South Korean writer/director Kim Ki-Duk (The Isle, Samaritan Girl) has always amazed me with his filmmaking. He has this uncanny ability to make the bizarre and most mind-boggling style in direction and storytelling feel very enthralling yet so alienating. Kim’s “DREAM” (aka. Bimong, 2008) doesn’t follow in his previous films style of limited dialogue; this time around, the main protagonists in the film make maximum use of their vocal cords. What makes it curious is the fact that Kim allows Japanese actor Jo Odagiri (Shinobi Heart Under Blade) and South Korean actress Lee Na-Young converse in their native languages and lets the audience pick up the pieces through subtitles. Sounds weird, doesn’t it? Think it requires a large suspension of disbelief? Not a chance. The language barrier just adds to the film’s surreal atmosphere as the two characters never lose a beat.
Jin (Jo Odagiri) is a wood craftsman whose heart has been broken and is working long hours to keep himself busy. One night, he nods off to slumber to dream of a hit and run car accident that he was involved in. He finds that the accident had actually happened only it wasn’t him who hit another car but a woman named Lee Ran (Lee Na-Young). Turns out Ran has a terrible sleepwalking condition and that she reenacts whatever Jin cooks up in his dreams. That incident is only the beginning as the two are mysteriously linked in their sleep and their own realities. A sleep specialist confirms that their links are caused by Jin’s broken heart and Ran’s inability to forgive her former lover; somehow this has caused them to feel what the other is longing for in their hearts. So why can’t the two fall in love with each other if they are linked in such a way? That’s not what the two have in mind, but as their efforts to stay awake has brought them closer and a new desire may be blooming…but it may be too late. “Dream” is an odd blend of black humor and metaphors that takes us into the lives of two very different yet so alike individuals. Most of the black humor comes from Jin’s and Ran’s efforts to stay awake; yet this thing becomes darker and darker the more the movie progresses. Kim manages to execute the plot device into its narrative with a ordinary focus yet it becomes enthralling the more we get into the film. The viewer is taken in the heart of the problem as Jin nods off to slumber and Ran sleep walks her way back to her former lover. Jin is still very much infatuated with his former love and dreams of being with her. Ran is forced to re-enact his dreams with the man she hates the most, her former lover. The problem and the solution appears simple enough, take turns sleeping but this is much harder than they think. Before long, we see their obsession to stay awake take a turn for the worst; as Jin resorts to self-mutilation just to stay awake. I know, it all seems unbelievable but this is a Kim Ki-Duk film and he always has an ace up his sleeve.
The screenplay written by Kim takes the feel of a theatrical play and gives off the aura that is so surreal which makes one question what is reality or fantasy. Many may find that the film is a little confusing (hey, this is Kim Ki-Duk) and the movie needs to be seen as whole rather than bits and pieces of a narrative. Don’t read the rest of this paragraph unless you really want to know how I took the film. The biggest clue to what is reality (and what is not) is Jin speaking Japanese to a Korean and being understood by Ran and even by the cab driver. This is the clue that the story takes place in a dream. Ok, if this is a dream within a dream, so from whose dream does the story take place? It comes from them both since they share the same mantra: “Black and white is the same color”. Also note the scene when Jin and Ran held the shoes of their former lovers and the scene when Ran walks back to Jin’s land over in the temple, Ran’s refection on the window is Jin’s; it proves that they are one. Kim also incorporates a lot of Buddhist symbols; paintings, the bell, the sticks on the belly of the wooden dragon and rocks. Most notably the butterfly that is shared by them both. However, mutual love may not be able to prevent a terrible resolution to their issues.
The film is beautifully acted. I know it was a chore to speak lines in different languages while holding a conversation; but Jo Odagiri is one versatile actor and Lee Na-Young has the talent and the looks to pull it off. The two performers manage to exude a dynamic chemistry despite their language barrier. I was able to feel the pain, confusion and the anguish felt by the two characters that they earned my sympathy before the film‘s resolution. Jin’s actions in the last act proved to be disturbing as their sleeping problems may push the situation too far. What are dreams? Kim defines this in his own manner that proves very enthralling and seductive. Kim is a master of emotions; dreams are what we desire the most…whether we are aware of it or not.
“Dream” takes the audience to a level that fate is something that we can comprehend and maybe even find a sense of comfort. Unlike most of Kim’s films, the climax completes its narrative as it seemed to answer the questions in a more conventional manner albeit still a head-scratcher. The film is unusual but more details and depth would be visible as long as one reads in the lines of heartache, love, helplessness, loneliness and self-loathing. The film is rich with images (the cinematography is top-notch) that unite the reverberation of emotion. Like most of Kim’s films, “Dream” isn’t for everyone; but no one can deny that the film is fascinating and intriguing. Those who have acquired a taste for his filmmaking will be awed with the manner he plays the dexterity of his twisted emotions and revolutionary ideas.