Written & directed by: Lee Chang-dong
Starring: Sol Kyung-gu, Moon So-ri
Plot: Released from prison after serving two-and-a-half years for involuntary manslaughter, Jong-du ill (Sol Kyung-gu – Voice Of A Murderer; Public Enemy) advisedly decides to pay a social visit to the family of the man he killed in a hit and run accident while drunk driving. He is given short shrift by the family but not before briefly meeting and becoming fascinated by the dead man’s severely disabled daughter, Gong-ju (Moon So-ri – Bewitching Attraction; A Good Lawyer’s Wife). Returning to the apartment to see the young woman when he knows she will be alone, Jong-du loses control of his feelings for the girl and sexually assaults her. Feeling guilty over the incident, he is amazed when Gong-ju telephones him at his place of work and invites him to come and visit her again. He accepts her invitation and their meeting leads them into a series of clandestine encounters during which the pair come to fall in love with each other.
A naturalistic look view through Lee Chang-dong’s (Peppermint Candy) eyes at the classic, tragic romance. Although a romance between a mentally handicapped ex-con and a girl struck with cerebral palsy is bound to create a stir and controversy within many viewers (much thanks to aforementioned rape attempt by Jong-du, one of the most horrific, unflinching, brave and best scenes in the film), Lee Chang-dong’s script is filled with enough uplifting spirit about what essentially consists of one tragic character fate and one doomed romance.
Immersing us extremely well into a cold Korean reality (literally), we see Sol Kyung-gu’s character appearing to have form of problem. Is he a drug addict, a psychopath in hiding or scarred by experiences in prison? In reality this is a child in a grown man’s body who’s clearly not had guidance or support nor will have or get at this time. Bringing up the theme of abandonment, we certainly don’t forgive his missteps, his lack of judgment but the way he’s being turned away by his family who sees it more as comfort to not having to deal with him is heartbreaking. Heartbreaking because Jong-du can shrug away rejection with a laugh and it’s really up to the viewer if he’s too stupid to acknowledge the hurt being dealt or if it’s his defense mechanism. Does he have any hope left? Is it even useful to try and think he’s going to gain acceptance after his latest prison sentence?
Well the instinct is to do good anyway, leading to his inappropriate visit of the family who had tragedy struck upon them at the hands of Jong-du. The fascination with Gong-ju, leading to sexual instincts taking over in a disturbing way, leading to mutual infatuation is surely one of the tough selling points of the movie and where a lot of viewers would question the logic. They would be right to do so and Lee Chang-dong is certainly not providing answers or being expository about the how’s and why’s about Jong-du and Gong-ju. But it’s the bravery of this stance that leads to the strength of the movie.
Feelings… it’s abstract sometimes. Kindred spirits just know they are meant for each other and in reality, Jong-du has much kindness to offer in the midst of his several lapses into bad judgment. Gong-ju also clearly sees beauty in a lot of things, which is an aspect that Lee Chang-dong uses to create various, wonderful fantasy sequences. Everything from seeing moths or butterflies in her apartment and Gong-ju wishing to act like a giddy, newly fallen in love teenager with Jong-du, this also gives us an opportunity to see actress Gong-ju in her natural state, making us appreciate all the more the physical nature of her performance. Beauty of course is what she sees in Jong-du and he’s not one that abandons her either. Mostly stuck by herself in a fairly run down apartment with little to no care taking or visitors, it’s a design choice that runs through Oasis. We get no glamorous surroundings and the loose camera style, drab colours and lack of score firmly plants us in a reality. Therefore a realism travels to the characters too as they do tick off the genre conventions (in a positive way) by hanging out, bonding, getting deeply emotionally involved on an unspoken level that only they get and it’s very clear when the outside world finally bursts in that there’s no conventional, happy ending for these two. If their bond is unspoken, how are they going to explain it to the world?
All of this captured with pitch perfect sense of conveying subtlety to an audience and the abstract excursions merely adds to an ultimate uplifting spirit within Lee Chang-dong’s masterpiece. Above described content may not suggest so and certainly not the final content of the film but watch it with your emotional core entirely open and you may realize just how beautiful this movie is. It may not be beautiful to look at, tug at your heartstrings via a manipulative score (in fact there’s barely any score) but Lee Chang-dong shows he’s a master of relating the internal beauty (and relating it to his pair of leads who are both excellent) of what’s going on between Jong-du and Gong-ju. There are no scary shadows anymore, THAT is what matters.