Film Review: Dream

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TURIN, Italy -- To sleep, perchance to dream: Therein lies the rub in Kim Ki-duk's latest work. Despite an engaging start, "Dream" lacks his recent trademark elegance or mysticism and has received a low-key reception since starting out on the festival circuit. The director has a enough of an art house following to play corresponding cinemas, but overall the film will probably disappear quietly from the radar.

The story starts with Jin (Japanese actor Joe Odagiri), a wood-block engraver, waking up from a nightmare in which he witnesses a traffic accident. So realistic is the dream that he drives to the spot of the accident to find if it has really happened, and was caused by Ran (LeeNa-young), who adamantly claims she was at home asleep.

When the young woman is taken into custody, Jin follows and tries to convince the police that it is his fault, and that though they don't know each other, she was merely acting out his dream in her sleep. It turns out she's been doing this for several weeks. What is worse, Jin obsessively dreams about his ex-girlfriend, who is now dating Ran's ex-lover, whom she loathes.

Seeking a solution, Jin turns to Ran's analyst, who offers an easy and a difficult cure to the enigmatic malady: The first is to sleep at different intervals. The second to fall in love. The fact that they slowly overcome mutual diffidence and Ran's loathing (at the thought that every night she seeks out the one man she wants to avoid) would be the climax of the story -- in any other universe but Ki-duk's.

Instead, it is just a point along the path of a befuddling plot, the majority of which is consumed by the protagonists fighting to stay awake. Since amphetamines or rotating sleep schedules would not be poetic, Ran and Jin first tape their eyelids open, then try handcuffing themselves to one another before, out of guilt, Jin eventually gives in to self-inflicted mutilation.

But whether Ki-duk is saying that love is hell, or that any kind of relationship must involve self- and other-inflicted pain is unclear and may even be irrelevant. For even if one accepts the anomalous poignancy of a finale involving extreme acts of self-sacrifice, audiences are nevertheless asked to spend half the film watching two people trying not to sleep.

And while the connection that Ran and Jin finally achieve is as short-lived as it is tender, as it turns out to be the overture to a brutal murder.

The visuals as always with the director's films are stunning, the production design both minimalist and luscious in its colors and textures. Jin's house is dark and full of exquisite artifacts while Ran, a clothing designer, covers house in beautiful fabrics.

Venue: Turin International Film Festival
Production companies: Kim Ki-duk Film, Sponge, Style Jam Inc. Dongy Club
Cast: Joe Odagiri, Lee Na-young, Zi-A, Tae-hyeon
Director: Kim Ki-duk
Screenwriter: Ki-duk
Producers: Ki-duk, Song Myung-chul
Director of photography: Kim Gi-tae
Production designer: Lee Hyun-chu
Music: Ji Park
Costume designers: Ma Young-hee, Takeda Toshio
Editor: Ki-duk
Sales agent: Showbox
No rating, 95 minutes