Ten years on from his breakout hit, The Host, South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho seems intent on recreating the crossover appeal of his genre-bending monster flick for a Western audience. Okja, Bong’s Netflix-produced, environmentalist-themed adventure fantasy, also draws from 2013’s Snowpiercer, the filmmaker’s first English-language effort, specifically in its clear contempt for dehumanizing capitalism.
Bong has proven capable of uniting a variety of different tonal ambitions with some razor-sharp satire and impeccable craftsmanship, but Okja feels jarringly disorganized and rudderless for much of its runtime. Even at its best, the film merely musters convincingly imitative set pieces, the highlight of which is a chase scene—cut ironically to the John Denver ballad “Annie’s Song”—that ends with the unimaginative recycling of an action beat from The Host’s funniest sequence. Bong’s filmmaking is so singularly impressive that even at its most derivative, Okja feels like a momentous spectacle, but it’s the first film of his ever to give the impression that the spectacle is masking an otherwise underdeveloped, often incoherent, concept.