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In Oasis, Korean director Chang-dong Lee has certainly tackled a different kind of love story, one that filmmakers in the U.S. might be disinclined to work with. While mentally handicapped characters have had great portrayals in film before, as in Of Mice and Men or What's Eating Gilbert Grape, it's rare to see one as the romantic lead. (Forrest Gump is the only one that comes to mind at the moment.) Combine that with the fact that the protagonist of Oasis, Jong-du (Kyung-gu Sol) falls in love with Gong-ju (So-ri Moon), a woman who's crippled by cerebral palsy, and it becomes a very unlikely romance indeed.
It's interesting that the trailer and back-cover copy for Oasis shy away from the handicapped status of its characters. Jong-du and Gong-ju are described as an "outcast" and a "misfit," which is certainly true, but only half of the story. The images on the cover and the clips in the trailer also studiously avoid showing Gong-ju as a disabled character (instead, the cover has a dream-image of Gong-ju as an able-bodied woman). Is this a way of saying that their handicaps are irrelevant, and that the only thing that matters is how they fit into society and how they love each other? Or is it that the marketers were afraid to make it clear that this was a love story with less than perfect characters, for fear that potential viewers would turn away? I don't know, but I'd lean toward the latter.
In any case, Oasis is a film with an interesting premise and pretty solid performances from its two stars. So-ri Moon in particular is impressive: the actress, who is able-bodied, is completely convincing as a woman with cerebral palsy, with a fully functional mind but a body that refuses to cooperate.
In the end, though, Oasis was more a film that I thought I ought to appreciate, rather than one I really did appreciate. It's mainly a style issue, I think. There's not much of a sense of overall narrative, with the film instead feeling as though it's following around the characters, simply observing what they're up to. That "reality" may resonate with some viewers, but I found that it left me cold. The directing felt a bit too hands-off for me; with the cultural gap in place as well (I'm not familiar at all with Korean cinema) I felt that I was always missing a piece of the puzzle. The conclusion is interesting in some ways, and leaves things open without feeling unfinished, but at the same time, the plot (such as it is) has some holes in it. If you're enjoying the film as an experience, it'll probably be easy to overlook any such flaws, but I was never hooked enough to go with the flow.
Oasis appears in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and has been anamorphically enhanced. It's still fairly lackluster in the image quality department, though. The print is clean, but the image is on the soft side, and colors look muddy. Dark scenes are also hampered by contrast that's much too heavy: shadowy areas go immediately to full black, so a lot of detail is lost in any scene that's not well lit. The English subtitles are unfortunately burned-in.
The 2.0 Korean soundtrack is in about the same league as the video transfer. It's OK, but certainly not above average. The dialogue is rather flat-sounding, though otherwise it seems to be adequate. The English subtitles are not removable. They appear in an easily readable white font.
The only special features are a trailer for the film and a photo gallery.
Oasis is a different kind of love story, and one that will probably be of interest to fans of Korean film. I found the performances and premise respectable, but nonetheless the whole experience just didn't engage me. The rather bland audio and video transfer probably didn't help in that respect; it's watchable but hardly a feast for the eyes. I'll give Oasis a "rent it" for those who are interested.
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