Kim Ki-duk's 'Dream' is provocative, deep
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: September 25, 2008
Award-winning director Kim Ki-duk has built up an international reputation with his films that starkly differ from other mainstream movies in Korea and elsewhere. He stands out largely because of his provocative styles and thought-provoking themes.
For better or worse, Kim did not pull any punches in making his 15th feature, "Dream (Bi-Mong)," to be released on Oct. 9. The movie has attracted media attention by signing up high-profile actors - Lee Na-young from Korea and Joe Odagiri from Japan - but viewers should be aware of the cinematic puzzles director Kim routinely inserts in his films, if they want to grasp what is really going on in this mixture of reality and fantasy.
Odagiri plays Jin, an artist who sees himself in a dream causing a car crash. What he discovers, however, is that his dream is not a mere creation of his brain - all the details he witnessed while sleeping turn out to be true. Or that`s what viewers are supposed to assume, given the quirky plot turns provided by director Kim, who never shies away from purposeful ambiguity and ambivalence.
Jin encounters a woman named Ran (Lee Na-young), a character who has plenty of grievances, especially concerning her shattered relationship with her ex-boyfriend. Strange as it may be, what Jin believes he has done in his dream is what Ran has done in reality. Although the car accident happens in Jin`s dream, the same incident plays out in Ran`s life, with police seeing her as the prime suspect.
The key proposition of the movie is that the two main characters are connected through dreams in a way that blurs reality and fantasy.
A butterfly emerges as the core image symbolizing the significance of dreams. In fact, this metaphor comes from a well-known ancient Chinese thinker, and its implication is rather straightforward: A person may dream about his life and discover that it`s just a dream when he wakes up, but how can he be sure about the possibility that what appears as reality is also another dream?
Kim`s presentation of the dream`s implications, however, is far from straightforward. The subplots are utterly confusing. Jin used to have a girlfriend, but the relationship is now over. But he finds himself dreaming about his former girlfriend and he vaguely senses that he still loves her. While Jin is struggling in his dreams, Ran is visiting her former boyfriend, not in her dream but while sleeping, because she is a sleepwalker. She hates the man deeply and when she realizes what she has done, she gets mad at Jin, the man whose dream goes in lockstep with her nightly visits.
To resolve the situation, Jin and Ran attempt to do the almost impossible: stay awake all the time. The assumption is that if Jin does not sleep, Ran does not have to walk around in her sleep. Jin can also sleep without his much-dreaded dream that generates real events when Ran is awake.
Their struggle to stay awake is, as some of director Kim`s fans might correctly predict, depicted in a gruesome manner. Self-inflicted torture abounds, which will make the audience squirm.
The movie`s dramatic intensity accelerates at a precarious pace when the two characters` former lovers, played by Park Ji-ah and Kim Tae-hyun, join a four-way shouting match, trying to reverse what has already happened. At this point, it is no longer possible to identify where reality starts and fantasy ends. All the conflicting elements get mixed up, while the characters go through an enormous amount of pain and suffering.
One hint regarding Kim`s message is the peculiar existence of Jin. Japanese actor Odagiri plays the role in Japanese, while all the other characters speak in Korean. Strangely enough, Jin communicates perfectly with other Koreans, even though he continues to speak in Japanese. His otherworldly identity that transcends the language barrier is certainly unrealistic, but Kim leaves more questions than answers about his new cinematic dreamland that is so desolate.