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South Korea 2008


Kim Ki-duk

Jo Odagiri
Lee Na-yeong
Kim Tae-hyeon
Jang Mi-hie

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Story: Jin (Jo Odagiri) wakes up one day after having had a dream in which he caused a car accident. Even though it has been just a dream Jin is worried because everything felt unusually real. He goes to the accident site and and finds out that he wasn't just dreaming. However, he hasn't been the one causing the accident, but the woman Ran (Lee Na-yeong), who can't remember a thing, though. It turns out that Ran is sleepwalking and doing exactly what Jin is dreaming. That's even the more bad, since Jin can't forget his ex-girlfriend (Zia) and visits her every night in his dreams, but when Jin dreams of her, Ran in reality visits her ex-boyfriend (Kim Tae-hyeon), whom she actually despises. No one wants to believe the strange bond that is linking Jin and Ran, except a psychiatrist, who advices them to fall in love in order to solve to problem. But this is not something the two are ready for or want to. Thus, the two decide to look out for each other, so that only one of them sleeps at the same time and the other one stays awake. Still, this proves to be not that easy...

Review: "Dream" is a movie that works between, or beyond I should say, the borders of dream and reality. Those who can't accept this or those who can't possibly get warm with a cinematic framework, which if you want to be mean could call "artificial", will only have little fun with this drama and at the end most likely will even end up with a feeling of frustration. But isn't that the case with all Kim Ki-duk movies?
To get straight to the point, Kim is on his way of getting back to his old form after his last disappointing works like "Breath", for example, yet there are still a lot of flaws to be found in "Dream", which also stood out in his other works over and over again. For one thing there is the implementation of symbolism and hard to grasp ideas or hints, which could be intentionally set up or not. The viewer's doubt about his own intelligence naturally makes him search for meaning behind everything that first might not make any sense on screen. But by doing so don't we just act according to the motto "giving the defendant the benefit of the doubt"? Does director Kim really know so well what he actually wants to say?

Sometimes it's even not necessary to understand Kim's movies. "3-Iron" and "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring" are such films, which multi-layered character you'll only learn to appreciate after repeated watching. There is actually a lot to elicit from these movies, but even if you miss all of these insights, you'll somehow understand these films almost intuitively with your heart. Kim doesn't manage to pull off this trick with "Dream". Consequently, there is a lot that feels surreal, wrong, illogical and intangible. It even starts with the very fact that the main characters never get the idea to take turns and to sleep during day or night. And how do you try to stay awake, if you can't go on anymore and have to sleep, but have to remain conscious at whatever costs? Right, we smash our feet with a hammer and stick needles into our head! Kim Ki-duk once again shocks us with autoagressive behaviour you'd only expect to see from someone with borderline personality disorder, which results in creating too much of an unnecessary distance between viewer and protagonists. That's even the more unfortunate as the director this time finally made the characters more lively and easily accessable for the audience.

However, Kim Ki-duk manages in a fascinating sly and smart way to immunize himself against any form of criticism concerning these aspects, since his movie is called "Dream" after all! How could you reproach him with saying that the behavior of his characters seem unrealistic or alienating? That's the very nature of dreams, and that's also the key for understanding Kim's film, otherwise you won't get anything else than frustration out of the movie. The whole film is one big dream in which further encapsulated dreams are clashing, creating a vortex of illusion and disillusion. Good proof for the dream character of the whole movie is the fact that Jin, portrayed by Jo Odagiri, speaks Japanese all the time, while everyone around him speaks Korean, and yet communication seems to be no problem at all! That's something you only come across in dreams. Moreover, we get introduced to the borders of abstractness and irrealism and director Kim goes even further than that. In one scene, in which Jin, Ran and their ex-girlfriend, resp. ex-boyfriend clash, they get into a quarrel and in a unreal seeming rotation Jin and Ran change roles with their ex-boy/girlfriend.

During the same scene there is also something else that's interesting to look at. Until that time Ran mainly wore white clothes, while Jin wore black. Here, it's the other way around. White and black are the same colour, as we are told in the movie, and so there is enough material here, that's worth to be interpreted. But be careful how far you go with that. Because it's also possible to understand the whole movie as a religious work of art, Jin being Jesus who suffers for (the sins of) others, and if we then also put the aboriginal sin into perspective then... you might actually be overdoing it. Still, the surrealism of the film over and over again forces us to look deeper into the subjects the movie provides us with. While presenting us with all this Kim Ki-duk also doesn't miss to find the right pictures, with beautiful houses, that are built in a traditional style with the typical Korean gable roofs, yet are secured with high-tech number locks, which create a strange contrast, as it seems just appropriate for a dream.
Luckily, the characters aren't mute as it is regularly the case in other Kim Ki-duk works. The dialogues and especially the very good acting achievements by Lee Na-yeong ("Maundy Thursday", "Someone Special") and Jo Odagiri, who from an androgynous anime-villian in "Azumi" to the tragic Romeo in "Shinobi" to the suffering stamp creator here seemingly can play anything, make the film emotionally more involving than it was the case with Kim's former works.

Briefly I also have to share some thoughts concerning the butterfly motive, which definitely plays a central role in "Dream". In the interpretation of dreams the butterfly naturally has the meaning of transformation, reincarnation or on a spiritual level it is linked to a freed soul and immortality. However, the movie isn't called "Dream" without a meaning, and I remembered a story of the Chinese philospher Zhuangzi, which Kim Ki-duk most likely came across as well, since I know that Koreans also read Chinese classics. Zhuangzi wrote: "Once upon a time, I dreamt I was a butterfly. Now I'm awake and I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man." And suddenly the movie makes perfect sense in its own surreal framework.
"Dream" is not easy to digest and Kim Ki-duk is still too much in love with himself, as we can see in all the symbols, which in fact don't necessarily need to be those. Nevertheless, he manages to animate the viewer to think and reflect by also working on an emotional level. Let's hope that Kim has shaken off his lethargy and continues to work in this direction.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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