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February 10, 2006



Lee Chang-dong - 2002
Life Size Entertainment Region 0 DVD

The best reason to see Oasis is for Moon So-ri's performance. Until she stood up in the train, I had thought I was watching a film of someone who actually has cerebral palsy. The facial and physical contortions that Moon goes through are almost unwatchable. I have not found an in-depth interview with Lee in English concerning this film. That it is difficult to watch Moon is the point. Oasis is about a mentally handicapped young man in love with a young woman with cerebral palsy.

The lovers aren't the lovable savants of Hollywood (The Other Sister, Forrest Gump, Rain Man). The young man, Jong-du, played by Sol Kyung-gu, constantly sniffles and seems devoid of common sense. Because of their respective handicaps, the couple are taken advantage of by their respective families. A scene critical of society at large depicts the two attempting to get served at a restaurant. The young woman, Gong-ju, is imprisoned due to her limited physical abilities and the accompanying difficulty in verbal speech. Jong-du's brothers frequently mention that they do not understand "what is in his head". Jong-du and Gong-ju take the time to communicate with each other. More so than Jong-du, Gong-ju is marginalized by family members who claim the ability to speak on her behalf, and treat her as a victim for their convenience.

As mentioned at the beginning, Moon So-ri breaks from her performance of having cerebral palsy. The shift is one of presenting the inner self that cannot be articulated in reality. Lee plays with Gong-ju's sense of self and her environment with the reflected light from a hand-held mirror becoming butterflies, and having her room turn into the oasis of a story, complete with a small elephant. Some of have written about Oasis previously have refered to these moments as "magic realism". I guess that term is a reasonable close approximation of Lee's symbolic shifts in the narrative.

Moon's performance is also remarkable when compared to the frequent presentation of physically and mentally challenged women in Hollywood. As portrayed by such actresses as Juliette Lewis, Yvette Mimieux or Patty Duke, to mention a few, Hollywood essentially fetishizes being mentally or physically handicapped with a gallery of babes. Light in the Piazza is especially offensive with its conclusion that if you look like Yvette Mimieux, it doesn't matter if you have the I.Q. of a turnip. Lee films close-up after close-up of Gong-ju's twisted face, hands and limbs. In her fearless performance, Moon is unafraid of making herself appear ugly. When Moon as Gong-ju momentarily steps out of Gong-ju's contortions, her physical transformation bests any state of the art special effects.

Posted by peter at February 10, 2006 12:46 PM