Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho's 'Okja' is a globalised caper comedy with a conscience buried somewhere among all its silliness. In the film's sights are GM food production and the poor treatment of animals, and at its heart is a cute, often winning relationship between an oversized pig and a Korean girl called Mija (An Seo Hyun). Call it a wacky kids' film with a message (one delivered in a script co-written with Jon Ronson), and it's just fine.
But there's too much ripe language and violence for this to work for most kids, and less forgiving audiences are likely to find that 'Snowpiercer' and 'The Host' director Bong's fondness for slapstick and caricature cancels out much of its serious purpose. Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal's performances as corporate baddies set on turning giant pigs into lucrative bacon are much less fun than they should be: Gyllenhaal's turn as a narcissistic, crazed animal expert is especially over-ripe and grating.
Put aside the pantomime approach to depicting the Mirando Corporation – a nasty food multinational with extravagant CEO Lucy Mirando (Swinton) at its head – and it's easier to enjoy the warm connection between Okja and little Mija. Okja is the result of Mirando's plan to raise 27 super-sized piglets and increase her company's food-production game. She's being raised in a remote Korean forest by Mija and her grandfather, until Mirando's crazy animal guru Dr Wilcox (Gyllenhaal) appears to whip her off to the US. What follows is a chase through Seoul and a climax in an American abattoir that briefly swerves the film from 'ET' territory to something closer to 'Schindler's List'.
The creature effects are charming: Okja herself sits just on the right side of cute, and the sight of a whole load of Okjas waiting for the chop has some power to it. Visually, this is a classy affair: Darius Khondji's photography enhances rural and urban locations alike. But the pig-chasing antics and cartoonish corporate nastiness that dominate much of the film become seriously grating. Proceed with cochon.