Unfortunately for Kim Ki-duk fans hoping for a return to the glory days of the prolific Korean's "3-Iron," this "Dream" does not come true.

Unfortunately for Kim Ki-duk fans hoping for a return to the glory days of the prolific Korean’s “3-Iron,” this “Dream” does not come true. Though shot through with terrific atmospherics and magnificent attention to visual detail, an initially intriguing dream-vs.-reality plotline quickly loses its focus and becomes merely an elegant exercise in style. Much is shown but little is explored, leaving pic feeling ungrounded in anything more than the helmer’s own distinctive vision. Sufficient people buy into Kim to ensure extensive offshore arthouse play, but helmer’s creative fecundity may be falling victim to the law of diminishing returns.

Wood-block engraver Jin (Japanese star Joe Odagiri, speaking Japanese while those around him talk Korean) awakens from a dream in which he’s witnessed a hit and run car accident. Heading to the scene of the accident, Jin finds his dream has in fact taken place. He follows the police to the house of Ran (Lee Na-young), who is accused of causing the accident, but who claims to have been asleep all night.

Turns out Ran is a sleepwalker who has recently broken up with a b.f. she now hates, and that, as she sleeps, she is enacting Jin’s dreams. The script, however, fails to explore the potentially interesting combination of supernatural thriller and police procedural that it has set up.

Ran’s solution to the problem is to instruct Jin not to sleep, and his attempts to stay awake generate some nicely self-aware humor early on. But Kim buffs seeking one of his obsessive, masochistic protags will be satisfied later with graphically bloody fare, although such stuff is dramatically unnecessary here, given the strength of Odagiri’s practically all-scenes perf.

Pic shuttles between dream and reality in a generally predictable way, though interestingly, the script avoids the blindingly obvious strategy of having Jin and Ran fall for one another.

Though neither is particularly well-developed individually, their developing relationship — suspicion giving way to mutual dependence and guilt — lead into some dark psychological terrain reminiscent of helmer’s emotionally rough early work, particularly over the final reel. Thesps play off each other well.

As pure spectacle, pic is superb throughout — all sharp-edged, vivid tones, richly illuminated to the point of hyper-realism, whether framing in close-up Jin’s craftsmanship or simply taking in claustrophobic domestic spaces that seem to have been lifted directly from interior-design catalogs.

The peacefulness and joy of a trip to a temple, a brief respite from the psychological torture, reps a beautifully gauged atmospheric contrast.

Dream

South Korea-Japan

Production

A Kim Ki-Duk Film, Sponge (South Korea)/Style Jam, Dongyu Club (Japan) production. (International sales: Showbox/Mediaplex, Seoul.) Produced by Kim Ki-duk, Song Myung-chui, David Cho, Kai Naoki, Kunizane Mizue. Directed, written, edited by Kim Ki-duk.

Crew

Camera (color), Kim Gi-tae; music, Park Ji. Reviewed at San Sebastian Film Festival (competing), Sept. 26 2008. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

Joe Odagiri, Lee Na-young, Zia Kim, Tae-Hyeon.
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