"I won't be forgetting about this one anytime soon."
- Mighty Peking Man
Director: Lee Chang-Dong
Producer: Myeong Gye-Nam
Writer: Lee Chang-Dong
Cast: Seol Gyeong-Gu, Mun So-Ri
Running Time: 133 min.
Plot: After a man is released from prison for accidentally killing another man in a car accident, he develops a strong relationship with the victim's daughter, who has cerebral palsy and is homebound.
Availability: This title is available at HKflix.com
ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: Oasis is probably not the film you'll want to show your new boyfriend or girlfriend to illustrate your interest in Asian cinema. Don't get me wrong; it's a stellar film featuring a genius performance by Mun So-Ri, but it's often difficult to watch because of both its subject matter and deliberately slow pace. At 133 minutes, you're not only investing a considerable amount of your time, but because of Oasis's weighty subject matter and heartbreaking story, you're investing a great deal of emotion as well. I guarantee you will think about this film long after you've ejected it from your DVD player.
I was fortunate enough to watch Oasis without knowing anything at all about the story. I say "fortunate" because I was completely surprised when Mun So-Ri's cerebral palsy-ravaged character Gong-Ju appears for the first time. Not that I would have been any less moved by Oasis, but the revelation that the movie was going to be about the very unconventional relationship between a woman with a severe physical handicap and a mentally retarded ex-con was very, very surprising, and refreshing as well.
Oasis is worth watching for many reasons, namely because of the performances of Mun So-Ri, as Gong-Ju, and Seol Gyeong-Gu, as Jong-Du. The actors absolutely disappear into their roles. You'll never once think that either is acting. And while it's easy to applaud both their physical transformations (in the DVD's extras, So-Ri even breaks down during filiming at one point because of the pain caused by the necessary and frequent twisting of her limbs), I was just as impressed with the shame, humility, humor, anger, frustration, joy and pain they inject into their roles.
Oasis is never exploitative. It treats its characters with an honesty that's at once heartbreaking, honest and revealing. Few American films have been brave enough to tackle topics related to physical and mental disabilities, so for an Asian film to so humanely depict the lives of two handicapped characters is refreshing, enlightening and profound. Bravo to the people who greenlit and produced Oasis. (With a little research, I learned that cerebral palsy is not a disease, but rather a condition brought on by a lack of oxygen to the brain during childbirth. An important bit of information gleaned as result of this very powerful movie, and any movie that can keep me both engaged AND educated gets high marks in my book.)
Other than that, Oasis is a beautiful, moving and thought-provoking movie that shouldn't be missed.
ALEXANDER'S RATING: 9/10
RAGING GAIJIN'S REVIEW: "Oasis" is a difficult film to watch, let alone review. The story is deceptively simple, as the plot synopsis above describes, but from it grows one of the most unlikely and captivating relationships in cinema history. Writer/director Lee Chang-Dong has crafted a unique and disturbing "love story" that shatters the viewer's preconceived notions of just what constitutes a romantic relationship, while breaking a few taboos along the way for good measure. To put it simply, there's no way you can watch this film and walk away unaffected.
As a director, Lee Chang-Dong obviously favors realism. The camera is almost always kept at a distance, does long takes, and rarely moves; all to be as unobtrusive as possible. Naturally, this can make the film move rather slowly. Lee Chang-Dong isn't looking to rush things by editing out inconsequential scenes of people walking down the street or waiting for the bus. This is all seemingly in the effort to make the movie feel as real as possible. Of course, it's up to each viewer to decide if this draws them further into the film or just bores them. The more impatient among us may find themselves reaching for the fast forward button. But if you stick with the film, if you become involved in "Oasis", it will reward you.
There aren't enough superlatives out there for me to do justice to Mun So-Ri, who plays the character afflicted with cerebral palsy. In real life she doesn't have this disease but except for a few fantasy sequences, you wouldn't know it watching "Oasis". Her work here is beyond words and is something that just has to be witnessed. In a day and age when Hollywood fawns over starlets like Katie Holmes who do more acting on magazine covers than in movies... a performance like Mun So-Ri's is nothing short of a revelation. I have the utmost respect and admiration for her, and she is undoubtedly a talent to watch. Seol Gyeong-Gu is also noteworthy in the role of Jong-du. Their characters make for a mismatched pair but in reality I can't think of any other two people who could have played these roles as perfectly as them.
