• Jamie Morris

Beyond the Dream (2019) Review

The depiction of mental illness in cinema is a contentious topic, with the realities of many conditions often being exaggerated and misinterpeted on the screen. It’s refreshing, then, whenever a more grounded approach to people’s day-to-day battles comes along.

Beyond the Dream, directed by Kiwi Chow, is exactly that. Based on his short film Upstairs, it begins with a young man named Lok falling in love, only to later meet his supposed girlfriend at a counselling session and learn that their relationship was in fact a hallucination as a result of a schizophrenia relapse. Lok then has to learn to detach himself from his fantasy partner and gets to know the real-life version of the woman he thought he knew.

It’s a fairly unique set-up for a romance drama, and an interesting lens through which to explore life as a schizophrenic. Chow’s minimalist approach—featuring a warm colour palette accompanied by a gentle score—prevents Lok’s hallucinations from feeling sensationalised, which feels particularly welcome after seeing a similar narrative used for shock value in Todd Phillips’ Joker just a few years ago.

This also means that it’s often as difficult for the viewer to distinguish between hallucination and reality as it is for Lok, which can become frustrating but ultimately succeeds in conveying the protagonist’s struggles. Additionally, the inclusion of details such as how Lok uses the audio recorder on his phone to check if the voices he hears around him are real make the film feel authentic and eye-opening.

Powerful lead performances from Terrance Lau and Cecilia Choi make for an engaging watch

Towards the latter half of the story, effort is also made to explore both characters equally, ensuring that the narrative becomes less about coping with Lok’s condition and more about making a relationship work when each partner brings their own baggage to the table. The two powerful lead performances from Terrance Lau and Cecilia Choi make for an engaging watch as they display varying levels of emotional intensity throughout.

However, the chemistry between Lau and Choi isn’t quite genuine enough to make their romance feel completely believable. It often seems as if the film is taking turns between two individual acts, rather than showing their body language responding to each other in a natural way. When one lead is delivering a blistering monologue, the other tends to not be doing all that much, and this rift is made wider by how many key scenes shoot them separately instead of having them occupy the same frame.

For this reason, the love affair that forms the crux of the story comes across mostly as a vehicle by which to convey the film’s themes and messages, as opposed to being truly compelling in its own right. But Beyond the Dream’s main goal doesn’t seem to be to make us swoon at confessions and kisses—it aims to open a window into life with a mental disorder, and the challenges that come with sharing that life with someone else. It does so in a way that is tactful and likely to resonate with many.


Watch Beyond the Dream at the Focus Hong Kong Festival. Tickets are available now.