“The Beauty in Dream” marked the second directorial outing for popular Korean actor Lee Kyung Young, best known for his roles in the likes of “Run Away”, “The Terrorist” and most recently “The Windmill Palm Grove”. Here, he offers viewers a slice of unashamed, ne plus ultra melodrama with a tale of heartbreaking illness, unrequited love, and ultimately, hope.
The film gets off to a slightly confusing start as scenes of a woman called Hanako in the present day dying of leukaemia by a river are intercut with a black and white sword fight from some period in the past. Things soon settle down as the viewer is introduced to her widower husband Yun Ho (played by the director himself) as he struggles to come to terms with his loss while trying to take care of their sprightly young daughter Yume (young actress Jung In Sun, also in Bong Joon Ho’s “Memories of Murder”). Hanako’s best friend Sora (Ha Hee Ra, in her first role for ten years) tries her best to step in and help them, not least since she has been secretly in love with Yun Ho for years. Unfortunately, even more tragedy looms, as poor Yume is also diagnosed leukaemia and seems not to have long to live. Yun Ho and Sora do their best to help the youngster fulfil her final wish, of playing bamboo flute with a local band at a coming music festival, though as her condition worsens it seems that this may not be possible.
Although it is probably quite difficult to make a film about a terminally ill child that isn’t sad, “The Beauty in Dream” makes for particularly emotional viewing, mainly due to a charming performance from young Jung In Sun, which is just as well since she appears in nearly every scene and even provides narration. As the film progresses and she changes from energetic tyke to coughing up mouthfuls of blood in the bathroom and begging a photo of her dead mother not to let her die just yet, and it would take a pretty stony heart not to be moved. The director is similarly effective as her gruff father, a man just begging for an emotional outburst, and the relationship between Yun Ho and Sora is suitably agonised and chaste, enough so to keep the viewer interested in whether they will get together without seeming distasteful in the light of Yume’s impending demise. The film also benefits from a variety of interesting supporting characters, most of whom have their own little subplots which help the film to keep moving along, though it has to be said that most of these are simply jettisoned towards the end and left unresolved as the main plot takes over.
Viewers should be warned that Lee does pile the melodrama on pretty thick, and although the film is genuine and tries to balance the gloom with several rays of hope, never dwelling too much on poor Yume’s plight and treating death as some kind of beautiful dream, it really is one long tug at the heartstrings. Indeed, this is the kind of film where every character has at least one crying scene, either in slow motion, in the rain or in black and white, and at least one speech where they break down into a sobbing confession of guilt and/or sorrow. Similarly, most of them have a strange habit of talking to themselves, and the film features a good number of hysterical soliloquies. Whilst this is of course patently artificial, it is pretty much par for the course for the genre, and Lee at least has the sense to keep things consistent throughout so that none of the characters stand out in this respect.
Lee makes a real effort with his direction, throwing in a number of imaginative touches, and although not quite all of these come off, with a few flights of fantasy only serving to distract and the odd division of the proceedings into different ‘dreams’ serving no real purpose, he certainly manages to raise the film above the level of ‘disease of the week’ television fodder. There is a good use of music throughout, ranging from brash electric guitar to limp keyboard ballads, and this also helps to inject a little life. This having been said, he unfortunately does allow things to drag on somewhat at times, and the film could perhaps done with some tighter editing.
Still, this isn’t too much of a problem, and melodrama fans probably won’t even notice, as “The Beauty in Dream” certainly delivers the teary goods. Surprisingly well made and packing in all the requirements of the genre, although unlikely to appeal to the unconverted, viewers looking for a tragic, moving experience will not be disappointed.
Kyeong-yeong Lee (director) / Kyeong-yeong Lee (screenplay)
CAST: Kyeong-yeong Lee … Yoon-ho Lee
Hie-ra Ha … So-ra
In-seon Jeong … Yoo-me
Bo-sung Kim … Director’s Frend
Min-jong Kim … Warrior