Monday, 17 August 2020

Alternate Best Actor 2002: Sol Kyung-gu in Oasis

Sol Kyung-gu did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Jong-du in Oasis.

Oasis tells the story of an off-beat ex-con trying to bond with a woman with cerebral palsy.

Telling that quick little summary really doesn't cover the half of it, as is the case it seems for every film by Lee Chang-dong, a filmmaker who tells his unique stories in his own way at his own pace. This film is no different in this regard, as all his films are more a spiral of storytelling than a through line. Poetry was about a woman dealing with dementia but also not that. Burning was about a man trying to discover what happened to his girlfriend, but also not that. Well here we have that central conceit that honestly sounds like the set up for a bad Hollywood feel good film like I Am Sam. Made by Lee Chang-dong though it is of course not that, but it isn't wholly not that either. I guess though the "feel good" intention it itself more than a bit of struggle I think, where I have to digress into how one even examines a film with a particular subject matter. I suppose this was on my mind a bit more from also watching the unlikely original screenplay Oscar winner from this year in question, Talk to Her. A film I would describe as well written in a general sense, well directed, and in general well acted, however the essential conceit of the film, and how that conceit was treated prevented me from at all embracing the film. This as that film features a man who is essentially a stalker very intimately treating a coma patient, the woman he was stalking. Now the film treats it as though that character is some innocent sort of character that alleges a purity of some sort, however that approach in a way made me reject that film all the more. Again even though I could recognize overall the film was artfully done, however that barrier stood too tall fundamentally within the narrative to quite overcome it.

I say all that as a similar experience came from Oasis, which again is by a filmmaker who clearly has a vision and is attempting to take a risk. This in this unlikely love story between Sol's ex-con and the woman with cerebral palsy, who is also related to the man's past, as she is family member of the person Jong-du killed in a hit and run that led to his imprisonment. Well the man takes interest in the woman, Han Gong-ju (Moon So-Ri), but that interest is to first attempt to sexually assault her, which is only prevented from her naturally freaking out about his behavior. This element is frankly less fundamental to this film than the conceit of Talk to Her, but it did cause my interest within the story to almost immediately cease. Again though it is more execution than just content, as obviously I've followed technically far more sinister leads in films, the problem is though this isn't the story about a sociopath, it seems like it's trying to be a sweet romance. Although all of that isn't really all that much attached to what I'm here to write about, Sol's performance, however it is a starting point that is where I come to this film. Anyway, so how about Sol's work. Well he has the secondary challenge within the film, Moon's is greater in terms of portraying a mentally and physically handicapped person, his Jong-du is just somewhat mentally handicapped, which is never gone into great detail. Sol's performance though is one of a man who just is off in some way anyways that is hard to exactly completely put your finer on though one thing that is obvious is he stands out like a sore thumb.

I must grant Sol credit that he does disappear into the role as the man he portrays he finds just a naturalism within the man's manner. This in the slightly odd way of overly smiling, and his movements that have a consistent sort of awkwardness to them. He portrays them with the right quality as basically a given as the man. This amplified further in his way of speaking that is with an over eagerness that again emphasizes a man whose mind is functioning fully, it is broken in more than one sense. This as he successfully presents a man who is too eager to please, and his whole manner seems as though the man has some constant wish to do this. Of course this then leads into the relationship that portrays that initial meeting, which I won't fault Sol's performance. His portrayal is that of the man's awkwardness going to the point of becoming dangerous in the moment of the attempted rape, which I'm not quite sure why it is in the film. Anyway past that questionable inclusion though we get to the meat, which is why it is more questionable, as the film has scenes of more sincere bonding between Jong-du and Gong-ju. This that I had no real interest in again, not to keep harping on it, but..."what the hell Lee?". In a setup like this though the worst thing that can happen is becoming detached from the film's reality, which unfortunately happened for things went a bit more slowly as the film went on. This in that I just didn't care about the romance of any potential at this point, so I guess I really looked just at the acting, which for a film like this is a bit of a problem actually.

Not taking stock into the character's leads one to just look at the posturing of the actors. Again I can praise Sol to the extent that I believed him, less so for Moon So-Ri unfortunately who sadly is no Daniel Day-Lewis. This in that I wasn't at all convinced by her physical portrayal of the palsy leading to me just feeling as though it was just...well acting. Again this leading to further problems in the romance I was already not invested in, this as I found half it not even convincing as a person within the film. This only leaving Sol in his character that I didn't care about, playing his part with a reasonable degree of effectiveness, again only in that I believed his portrayal of the disability. The character though remained static, this as really the creation of the humanity and sympathy for him should come from the romance. The romance I don't care about nor do I believe. So there's a bit of a problem here for Sol, who honestly can only do so much in my mind. This in that he hits the note that he does hit, he sets up really the template for the man and is convincing in that. Lee Chang-Dong's choices though left it as a template and only that however. Again I say this without relishing the criticism as I've liked all his others films that I've seen and found their off-beat approach intriguing to say the least. I suppose though then it is only befitting that one of his great gambles doesn't pay off. Well that was the case for me and Oasis. The off-beat choices frankly detracted from the conceit rather than amplifying it. A conceit that was genuinely already a big enough risk on its own. Its choices for brutality to avoid sentimentality didn't work for me, frankly didn't even make it any less overly sentimental, just jarring. Sol does what he can in the lead, but I'll admit the film ended up obscuring my perspective of his work.


Louis Morgan said...

The fruit basket was rotten Calvin.

Luke Higham said...


Louis: Ratings and thoughts on the cast. I hope this didn't put you off from possibly reviewing him for Peppermint Candy.

Louis Morgan said...


Not at all, as again as given my reaction to Poetry and Burning, I'm willing to let this film slide. Regarding Sol specifically, I'd really love to review him for a film I don't kind of despise on a certain level.

Moon - 2(Well I do think she's more than fine in those oddly implemented fantasy scenes where she doesn't have palsy. Unfortunately this is a performance where the surface keeps it from doing anything for me. This as noted in the review, I found all her physical acting to be completely unconvincing. I didn't see anything other than an actor trying to portray the physical disability, so it didn't work for me in the slightest.)

Everyone else is fine in limited roles.

Luke Higham said...

Both times you reviewed Sol, you've found fundamental issues in both films.

Luke Higham said...

I can't help but chuckle abit with Moon's rating because Calvin gave her a five and the Lead Actress win.

Michael McCarthy said...

Yeah I was about to say the same, Sol Kyung-gu seems like a talented guy but is he ever in films that aren’t absolute cringe-fests?

As far as the sexual assault scene, I almost WISH I could read it as being in there for no reason. But honestly it felt like it was meant to pique Gong-ju’s interest in having a sexual relationship and see Jong-du as being “interested.” I don’t need to go into how revolting this idea is on its own, but beyond that it’s just deeply insulting to people with disabilities.

Aidan Pittman said...

Had a feeling this was gonna happen. I haven't seen Oasis myself, but the online reactions I've seen for it are super divisive. I've seen some say it's beautiful and others saying it's one of the worst films they've ever seen. Good to see you liked him more than I expected though, I was honestly expecting a 3.5 lol.

Anonymous said...

Louis, would you consider giving Frida a re-watch for both Hayek and Molina. Calvin has the former at #2 and the latter at #5.

Louis Morgan said...


No, my feelings regarding both performances I can guarantee will not change.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Can't wait to see who your Lead Actress winner is. I'd like to think it's Oksana Akinshina in Lilya 4 Ever.