It's hard to imagine anything more unpleasant than watching a man rape a woman who suffers from a severe case of cerebral palsy. But now imagine the woman subsequently calling the man up on the phone and asking him over, after which the two of them fall in love, only to be thwarted by their families. That's the dramatic arc traced by Korean writer-director Lee Chang-dong in his disturbingly touching - yes, touching - drama, Oasis. That we pull for this odd couple is a tribute to both Lee and to his two leads, Sol Kyung-gu and Moon So-ri, who dig so deep into their characters that we feel like we're watching their neurons fire or, alas, fail to fire. Moon has been getting plenty of kudos for capturing the herky-jerky abandon of cerebral palsy. But Sol is equally impressive as a learning-challenged ex-con with sociopathic tendencies. Sol's Jong-Du is the kind of guy you cross the street to avoid, an outcast. But Moon's Gong-Ju is an outcast, too. And although their first encounter is the very opposite of a Hollywood meet-cute, the similarity of their names suggests they're meant for each other.
And so does the fact that nobody else seems to want them. Gong-Ju's family all but shoves plates of food under her door. And Jong-Du's family is completely fed up with him, perhaps with good reason, perhaps not. On top of being a love story, Oasis serves as an indictment against Korean society for the way it treats its marginalized members. When Jong-Du and Gong-Ju wander into a restaurant, the hostess announces that they've just closed. But these two misfits draw strength from each other. And their relationship has a purity that other couples might well envy. Filmmakers have cooked up this kind of relationship before, but rarely without adding artificial sweeteners, whereas Lee uses all natural ingredients, achieving a tone that seems both utterly realistic and delicately lyrical. The fantasy sequences, in which Gong-Ju is suddenly relieved of her symptoms, are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. They leave us with an appreciation for what Gong-Ju has lost and for what she's gained - a man who, for all his flaws and hers, is perfectly in love with her.