Oasis, 2002

A flighty, aimless man named Jong-du (Sol Kyung-gu), insufficiently dressed in a summer shirt on a brisk winter day, arrives at a major city thoroughfare to wait for a bus, biding his time by cursorily scanning through a rack of inexpensive sweaters peddled on the sidewalk. Arriving at his intended destination, a multi-level urban residential complex, Jong-du attempts to surprise the occupant by knocking under the playful pretense of laundry service, only to encounter a bewildered stranger who immediately slams the door shut. Unable to find information on the former residents, Jong-du imposes on a restaurant owner by ordering dinner with the naive expectation that he will telephone his younger brother, Jong-sae (Ryoo Seung-wan), who, in turn, will come to fetch him and pay for his meal. However, unable to contact Jong-sae, Jong-du complicates matters by attempting to escape after the police arrive, an impulsive act that sends him directly to the police station, where his prior conviction for a fatal hit-and-run accident is used to confirm his disreputable history of police infractions. The inconvenienced Jong-sae is eventually summoned to collect Jong-du from the precinct and brings him to their eldest brother Jong-il’s (Ahn Nae-sang) modest apartment, eager to shift the burden of responsibility for the unemployable Jong-du. However, Jong-du soon begins to court trouble when he pays an unwelcomed visit to the accident victim’s family and becomes determined to assist the victim’s daughter, Gong-ju (Moon So-ri), a young woman afflicted with cerebral palsy, after being abandoned in the squalid tenement by her selfish brother, Sang-shik (Son Byung-ho) and his wife (Yoon Ga-hyun).

Lee Chang-dong creates a poignant, provocative, and compelling portrait of isolation, compassion, and disability in Oasis. Using pervasive images of light, shadows, and the color white (which Gong-ju reveals is her favorite color), Lee reflects the social ignorance, fear, alienation, and captivity often encountered by the disabled: Gong-ju’s character introduction through the image of a white bird in flight as she hums a soothing melody; the recurring ominous shadows of a leafless tree cast against a wall tapestry (of a desert oasis) in Gong-ju’s unlit apartment; the metamorphosis of reflected mirror shards into butterflies; the sunlit rooftop of Gong-ju’s first outdoor trip. A novelist turned filmmaker, Lee’s instinctive narrative clarity and astute observation of social reality is understatedly reflected through mundane events and marginalized characters, articulating an innate humanism that seeks to encapsulate the ennobling beauty and quiet tragedy of human imperfection.

© Acquarello 2002. All rights reserved.

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