TYPE OF REVIEW : HINDSIGHT REVIEW
MAJOR spoilers, with fair warning. For my First Impression Review, click here.
After the first two episodes of KBS’ Oasis (오아시스), I thought the series was off to a strong start with lots of potential ahead. Now after it has completed its 16 episode run, I think a lot potential was left on the table. But the series nonetheless ended on a high note with plenty to like throughout its run. Not the least of which being the wonderful cast delivering strong performances to elevate otherwise familiar, soapy, yet engaging material.
At its heart, Oasis is a story about three high school friends navigating life during this turbulent era in Korean history. Its historical setting, though not necessarily ever referencing actual events, almost serves as a character on its own. Not only is it a vivid backdrop for the equally tumultuous story of our main characters, but the time period works to perhaps be the biggest antagonist to our three leads and the people around them.
Political instability and rapid post-war development factor into what Doo Hak, Jung Shin and Cheol Woong must endure. They grow up and find themselves as no longer innocent high school students in rural Korea, but adults in the rough and tumble of Seoul. And it is the evolving world that ultimately drives our main characters to make the decisions that they do, especially when cutting deeper into already existing wounds and trauma from their pasts.
In my First Impression Review, I pointed out how I hoped the series would be able to find a good tonal balance as they had introduced a light, humorous aspect to the series in Episode 2. At the time, I felt like it had the potential to clash with the more dramatic side of the story. And through the rest of the series, they kind of did. One of my criticisms for Oasis is probably the series not being able to find that balance. But at the same time, the series is never too heavy nor too goofy to feel awkward or unnecessary.
Instead, the series is able to use humor to establish and develop Doo Hak’s friendships with his fellow, kind-hearted ex-convicts and swindlers. This in part helps to establish a point of contention between Doo Hak and now-prosecutor Cheol Woong while also illustrating the times and providing humble, nostalgic qualities to the story. Truly exciting action sequences also pierce through at welcome moments.
But the transition between those fun moments and the heavier, more dramatic and soapy elements of the series aren’t as seamless as they could have been.
And that’s the other side of the series. Oasis, unexpectedly for me, shifted toward a much soapier approach as twists and turns were revealed.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
The revelation that Doo Hak and Cheol Woong were actually biological brothers was quite a nice surprise. It added a whole other angle to their relationship which was already centered around a brotherhood and all the angst and drama that can come with it. Whether it’s competition over a girl or the insecurities fueled by the adults around them, having them actually be blood brothers added a heavier weight to their conflict.
And it was a conflict that went back and forth for most of the series. Perhaps even longer than it should have.
Oasis was able to stretch out the love triangle between Doo Hak, Jung Shin and Cheol Woong until just before it would start becoming absurd. And it did fuel the conflict between the brothers even more.
But the main focus was always between Doo Hak and Cheol Woong and how the times and the people of this time molded and twisted their characters. This to a point where these two young men were driven further and further away from each other, cheating them out of a loving and caring relationship they both deserved.
The soap opera and even makjang elements encompass the secret baby identities, blackmail and the love triangle. Together, they still made for a deliciously soapy ride.
But with that approach, Oasis dropped the ball in offering a fuller exploration of the main characters’ relationships. Let’s be clear, you can still be a juicy soap opera while having sincerity and depth as well.
There were a couple of missteps when it comes to character development. More along the lines of not offering the amount of depth these characters more than deserved. Being able to explore their relationships and how their past traumas weigh on their present struggles would have added to the climactic finale. And really would for a much more meaningful and profound dramatic story as well.
The series slowed its pace at times when it was unnecessary or even unwelcome, while speeding things up when stories deserved to be better absorbed. Most especially when it came to Doo Hak and Cheol Woong’s story.
Still, the final episode (albeit somewhat rushed as well) was as satisfying a conclusion as the series was set up to provide. Climactic it was as the pivotal confrontation scene between the involved characters will be one of the most emotionally charged sequences you’ll see on any Korean drama.
Once the stunning sequence comes to its breathless end, you can almost set aside the regrets and missed opportunities from the previous episodes. Even though the scene itself can offer some new regrets too.
Oasis has a strong ensemble cast with Kim Myung Soo as Doo Hak’s emotionally tortured father Joong Ho and the always charismatic Jin Yi Han as the dangerous right-hand man Oh Man Ok being definite highlights.
But seeing the incredible performances in that final sequence alone is worth the price of admission to Oasis. Drama vets Kang Kyung Hun and So He Jung as Cheol Woong and Doo Hak’s mothers, respectively, deliver the performances that absolutely fuel those given by our lead three.
Jang Dong Yoon, Seol In Ah and Choo Yeong Woo offer some stunning moments in the climactic scene. And this after a series-worth of strong performances from them. They definitely saved the best for last. And those performances and their chemistry help to make the climax both effective and affecting. Not to mention the series’ final scene as well.
Ultimately, Oasis is a character-driven drama that could have used a lot better character than it had. Far from perfect, Oasis was nonetheless still an engaging series with its soapy elements and exciting action. It is these captivating performances that end up truly elevating and sometimes carrying the series, preventing it from collapsing under the weight of its own missteps.