About 38 minutes in, the movie takes a dark (and I mean dark) turn. It's truly one of the most uncomfortable scenes I've ever watched in a film. It's not easy to sit through and it challenges you as a viewer because, given what happens after, it forces you to rethink your idea of what love is or what it can be. I don't want to divulge any more because it shouldn't be spoiled. It is very rare that a film chooses to spotlight individuals like these two. They're truly the outcasts of society, nearly invisible to the rest of the world, and the film points a critical eye at the way South Korean deals with disabled people. Lee Chang-Dong should be applauded for his unconventional and honest portrayal of these social misfits.
This is not to say that "Oasis"is without faults. It probably moves a little too slow for its own good. 120 minutes would have been more than enough to tell the story and it could have removed some of the more unnecessary scenes. In addition, almost the entire third act is based on a misunderstanding that could have been easily cleared up but, for some reason, Jong-du never tries to explain himself. This is quite puzzling as it ends up getting him in trouble with the law once again. Of course, it's also an extreme coincidence that even created the misunderstanding in the first place; one of those "of all the times you could have decided to walk in the door" moments. During these last twenty minutes or so, the film breaks free from reality and comes across as illogical for the sake of drama. It's kind of a disappointment but it doesn't ruin the movie.
Minor quibbles aside, "Oasis" is a stellar achievement in Korean cinema. Outside of Wong Kar-Wai's films and a select few Japanese movies, I can't think of an Asian film that has stirred as much emotion (whether positive or negative) inside me. This is not a film you necessarily enjoy watching but you have no choice but to recognize the artistry and talent of those involved. "Oasis" will unsettle you, it'll provoke you, but you just might thank it in return. This most unlikely of love stories is one that demands your attention.
RAGING GAIJIN'S RATING: 8.5/10
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S REVIEW: After a 2-year imprisonment for a drunk driving accident that cost a man's life, Jong-du (Seol Gyeong-Gu) is free again. Far from typical, Jong-du is an erratic clown-type in his late 20's who still hasn't learned how to grow up. Prison life may have further ruined his mental and social capabilities; whatever the deal, it doesn't take long for Jong-du to get into trouble. The first day of his release, he's arrested for eating a big meal at a restaurant and, knowingly, not having any money to pay the bill. His reluctant family members end up bailing him out, which also marks the first time they've seen him since he was put in the can. His family does everything they could to jumpstart Jong-du's life in the right direction, such as finding him a job as a food-delivery boy and long lectures on how he needs to stop acting like a child.
One day, while on his new food-delivery job, Jong-du comes across a familiar-looking apartment, which happens to be the place where the deceased victim of the drunk-driving incident used to live. Jong-du pointlessly decides to knock on the door to discover a woman named Gong-ju (Mun So-Ri), who has an extreme case of cerebral palsy (a brain defect that affects the control of muscles). Despite her unappealing appearance, Gong-ju takes an immediate interest in Gong-ju by asking her personal questions as if she were a hot item at a bar. Jong-du is interrupted as Gong-ju's family/caretakers unexpectedly enter the pad and question his presence. After Jong-du "proudly" identifies himself as the drunk driver, they tell him to leave and never come back. The fact is, Gong-ju (which, by the way, means "princess" in Korean), is the deceased man's daughter who is now a homebound orphan.
Although Jong-du was told to stay away from Gong-ju, he continues to secretly visit her. As days go on, they develop a friendship that ultimately leads to a subtle romance. The pair discover the true meaning behind their relationship: it's not about love, it's not about looks - it's about being accepted and treated like a normal human being, despite any mental or physical short-comings. It's the end of neglection and humiliation; and the start of a new dawn that allows two unusual people the ability to be free, and have careless fun.
Writer/director Lee Chang-Dong created a film that's guaranteed to grab a hold of you, shut you up and make you watch what's on the screen in pure awe. It'll have you smiling, touched and, at times, uncomfortably entertained. I don't know whether to recommended this film, or keep it locked in a cage as if it were a magic python that would either make you or break you. In this case, I'm leaving the gate half open because "Oasis" happens to be one of the most beautiful films I've seen in years.
Not only is "Oasis" a visually enticing, but there's some imaginative tactics Lee Chang-Dong uses to get certain points across - it's something that you definitely have to see to believe. The teaming of Seol Gyeong-Gu and Mun So-Ri is a remarkable example of the kind of magic two profound talents can make (both also starred in Lee Chang-Dong's "Peppermint Candy"). Mun So-Ri deserves the Korean equivalent of an Oscar for her intense portrayal of Gong-ju, and that's an understatement.
Because of the film's tone and subject matter, I was hesitant to give this film a perfect 10. But after countless hours of thinking, I've come to the conclusion that "Oasis" is a milestone in Korean cinema. I won't be forgetting about this one anytime soon.
MIGHTY PEKING MAN'S RATING: 10/10