Korean Film Review – OASIS (오아시스)

Recently released on a special edition DVD, “Oasis” follows convict Jong-du as he is released from prison for involuntary manslaughter. He is a twitchy, awkward man who appears to say the wrong things and has no idea how his actions affect others. 

While in prison, his family moves without telling him and seems dismayed at his return. Jong-du’s first thought upon his release is to visit the family of the sanitation worker he killed three years prior. 

Totally oblivious to the pain this causes, it is here that he meets Gong-ju, the sanitation worker’s daughter, who suffers from cerebral palsy. She, too, is abandoned by her family and left to live on her own in a run-down apartment while her brother lives in luxury, collecting the disability checks meant for her. Even her caregiver uses the time that should be spent working to have sex with her lover. 

Jong-du is fascinated by Gong-ju and attempts to rape her. However, this brutal act, which is her first meaningful human interaction in a long time, coupled with the constant rejection by her family, leads to an unlikely and at times beautiful relationship.

We watch as the pair interacts and shares the most romantic of moments doing things most people take for granted, such as washing hair, finding out a favorite color or helping someone get over their fear of the dark. But as much as we come to love this touching, yet unlikely, relationship, we can tell it is doomed to fail as we learn how troubling the relationship is to Jong-du’s family. We continue to watch with unease to see if this misunderstood couple can ever succeed in a society they have no place in, except by each other’s side.

The film has a natural style with handheld camera work and long single takes, giving it a realistic feel. Despite the simplistic aesthetic of the film, director Lee Chang-dong manages to capture some moments of sheer beauty. Particularly as we peek inside Gong-ju’s mind to see how she can take the virtue out of most situations, whether it be reflections on a wall or a playful punch on the subway.

While the film is well directed, the real stars are Sol Kyung-gu and Moon So-ri who play our lovers doomed for failure. Though Sol is great in his portrayal of the simple-minded Jong-du, Moon is simply stunning and her physical portrayal of Gong-ju earned her several major acting awards, including the Marcello Mastroianni at the Venice Film Festival in 2002.

If you think Korean cinema is synonymous with violence and revenge, “Oasis” really is a refreshing change. At times it’s difficult to watch, but if you give it the time you will be rewarded with a great film. 

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Categories: Reviews

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