Thursday 22 June 2017

Sydney Film Festival (31) - OKJA (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea). Reviewed by Kiki Fung

I enjoyed OKJA at the closing night of the Sydney Film Festival 2017

Bong Joon-ho is among the most talented of contemporary Korean directors and he always has something interesting injected into what seem to be commercial/genre films (my favourite, however, is still MEMORIES OF MURDER). It is certainly far beyond a "cute monster film" and in fact, there weren't many predictable "cute" scenes. Instead, I was constantly surprised and entertained. I would also argue that the "sweetness" and bright colours, esp those around Mirando's campaigns, are meant as irony and a critique of commercial packaging.

The film is beautifully directed and has a strong visual fluidity. Bong demonstrated that it is possible to make a film that bears social commentary WITHOUT being too serious or pretentious, and it is always possible, as we have seen in his cinema alongside several other Korean directors, to not follow genre conventions. In fact, in a way I don't think "genre" is ever a guiding principle for many Asian filmmakers.

Tilda Swinton, Ahn Seo-hyun, Okja
I'd like to also add that this is probably an antidote or an (unintentional) answer to Hollywood's "white-washing", in that it has the guts to NOT glorify the Caucasian character played by a superstar (Tilda Swinton) and it certainly hasn't looked up to Western capitalist/corporate culture. The film is committed to celebrating the dedication and determination of a teenage Korean girl. i.e. Asian characters are not sidelined. The film also has something interesting to say about anarchist (I wouldn't say terrorist) activities.

It would be ideal to watch this film in a cinema because it is very cinematic - with its grand truck chasing and massive crashing scenes superbly filmed and directed - believe me I am not a fan of this kind of cinematic spectacle but I was really impressed at how fresh these scenes look. So again, this is a film best enjoyed on the big screen - all the more so with a big crowd. Nothing beats clapping together with fellow audiences at a very funny scene at the State Theatre.

I will conclude by quoting Mr Ackbar Abbas, my teacher at the University of Hong Kong, whose lectures I enjoyed tremendously, "The commercial is not necessarily the junkyard of cinema, just as the noncommercial is not necessarily the guarantee of quality or even of integrity."

This is simply good filmmaking.

Ahn Seo-hyun, Okja

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