Facets Multimedia // 2002 // 132 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Joel Pearce (Retired) // January 11th, 2005
When I sat down to watch Oasis, I was expecting to discover a sad but touching romance between two misfits -- perhaps something along the lines of Christmas in August. I was completely wrong, and instead have discovered a challenging, harrowing and ultimately redemptive film that has a whole lot to say about society and relationships. Patient and daring film fans will definitely want to check out this DVD.
Jong-du Hong (Kyung-gu Sol, Silmido) is a genuine loser. He has just been released from prison after killing a man in a car accident, to be forced once again on his frustrated family. He has never been able to distinguish between intelligent and stupid things to do, and soon finds himself in a lot more trouble when he seeks out the family of the man who was killed in the accident.
What he discovers there, in addition to the family members who want him out of their lives forever, is Gong-Ju Han (So-ri Moon, Peppermint Candy), the man's disabled daughter. Jong-Du is immediately intrigued by her, and what begins as a truly inappropriate move on his part quickly develops into a meaningful relationship between the two of them. Although they both have serious personal issues to surmount, these issues seem minor compared to the resistance of their families.
This is a difficult film to talk about. I could do the usual thing, and talk about the great performances, the attractive cinematography and the way it exposes the taboos of society. And I will talk about all of those things, because they are a major part of what Oasis is. It feels like the wrong place to start in this case, though, because what really stands out for me is the way it was able to get under my skin and make me feel really uncomfortable, and still make me smile at times. There have been a lot of odd-couple love stories, and just as many "love conquers all" stories, but Oasis doesn't feel like any of them.
Love is often portrayed as a visual and emotional connection on film. A character sees another and falls in love, even if they see something in that person that no one else does. Any physical connection between the two characters is a romanticized and sanitized representation of that visual attraction. There have only been a few films that have accurately captured the unexplainable draw and visceral realism of love. Leaving Las Vegas is a film that had something different to offer, and Oasis manages to capture something similar. I found the first physical encounter between Jong-du and Gong-ju to be shocking and unsettling, even repulsive, because of the power imbalance between them. I had a hard time believing that this encounter could blossom into a genuine relationship between them, but I think that's the primary point that the film wants to make. It's not for me to decide whether their love is feasible or right, just as it isn't up to their families. In the same way, none of us can ever really explain why they love the person that they do. We love people that we fall in love with, and that's why so many people end up lonely and heartbroken.
The structure of Oasis really helps to bring this point home. I found the concept of their relationship growing on my as it continued throughout the film. Both of the characters simply wanted a normal life, and realized that neither of them would ever be offered that opportunity. So, instead of wishing for something that neither of them would ever be able to have, they were willing to do the best that they could with someone that could share that feeling of alienation. We get to see moments that they share, as well as moments in which they imagine how things could be in a perfect world.
The performances do deserve some recognition. Jong-du is a selfish, foolish loser, which is a difficult character to make appealing to an audience. His history isn't explained explicitly, so we don't feel empathy for him simply because we know the challenges he has suffered through. Instead, Kyung-gu Sol plays him with a confusion and innocence that works perfectly for the role. If he were to understand the consequences and implications of his actions, he would be a villain. He doesn't understand what's happening around him, though, and the way that he is treated by his family explains much of his situation. Many families have a person like Jong-du, a baffling and frustrating person that we feel that we should love (and hate) more than we do. So-ri Moon's performance is every bit as incredible. Her movements and frustrations are always believable, and she shifts smoothly from the physicality of reality to the character she is in her imagination, when she is able to walk and talk clearly. It's rarely confusing whether a moment is reality or imagination, but the differences in her performances are often detailed and subtle. She is heartbreaking to watch.
Although the film is from a different culture, it resonates well with how we treat outcasts in our society. We learn that Jong-du has always been treated poorly by his family, and some of the things from his past that are uncovered really change the way we understand his character. When their relationship is discovered, only one person in his family even raises the possibility that their assumptions may be unfair. Likewise, Gong-ju is mistreated by her family as well. They seem to have little interest in her, then treat her as though she is not there even there when they do visit. Her disability is physical, not mental, yet no one has ever treated her like a human being until Jong-du comes into her life.
The transfer on the DVD is quite good. The image is acceptable but not remarkable, with quite a few dark scenes that tend to get obscured in shadow. The biggest problem is a general lack of detail, which is evident throughout. It looks as though this is a letterboxed image blown up to anamorphic. The colors are quite accurate and the image seems to be without serious print flaws. The sound comes in the form of a basic stereo track, which accurately represents voices and the uncomfortable silences without ever drawing attention to itself. The disc, unfortunately, comes with only a small still gallery for extras. This is a film that deserves a good edition with some insight by the people involved in production.
To be fair, Oasis isn't a film for everyone. The pacing is sometimes somewhat slow, and it's not always a pleasant film to watch. There is quite a bit of discomfort to wade through until the goals of the film become clear. Patient viewers will be glad that they waited, but many will not make it through the difficult first hour. This is one of those films that I am glad I have seen, but wouldn't likely ever sit through again.
Daring viewers will find much to admire about this Korean romance. It is completely unique, and has quite a bit to say about some important issues. More importantly, it manages to touch the heart in the process.
Oasis is not guilty. Facets, however, has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete with some of the other studios that have been releasing Asian films lately.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Facets Multimedia
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Korean)
Running Time: 132 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
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