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Director delivers an 'Oasis'

A daring South Korean filmmaker's uncommon tale of love and societal cruelty is a satisfying cinematic experience.

June 18, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Lee Chang-dong's wrenching, high-risk "Oasis" takes its title from a cheap tapestry hanging in a shabby Seoul apartment. It depicts an Indian boy and woman and a baby elephant taking shelter in a tree-shaded spot in a desert and is the only significant decoration in the home of a young woman, Han Gong-Ju (Moon So-ri), severely disabled by cerebral palsy. In the course of this remarkable film, Lee brings together Gong-Ju and a feckless, reckless young man, Hong Jong-Du (Sol Kyung-gu), with a troubled past who, as an outcast himself, is able to see beyond her disability to discover a pretty, intelligent young woman.

Released from prison after serving three years for a fatal hit-and-run accident his brother committed, Jong-Du seeks out the family of the man who was killed. In an uncomfortable attempt at reconciliation, Jong-Du sees the man's daughter, Gong-Ju, and is intrigued. The pair become inseparable, defying the wishes of their families and suffering the cruel discrimination of society.

Lee transitioned from a successful literary career as a novelist into cinema when he wrote the screenplay for the film "To the Starry Island" for director Park Kwang-su in 1993. He then wrote the script to Park's landmark, "A Single Spark," a broadside against the brutality and corruption in South Korean society.

Four years later, he made his directing debut with "Green Fish," followed by "Peppermint Candy" in 2000. Both are outstanding, venturesome films of deep feeling and commitment that anticipate "Oasis."

Lee is a director of infinite daring and equal tenderness. The combination allows him to tell a love story of two young people marginalized by family and society that becomes a scorching indictment of the indifference, cruelty and hypocrisy of those institutions as the couple inevitably come into profound conflict with them. "Oasis" is an unforgettable experience from yet another filmmaker who is making South Korean cinema one of the most vibrant of any emerging on the international scene.

*

'Oasis'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Sol Kyung-gu...Hong Jong-Du

Moon So-ri...Han Gong-Ju

Ahn Nae-sang...Hong Jong-il

Ryoo Seung-wan...Hong Jong-Sae

A Lifesize Entertainment release. Writer-director Lee Chang-dong. Producer Myung Kaynam. Cinematographer Choi Young-taek. Editor Kim Hyun. Music Lee Jae-jin. Production designer Shin Jum-hui. Running time: 2 hours, 12 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Fairfax Cinemas, 7907 Beverly Blvd., L.A. (323) 655-4010, and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.

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