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by Jay Seaver

"Dream lovers."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 NEW YORK ASIAN FILM FESTIVAL: Although reasonable people may disagree on just what constitutes "good freaky" versus "bad freaky", they will most likely acknowledge that there is a difference. Many of those familiar with the work of Korean auteur Kim Ki-duk will further agree that he is good at hitting both within the same movie, which is certainly the case with "Dream".

"Good freaky" is the basic plot of the movie: Jim (Joe Odagiri) is far from over the girl who dumped him, and has vivid dreams about seeing her. Ran (Lee Na-yeong), on the other hand, is quite over the ex she dumped, thank you very much, although she sleepwalks. Somehow the two conditions are connected, with Ran acting on Jin's dreams, and even if this circumstance didn't lead to things like Ree being charged for a hit-and-run that was Jin's fault, she doesn't want anything to do with him.

This is a nifty premise; it's easy to see how it could be spun into a romantic comedy/fantasy, a horror movie, a drama, or some mixture. The trouble is not that Kim jumps between these approaches, but that he's seemingly so hot to get to the "bad freaky" that he overlooks the obvious way that the situation could be managed. After all, both Jin and and Ran appear to be working for themselves, from home, so barring attempts to actually figure out how this works, it must be easier to sleep different hours than cut oneself to stay away. And that's before things get really out-there in the end.

Of course, "really out-there" is Kim Ki-duk's stock in trade, and before he gets to the stuff that feels just gratuitous, he does a fine job of playing with all the neat and nasty ideas that the situation offers: The loss of control, the attempts to regain it, the growing closer out of necessity, the way Jin's instinct is to blame Ran even though her body is the one that's been violated. The only thing really missing is much in the way of playing with the idea that Jin is dreaming when Ran does, rather than Ran doing what Jin dreams. For all Kim's (and the fim's) faults and excesses, the parts of Dream that are on-target are pretty darn brilliant, and worth the other parts.

Aside from Kim, the two stars are big contributors. Joe Odagiri performs his part in Japanese (versus the Korean spoken by the other characters) for no reason noted within the film, but he never seems to be different or separate from the rest of the cast. He's got a nice way of being both forceful and guilty, and managing to make charm from the two. Lee Na-yeong adds a bit of brattiness to Ran's victimhood, as well as finding the right mood for the somnambulent Ran. It's a pleasure to see her when she gets a chance to open up, and maybe a bit happy for a moment.

That moment could even last; cinema has seen stranger relationships that somehow work without even the fantastical element in this one. The film actually has several straight-ahead funny bits, which helps to sell the premise, although it does seem sort of light on supporting characters - Jin and Sun do seem to exist in a sort of bubble.

It does seem a little odd to complain that a movie with this premise is too weird, but that is its problem. The weird that grows organically from the idea is great stuff, but the rest is grotesque - and worse, seemingly random - enough to fritter a lot of that excitement away.

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originally posted: 06/22/09 03:22:40
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Kim Ki-Duk

Written by
  Kim Ki-Duk

  Jo Odagiri
  Lee Na-yeong

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