Monday, November 3, 2008

OASIS by Lee, Chang Dong

I just read a book on the Korean director Lee, Chang Dong, which I got from the main branch of the HK public library over the weekend.

Lee, Chang Dong has made four feature films in the past 12 years. All four films were serious movies and well-received.

Prior, he was a novelist with two books and no ties whatsoever to the film industry. I have read none of his novels but have seen all four of his films. They are all pretty amazing.

That said, I learned from the book that the guy's father was a leftist intellectual who was blacklisted and persecuted in Korean society of the 1970s and 1980s. This left its mark on Lee, Chang Dong.

From reading the book, I got the impression that this director is one serious person and a real intellectual. Most film directors are not. It is a hands-on medium after all.

Still, the guy's strength as a writer is evident in all four of his films: GREEN FISH, PEPPERMINT CANDY, OASIS, and SECRET SUNSHINE. He wrote the screenplays for all four films. All are complete original works except for SECRET SUNSHINE, which is based on another author's short story. All have tight storytelling structure and form and content are excellently-crafted.

Today, I saw OASIS again. The acting is superb, but the screenplay is even better. Lee, Chang Dong is the master of the subtle exposing of hypocrisy. The film slams middle class aspirations that most people in Korean society have by focusing on two outsiders, a fuck-up ex-convict and a woman suffering from cerebal palsy. This description doesn't do the movie justice. The film is no RAIN MAN or MY LEFT FOOT. It doesn't look for redemption in some vindication of the human-spirit type of story. It's far more desperate and disturbing than that.

My favorite contemporary filmmaker is Kim, Ki Duk. But this guy, Lee, Chang Dong, is intense like Kim, Ki Duk, but only much more cerebral and cautious. The film plays like there was nothing at all left to chance. Every frame seems to have been crafted. This guy must be such a perfectionist.

I was also impressed that in the book, which contained interviews, Lee, Chang Dong repeatedly mentioned Kim, Ki Duk as a terrific filmmaker from Korea. Kudos to the guy for giving credit where credit is due.

These films aren't for everyone, especially if you haven't seen many films. It's like reading, the more you read the better a reader you become. Same thing with films, the more you watch films, the better you become at appreciating them. Of course, this is only relevant to people who have a serious respect for movies. For most people, movies are just a time filler.

Regardless, OASIS is definitely a winner. A haunting film like no other that will stay with you for a long time. The closest European equivalent is FASSBINDER, but Lee, Chang Dong's films are more carefully crafted with less theatrical cavalier quality.

No comments: