Oasis Movie Review
Case in point, Lee Chang-dong's Oasis, a subversive slice of Seoul life that's both funny and heartbreaking and that would never get made in America, no way, no how. The center of this cinematic storm is Hong Jong-Du (Sol Kyung-gu), a young man who's just been released from prison after serving three years for hit-and-run manslaughter. There's something not quite right with the smiling, singing Jong-Du. He may or may not be retarded, but he's clearly got the worst case of adult ADD in town. He's jittery and unable to focus on even the shortest conversation. But once he gets an idea in his head... watch out.
Jong-Du's family is not at all pleased to see him back. In fact, they moved and left him no forwarding information while he was in jail. But he locates them ("Don't disrupt my life," says his younger brother), and he also tracks down the family of the man he killed to deliver a fruit basket and an apology. What he finds is the man's son and daughter-in-law living in a cramped and crumbling apartment with the man's daughter, Han Gong-Ju (Moon So-ri), who is hopelessly crippled by severe cerebral palsy. Curled up in a tangled ball on the floor, she can barely speak but has all her mental faculties. It becomes clear that her family is about to abandon her there and move into a new apartment that was designated for use by the handicapped. Two lost souls abandoned by two cruel families. They seem fated to be together.
Jong-Du is fascinated by Gong-Ju, and he comes back that night and attempts to rape her, giving up when she passes out. Inexplicably, he leaves her his phone number. More inexplicably, she calls him up. A truly unique love affair is born.
Gong-Ju becomes Jong-Du's "princess," and he gets great pleasure from taking her out of the house, wheeling her through town, and even bringing her to restaurants and bars, where the ostracism they both feel is made plain. No matter. They both enjoy each other's companionship and even survive the horrified reaction of Jong-Du's family when he impulsively brings her to a family celebration at a restaurant. Jong-Du's brothers pull him aside and treat him like a badly behaving child, which in some senses he is. But he couldn't care less.
In a few amazing scenes, Jong-Du fantasizes about what Gong-Ju would be like if she were healthy. She transforms instantly before our eyes into a lovely young woman who flirts and dances and recites poetry. Then, just as quickly, she becomes the afflicted Gong-Ju again. It's an acting triumph for Moon So-ri. I'd like to see Renée Zellweger try that.
Ultimately, the couple is found in bed together, and it's up to Gong-Ju, who can hardly communicate when she's calm and is unintelligible when she's agitated, to try to exonerate her friend. The world is against them, and it's surprisingly moving to watch these two as they struggle against their families, the police, and society itself to keep a connection. When your tears flow at the movie's climax, you'll be astonished that the story of the obnoxious misfit ex-con and the disabled woman you can barely stand to look at moves you this much.
Midnight at the oasis.