Friday, August 21, 2009


The DVD for Oasis shows a picture of two lovers embracing in a verdant field. Now, based on that image, one might predict a pretty romance starring attractive people. Like, for example, the Lake House, to use the most recent film on this little project to fit the mold. So, when the film opens with the most annoying man in the world wandering around, one is surprised at the very least.

Perhaps I should feel bad about saying that, since said most annoying man - played by Kyung-gu Sol - is supposed to be mentally challenged. Of course, that's not immediately apparent, as he's initially wandering around the city and trying to bum cigarettes and meals off of people. He also makes the most annoying sound in the world, the sound of someone with the sniffles. That awful "sucking crap up your nose" noise, which drives me absolutely insane.

It's an interesting tactic, making your main character so initially off putting. I suppose you're supposed to feel bad about disliking him, but since the performance isn't that good he comes off as more annoying than having genuine mental problems. It's also somewhat used to excuse his actions, which are frequently quite ridiculous, like introducing himself to the love interest - disabled with cerebral palsy and played by So-ri Moon - with attempted rape. Not a great way to make a character likable.

So we have the immortal story of two disabled characters who fall in love in slightly uncomfortable ways, given their introduction. And I can see why Sol falls in love with Moon, she's the only remotely likable character in the movie. While the other characters can be rightly annoyed by Sol, they shouldn't outright tell him their lives would be better off without them. His family is relatively decent, since it makes sense that they would be annoyed by someone that doesn't learn and is often in jail. I understand their frustration - I know a guy who has mental disabilities, and is frustrating in the same way, though that's at least partially because he's smart enough to know that it allows him to get away with stuff normal people wouldn't (though not smart enough to keep that fact to himself). Moon's neighbours set about doin' the nasty right in front of her, her brother uses disability cheques to live the high life while she lives in squalor, and Sol is the only one who is nice to her - apart from that whole messy rape business.

It seems to be about how disabled people are screwed over by society, but instead it just chronicles the lives of a bunch of thoroughly unlikable people and a girl with cerebral palsy. It's difficult to watch at times, not because of the disabilities on display (though Moon's attempts at being convincingly disabled can be) but because people are just cruel to each other for no reason other than to help the director make a point.

I get what he was trying to do, but he lacks one important thing, subtlety. Everyone's at the extreme, to the point where he deliberately tries to make characters hard to identify with. Living with people with these disabilities would be a challenge, but instead of trying to humanize these characters, they're just portrayed as pure evil, and hating the burdens thrust among them. Actual families with disabled kids are often frustrated by their antics, especially if their antics include criminal activity, but more often than not still care about the people. These people are all pitched as having no empathy, it's annoying.

There's something good here though, and that's So-ri Moon. She's got a difficult role to play, being both afflicted with cerebral palsy and also - in dream sequences - completely normal. If there's one character in the movie you can care about, it's her, and you really empathize with her wanting to live a normal life, and being completely unable. The way she dreams of being able to do simple things - like hitting Sol over the head with a bottle - and is completely unable to is heartbreaking.

If you could care about the characters, this might be a good movie, but with one exception, you just can't. They're too simplistic, they're too unlikable, and they're too difficult to care about. Make the families likable, and the male lead not attempt rape you've got a potential story. But by pitching the families as pure evil, using every opportunity to use and abuse their disabled relatives, it does not work. Subtlety can be the difference between a good movie, and one that borders on ridiculous. This one is on the ridiculous side.

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