Macau-born, Asia/Australia-based helmer Clara Law makes an arty nod to urban Chinese displacement in “Like a Dream,” a meller more pompous than profound. Like her earlier works “Farewell China” and “Autumn Moon,” the film dramatizes the psychological dislocation of the immigrant experience but, despite a strong start, is tripped up by its flights of fancy. Hong Kong thesp Daniel Wu is strong as the male protag and his dreamtime alter ego, but Yolanda Yuan struggles with the multiple affectations of her double role. Pic will drift into fest berths, but longterm residencies are unlikely.
Max (Wu) is a China-born, New York-raised computer hacker made good with a small-time dot-com outfit. Yarn begins with dark whimsy as Max tries to figure out how to dispose of his dead cat; the feline’s departure triggers a series of disturbing dreams in which a version of Max meets a brooding woman (Yuan) who is reeling from her boyfriend’s recent suicide. Neither sleeping pills nor a shrink stops the dreams, so Max takes a vacation in Shanghai.
Picking up his photos from the trip, Max finds they include images of the brooding woman of his dreams. Following apparently mystical direction, Max tries to find the woman in nearby Hongzhou, where he meets a feisty factory worker (Yuan again) who is the dream woman’s physical but not behavioral doppelganger.
With distant echoes of “Vertigo,” Max spends the rest of the film battling to accept the woman as she is, even as she plays at complying with his fantasy. Eddie Fong’s script hints at the duality of living in one country while hailing from another, but the theatrical clunkiness of the dream sequences undercuts the pic’s strong potential.
Wu creates a sympathetic and accomplished portrait as he presents two versions of the same man. In contrast, Yuan overdoes both roles, being too Ophelia on the one hand and delivering too much zing on the other.
Law’s helming is generally unimaginative, but she makes good use of office block sculptures (in Taipei) to create an otherworldly space for the dream sequences. Stark lighting enhances the dream-space concept, but dull dialogue gives these scenes the feel of a poorly blocked play.
Moody score by Oz composer Paul Grabowsky works in sublime counterpoint with Law’s extended use of silence to create unease. Other tech credits are good.