American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"Oasis" is a love story involving two young people abandoned by families unwilling to give them the love and attention they require. We in the audience may be equally unwilling to give them love and attention, and that's why the film works so powerfully. Its heroine is a woman rendered almost powerless by cerebral palsy. Its hero is a man so obnoxious and clueless that while he's in prison his family moves and leaves no forwarding address. They meet when he rapes her.
The new South Korean cinema is transgressive and disturbing, open to forms of behavior that are almost never seen in the films of the West. It can be about urgent, undisciplined, perverse needs; it can have the graphic detail of pornography yet show no hint of an erotic purpose; it can accept extreme characters and make no attempt to soften them or make them likable. There's something stunning and even inspiring in its indifference to popular taste. "Oasis" depends on scenes that could not be contemplated within the Western commercial cinema; it is unconventional to the point of aggression.
The movie opens with Jong-du Hong (Kyung-gu Sol), newly released from prison, seeking out his younger brother. He needs help because, in his passive-aggressive way, he has ordered food in a restaurant without being able to afford it (no, they don't want to accept his shoes as payment). Jong-du is one of those people the rest of us instinctively avoid. He looks at people strangely, asks inappropriate questions, assumes an unwanted intimacy, violates their space, doesn't know the rules of social interaction, and in general inspires his targets to make a perfunctory and inane response and get away as quickly as possible. He may be retarded, but the movie doesn't make that judgment; perhaps he is intelligent enough, but socially dysfunctional.
Jong-du has just served time for a hit-and-run episode. He has no money and no job prospects, and his family would be happy to never see him again. One day he buys a fruit basket and goes to visit the family of the man he killed with his drunk driving. It is impossible to say why he thinks this gesture would be appropriate, and his manner is so odd that the dead man's son and his wife are understandably enraged. But it is through this visit that Jong-du learns of the existence of the dead man's daughter, Gong-Ju Han (So-ri Moon). Severely disabled, she remains in what was the family apartment; her brother and sister-in-law have moved out and have as little to do with her as possible. We gather she is cared for by a combination of sketchy social services and the kindness of neighbors.