalism at its worst. Though human-animal comparisons risk demeaning both, even Sinclair recognized that in its brutality, money blurs the line between man and beast, flesh and meat.

This point is missed by the kind but misguided Animal Liberation Front (ALF), a radical animal rights activist group led by Jay (Paul Dano). Pitting itself against the Mirando Corporation, the ALF resorts to hijacking, spying on, and exposing corporate enemies. Its biggest weakness is that it doesn’t do much else. Even these attacks are pitiful and contradictory: in one scene, the ALF wrestles with police while simultaneously ensuring everyone that they do not like hurting people. Plagued by shortsightedness, the group’s reactive politics are shallow blows to a much larger problem."



"Bong Joon-ho is well known for the distrust of authority that fuels his films; but Okja also speaks to a concurrent distrust of the people, specifically the mob mentality of the masses. Indirectly, the public’s refusal to demand tangible change is what allows the Mirando Corporation to thrive. The ALF, still convinced of the power of awareness, unfolds its plan to take over the Super Pig parade and release graphic footage of animal cruelty at the lab and factory. When they succeed, the rest of the crowd starts to chant as flyers fall from the sky. The chaos is only satisfying for a few seconds until the irony sinks in. This is the same public that just minutes before was gleefully covered in pink and chewing on Super Pig jerky. It is hard to imagine that their knee-jerk response will be as quickly transformed into action.

The frantically paced Okja is propelled by a fear that the anti-capitalist efforts of today are not enough to inspire structural change. The middle portion is bookended by the image of the factory, a symbol that haunts Okja's entirety. The film opens in an abandoned Mirando factory that Lucy Mirando vows to reclaim. These promises are sprinkled with diluted claims like ending “world hunger” and revolutionizing the “livestock industry” (the whitewashed term for slaughterhouse) with “love.” But as we finally witness in the film’s penultimate scene, the new Mirando factory is just as bloody, only more automated. Here, reclamation is nothing more than a re-branding strategy that disguises itself with the aphorisms of mainstream environmentalism."



"The film concludes with the revelation of Mija’s selfishness. Like Hyun-seo from The Host, who can fight to survive but could never defeat the river creature even if she tried, Mija is a great girl and just that. When given the chance to save Okja, she takes it. The two return to the mountains as if the factory no longer exists. Bong Joon-ho describes Okja as a “love story.”6 The love that he refers to can only be selfish in the grand scheme of things, since the selfless act of heroism is already a futile task.

Critic Kim Hye-ri explains that the characters of Bong’s films as those “whose bodies are all they have left.”7 However disappointing, Mija’s decision to rescue the body of the one she loves is an act of devotion. And so Okja relents the cheap opportunity for an eleven-year old girl to bring an end to capitalism. Instead, the Mirando Corporation lives on and the two friends escape far from the maddening crowd as if nothing happened. Meanwhile, we as an audience are left with the flat, stinging sensation of hitting a wall. But if any feeling could so aptly reflect love in the time of capitalism, then it is this: to willingly hit a wall until an eventual point of demolition."
bongjoon-ho  okj  capitalism  2017  ebwhite  labor  politics  society  cruelty  violence  imperialism  immigrants  immigration  us  korea  globalization  authority  distrust  revolution  environmentalism  activism  animalrights  multispecies  bodies  love  kimhye-ri  kelleydong  body 
july 2017 by robertogreco

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