First Impression Review: A Strong Start and Lots of Potential for KBS’ “Oasis”

Oasis Korean Drama Review

Minor spoilers. For Hindsight Review, click here.

KBS’ newest series Oasis (오아시스) is off to a strong start. This period melodrama has a strong blend of romance, friendship and family set amidst the backdrop of the most turbulent time in Korea’s history. A talented young cast leads the way in these first two episodes and sets the stage for what looks to be even more emotional and dramatic story to come.

The series begins in then-rural Yeosu in the 1970s where childhood friends Lee Doo Hak (Jang Dong Yoon) and Choi Chul Woong (Choo Young Woo) become rivals for the heart of the confident Oh Jung Shin (Seol In Ah). Jung Shin gives the two friends one year of them hanging out together before she decides which one of them she will date. Through this set-up, the three of them become good friends.

Chul Woong is from a prominent family in the area while Doo Hak is the son of a farmer who owes a huge debt of gratitude to that family. That dynamic provides the underlying tension between the friends that begins to bubble up as they fight for Jung Shin. Initially it is a friendly and brotherly rivalry. But later, circumstances beyond their control and a sign of the times rip the three of them apart.

Fast forward to a couple of years later, Doo Hak, Jung Shin and Chul Woong are at vastly different points in their lives. Older and wiser, but now having to face the increasingly turbulent 1980s in Korea. Between the political instability and the everyday struggles of life in an oppressive society, the three of them are only just starting to realize they are no longer carefree high school students.

Oasis Korean Drama Review

Oasis effectively sets up the relationships of the series’ main characters, especially our three friends. The series gets off to a fast start. And that brisk pace almost lulls you into a false sense of comfort before the heavier moments kick in halfway through the first episode.

The series jumps between the 70s and 80s a few times in the first episodes. But only as a way to develop the main characters, while quickly setting up the world they will be existing in.

Jang Dong Yoon, Seol In Ah and Choo Young Woo are a great trio of actors to serve as our leads in Oasis. And they manage to quickly invite and engage the viewer into their own little bubble before expanding into the greater, more complicated world emerging around them.

The world building is still ongoing even after episode two. But the first two episodes do a good job of setting the backdrop for what should be a character-driven story. Story-wise, I don’t really know what to expect. But what I do hope for is a character-driven story that puts their relationship at the center and uses it as a way to tell the grander stories of the time the series is expected to depict.

The 1980s and 1990s are a transformative time in Korea’s history. And it is a time that is ripe for drama. There is so much captivating story to tell from that period. But for Oasis to be creatively successful, it will need to keep our main three characters at the forefront. When they are strong characters on their own, any of the historical realities and the stories involved will only be more affecting. Otherwise, it might be difficult to truly become invested.

Oasis Korean Drama Review

Aside from any romantic story between the three, the brotherhood between Doo Hak and Chul Woong is also ripe for good story. And Jang Dong Yoon and Choi Young Woo share a strong chemistry with each other that can make any potential story between them very powerful.

The second episode seemed to introduce a lighter angle to the series as well. At first it felt quite awkward. But it remains to be seen if the series is able to balance its tone well as there is definitely opportunity to do that based on what they’ve included so far.

Overall, Oasis has the potential to be a nostalgic and character-driven slice of life story set amidst the backdrop of a turbulent Korea. Those are some good pieces to have ready to put together. And so far, Oasis is off to a promising start.

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