Thursday, March 18, 2010

Movie Review: Oasis

I saw this film over the weekend after a recommendation from a friend. It's a Korean film about ostracized misfits who find one another in the midst of a harsh society. The main character, Jong-du Hong, is released from prison after serving time for killing someone in a drunk driving accident. His family are not happy to see him again. They are hard-pressed for money and have had to squeeze into a small apartment with his many siblings. His family does not hesitate to tell him that he is a burden and that they were better off when he was locked up.

He visits the family of the person he killed to make amends, only to find them in the process of moving out of their apartment. They are leaving behind the child of the accident victim, Gong-ju Han, a severely disabled woman with cerebral palsy. Jong-du confronts her brother as they are leaving and demands to know who will take care of her. He is kicked out of the apartment and she is left alone, with physical contortions that horribly distort her limbs. It was painful to watch.

Jong-du returns repeatedly to try to visit Gong-ju, to bring her flowers and to check on her. Finally, one day he is let into the apartment. He tries to rape her then flees when she passes out.

This is the point where the movie becomes inexplicable to me. Following the attempted rape Gong-ju fantasizes about Jong-du and imagines having a lover, and struggles against her cerebral palsy to put on makeup. Jong-du returns and the two become lovers. Their train-wrecked lives come together in a predictable way. One physically damaged, one psychologically damaged, both without psychological or social support. The result is inevitable and predictable.

The Rotten Tomatoes web site gave this film an 89% favorable rating, although I'm not sure why. One of the difficulties of this movie, besides the implication that rape can trigger love, is the fact that Jong-du's facial contortions made it impossible to read her emotions, and I was left wondering if she was in pain, afraid or ecstatic. When it was crucial to directly tell the audience what she was feeling the director cut to a fantasy mode, and the physically-whole actress acted out Gong-ju's feelings. We learn she is entranced by this man, that she fancies herself teasing him and playfully flirting with him, that her days are filled with wonder and fulfillment when he is around.

The most potent part of the film was the portrayal of how this disabled woman was treated by Korean society----she was refused service at a restaurant and rejected at a family gathering---overt discrimination highlighted by Jong-du's naivety. He brings her to his mother's birthday party only to be confronted by his siblings about his inappropriateness. Gong-ju's family can't even imagine that anyone could love her, and they take it for granted that he is abusing her when they finally do make love.

Jong-du ultimately goest to prison after a false rape allegation, but personally I think he should have been there quicker after the first, real, attempt.