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    An assault on the mind

    From its scene-setting rape sequence through the incongruous tenderness that follows, "Oasis" shocks the viewer with a story that's equal parts fascinating and offensive.


    (Originally reviewed at the 2003 New York Korean Film Festival.)

    "Oasis" is just wrong. No, not just wrong — horribly, terribly, immorally, brain-damagingly wrong. Not to say bad, exactly — just wrong.

    From Lee Chang-Dong, writer-director of the brilliant "Peppermint Candy," "Oasis" follows Jong-Du (Kyung-Gu Sol), a three-time loser who has just finished serving his time for involuntary manslaughter. After demonstrating his total lack of social skills and basic inability to comprehend life on the outside, he manages to hook up with his family by getting arrested and taking advantage of his one phone call. They try to find the twenty-something slacker work and set him on a proper path, but every day brings new frustration.

    Written and directed by: Lee Chang-Dong.
    Cast: Kyung-gu Sol, So-ri Moon, Nae-sang Ahn, Seung-wan Ryoo, Gui-jeong Chu, Jin-jin Kim, Byung-ho Son, Ga-hyun Yoon, Myung-shin Park, Kyung-geun Park.
    In Korean with English subtitles.
    Angelika Film Center 18 West Houston at Mercer St. Lincoln Plaza Broadway between 62nd and 63rd

    New York Korean Film Festival
  • Oasis

  • Official site
    "I know this sounds harsh," says sis, "but we've really managed quite well with you out of the way."

    Without ever imagining that he wouldn't be welcome, he pays a cheerful visit to the home of the man he killed in a drunk-driving accident. As a friendly gesture, he brings along a fruit basket. He seems ready to patch things up and make some new friends.

    To no one's surprise but Jong-Du's, he's not wanted there either.

    So he leaves, but not before getting an eyeful of the dead man's daughter, Gong-Ju (Moon So-Ri). Later he comes back to visit Gong-Ju and the visit turns into a rape — one of the most horrific imaginable. Gong-Ju is not just an unwilling victim; she's severely disabled and can't even control her own body, much less turn aside an assault. It's as awful a scene as you might ever see on film.

    And yet, Lee will soon turn this whole situation around in a way that is, if anything, even more uncomfortable. For Gong-Ju, warehoused in a dingy apartment by her neglectful family, this is the first time anyone has paid attention to her. She manages to call Jong-Du and invite him into her life for real. Thus begins an improbable romance that has many sweet aspects — yet, it feels as if Lee has set his hero up as the most hateful character we could ever imagine seeing and then given himself the challenge of changing our minds. Maybe it comes from someplace genuine; but maybe it's just a writing exercise, a study in audience manipulation.

    Manipulated or not, we witness a romance that has a lot of resonance. Both characters are overcoming their confines — Jong-Du the limitations of her uncontrollable body and Gong-Ju the limitations of a post-prison existence that offers him little more potential for life than prison did. She offers him a niche in which he is not constantly afoul of other people's rules that he doesn't understand. He gives her an entry to the world outside which she never sees because nobody ever physically picks her up and takes her there — and an entry to the interior world of love and closeness with another human being.

    Lee avoids ruining this premise with maudlin sentimentality, courageous defiance, soft-focus romance or swelling string music. These two very limited characters' story just is what it is. So we never have a sense that we're being told what warm, cozy emotions to feel — after the way this story began, there's not much room for that. As a result, the movie is quite successful in offering us a love story we can believe in, one with originality and hope. But it also gives you the sense of being whipsawed by the transformation of horror into its opposite. Perhaps it's a hallmark of great art that a film would be this capable of getting under a viewer's skin; maybe my difficulty in getting past the film's horrible opening act only shows my own moral inflexibility. Or maybe it is a movie that makes an excuse for something unforgivable. Either way, it's a piece of work capable of making us uniquely uncomfortable not only with what we see on the screen but with what we feel about it inside. It is a challenge — give it that. "Oasis" is pretty strong filmmaking, admittedly, but you are almost guaranteed to walk out of the theater saying to yourself, "That was really fucked up."

    AUGUST 14, 2003

    Reader comments on Oasis:

  • tanzer's review   from dexter, Nov 28, 2003
  • Oasis   from Lenny, Sep 17, 2004
  • moral outrage?   from jarrell fisher, Dec 11, 2004
  • Re: moral outrage?   from MM in LA, Mar 11, 2005
  • Yours, an honest review   from Tim, Jan 4, 2005
  • Oasis   from Susana Perez, Feb 2, 2005
  • Re: Oasis   from Bry guy, Oct 24, 2005
  • SEE THIS MOVIE   from NYCviewer, Feb 5, 2005
  • **SPOILERS** There is no rape in the movie.   from Margueron, Mar 11, 2005
  • One Has to Know Something About Korea   from Jeanne Park, Sep 5, 2005
  • Re: One Has to Know Something About Korea   from elada, Jan 4, 2007
  • Re: One Has to Know Something About Korea   from M. Sultan, Mar 25, 2007
  • Re: One Has to Know Something About Korea   from jake, May 11, 2007
  • Improper review   from Movie addict, Apr 15, 2007
  • you missed something   from Nick Marking, Dec 10, 2007

  • Post a comment on "Oasis"