Director – Kiwi Chow – 2021 – Hong Kong – Cert. N/C 15+ – 120m
A recovering schizophrenic man falls in love with his psychiatric counsellor, who has relationship issues of her own – online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th
An opening a sequence throws you off guard: a woman, clearly distressed, starts removing her clothes in a busy street. Soon she is sitting huddling on the pavement naked. One passer-by stops to take pictures (the video will later go viral). A second woman (Cecilia Choi – Detention, John Hsu, 2019) and a young man (Lau Chun Him), who both know the first woman as Ling, come to her aid. Between them, they find a dull red blanket and wrap her in it in an attempt to preserve her dignity, and soon an ambulance arrives.
Having set up Ling as a character, she never appears again. Instead, the two main characters are the young man and a woman who meet in the lift as it ascends their housing block: she lives on the floor above, and he returns the blanket, which is now inexplicably a dull blue. Lau Chun Him’s Lee Chi-lok and Cecilia Choi’s Yan-yan exchange names.
He spots her on the train. At night there’s an almighty row with a man and when he lets her into his apartment, she reveals her father gets violent when he’s been drinking. The two of them sit and talk, nothing more. They keep meeting at the local overhead train station and chatting on the platform. In an underpass, he tells her about his mother who told him no-one else would ever love him like she did. Yan-yan asks if he has a girlfriend, vanishes, reappears and kisses him.
Ling reappears briefly in a support group Lok attends, but he’s far more concerned about Yan-yan, not least when he goes round there to discover her dad assaulting her with a hammer. Their friendship on train platforms continues.
Six months later he goes for counselling with research student Yip Nan (Cecilia Choi again). He is taken with her resemblance to to Yan-yan while she recognises him as the man who helped her help Ling on the street. She is promiscuous and embarking on an affair with college professor Dr. Simon (Poon Chang Leung) even as she tries to put together a dissertation on erotomania for her tutor Dr. Fung (Nina Paw Hee-ching – My Prince Edward, Norris Wong Yee-Lam, 2019) who warns her it’s a rare condition and she’s unlikely to find a suitable subject in her caseload. Except that Lok fits the bill…
The cinema is not without its cases of characters who look similar, played by the same actor – think Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958), Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984), Dead Ringers (David Cronenberg, 1988) or The Double Lover (François Ozon, 2017) – and this one has a couple of unlikely twists. For one thing, it’s not immediately obvious that Yan-yan closely remembers the briefly seen woman who helps Lok rescue Ling at the start, in fact it’s rather confusing, and only when the narrative throws up Cecilia Choi as a psychiatric counsellor who recognises Lok from that opening scene and looks a dead ringer for Yan-Yan do we clock that she looks like the girl upstairs.
It’s highly likely that Yan-yan is merely a figment inside Lok’s head (although the film tries perhaps a little too hard to play it both that she’s real and that she’s a figment). This aspect of the piece is more than a little confusing. Perhaps that’s the idea – to take you inside the head of a delusional paranoid schizophrenic unsure of which people and actions are real and which are imagined. For this reviewer, on a first viewing, this aspect didn’t really work. This is only Chow’s second feature as compared to Hitchcock, De Palma, Ozon and Cronenberg all of whom had a considerably larger body of work and a good deal more movie making experience behind them when they tackled their personality doubles. In fairness, Beyond The Dream is more of a drama than a thriller.
The other side of the film, that of counsellors not being able to form relationships with their clients outside the purely professional, is deftly explored at some length, in part through another strong performance by Nina Paw Hee-ching here playing the older, experienced counselling tutor who desperately wants to help the star student she can see getting out of her depth.
Beyond The Dream plays online in the UK as part of Focus Hong Kong 2021 Easter from Wednesday, March 31st to Tuesday, April 6th.