DREAM BREAKER (2018) review

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While investigating the mysterious disappearance fifteen years before of her father (Tong Dawei), a pioneer in virtual reality, Jiang Han (Chen Duling) finds herself trapped in Souldream, an illegal and dangerous VR game he designed, where players can fight one another for points which allow them to indulge their desires. There, she’s helped by Nan Ji (Song Weilong), an expert player who is himself on the trail of his uncle (Archie Kao). Directed by Han Yan (not the Han Yan who helmed Go Away Mr Tumor and Animal World, mind you), Dream Breaker benefited from the artistic input of visionary, subversive Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, though it only shows in a few visions of kooky, gaudy chaos.

Elsewhere, the film evokes the cyberpunk of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (Souldream is a teeming, rain-soaked, neon-lit, hologram-adorned metropolis), while the plot borrows wholesale from Joseph Kosinski’s Tron: Legacy (the hero who looks for his/her disappeared father within the dangerous alternate reality he created); similarities with Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One are legion too, but Dream Breaker was written and shot before the release of that film. Its derivativeness aside, Han Yan’s film is frustratingly vague as to the rules of its universe and contradicts itself too often to really engage, despite one or two clever ideas and a handful of inspired visuals.

There’s also plodding attempts at humour and swirling fights that are often over-edited. The ‘Young Adult’ vibe doesn’t help, setting “dreamy” twentysomethings in boring love triangles: Chen Duling is a tragically bland lead, her face stuck on “dismayed” throughout, while Song Weilong is unwittingly amusing, a self-serious void forever looking in the distance. More effective are Gai Yuexi as an evil sword-wielding assassin with ill-defined purposes, Kingscar Jin as a wistful player, Zhang Youhao as a goofy lovestruck sidekick and Cao Xiwen as a resourceful survivor, while Tong Dawei is a scarce but welcome sight as the disappeared father, and Archie Kao turns up for the world’s least surprising final revelation.

Long Story Short: Despite a handful of clever narrative and visual ideas, Dream Breaker is a derivative mess, marred by an unwelcome ‘Young Adult’ vibe and an uneven cast. *1/2

 

 

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