Dream Lovers (1986)

Directed by: Tony Au
Written by: Yau Da Ah-Pin & Manfred Wong
Producer: Vicky Lee Leung
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Brigitte Lin, Cher Yeung, Lam Chung, Guan Shan & Elaine Kam

Buy the DVD at:
HK Flix.com

Award at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1987:
Best Original Film Score (Law Wing-Fai)

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1987:
Best Supporting Actress (Cher Yeung)
Best Cinematography (Bill Wong)
Best Art Direction (William Chang)

Tony Au's work in the Hong Kong movie industry can be divided into two professions really, art director and director. He has made a handful of movies (The Last Affair for example) that have been fairly well received but he has also worked as an art director on bigger projects like Millionaire's Express and Crime Story. His background as an art director really shines through in this 1986 production starring Chow Yun-Fat and Brigitte Lin.

Symphony orchestra conductor Song Yu (Chow Yun-Fat from The Killer) and jewelry maker Yuet-Hung (Brigitte Lin from Police Story) don't know each other but both are experiencing similar visions and dreams about them being lovers....2000 years earlier. Through an art exhibition about warriors from the Qin dynasty, their eyes meet and they're drawn more and more to each other. So much so that Sung Yu leaves his relationship, of 8 years with his girlfriend Wah-Lei (Cher Yeung from Tempting Heart), behind to be with the woman he believes is his eternal soulmate. Together Sung Yu and Yuet-Hung start to recap how and why their strong love ended and if it can be resurrected in present Hong Kong...

Dream Lovers is not entirely easy to describe. At its core it's of course a love drama but not an ordinary one at that. It's content is like nothing I've ever seen before. The underlying theme about reincarnation and deep love has been planned out in a deep but very accessible way which makes the audience get it so much more. Screenwriters Yau Da Ah-Pin and Manfred Wong's central question I interpreted as:

Can a love be so strong that two people reincarnate in the same time and will their love play out the same or in a completely different way? You never doubt that these two people actually had a relationship in the Qin dynasty but it's their hesitation and belief that at first stops them from embracing so to speak. If you think of it, every human being would've reacted the same if confronted by these visions and facts, so their hesitation is very understandable.

All these rather heavy questions does not get in the way of director Tony Au telling the story in the way he wants to. He has consciously chosen a very slow pace, something the movie actually needs and is a very logical and sensible choice. We don't want all information thrown at us at a rapid pace but just like the characters we too want to slowly let the "mystery" surface. In the beginning parts of the movie I got a little worried about what direction the movie was heading though. Some shots in there seemed almost over visual and I feared that Tony would continue to be self-indulgent like this but thankfully after a short while he finds his flow. The movie is still very beautiful and indeed visual but Tony never let's go off the narrative that also needs to be conveyed. From frame one he makes pretty much all of the events clear as day, providing we're willing to actually watch the movie that is. I say that because something tells me, and I'm not trying to offend anyone, but not anyone will be able to sit down and enjoy the movie at the same level as I did. The viewing takes patience and also a little inner dialogue with yourself regarding your own belief in faith and reincarnation among many things. I found myself totally immersed in the world created by the filmmakers and the fact that no event was predictable elevated the experience so much more. Every new frame and every new scene was a surprise in itself and full credit to the director and screenwriters for pulling it off in such a way.

Together with director of photography Bill Wong, Tony Au creates the most magic in the handful of flashback scenes, to the past love we get to witness. These are for the most time devoid of any dialogue but gorgeous to look at. Especially Brigitte Lin looks so good in period clothing and she's so beautifully photographed which makes one think that it's sad that she retired from the industry. Without the dialogue in these scenes, there's still no question of what they mean and Tony effectively conveys the parallels between the past and present. During the present segments the movie isn't as beautiful to look at but what is more pleasing to the eye, an urban Hong Kong or the extravagant Qin dynasty setting? My favourite spoiler free scene in the movie, where the past and present meet, is probably when Chow Yun-Fat has his vision of a dancing Brigitte Lin. It's very simply made but the way Tony merges the two realities is chillingly effective. You almost wish that today's filmmakers would go back to this form of filmmaking instead of relying on special effects.

The award winning score by Law Wing-Fai is probably, to some degree, the negative aspect of Dream Lovers. He mostly relies on creating the music and ambience with a synthesizer which creates a wonderful atmosphere in some scenes but is also overused in others. For example certain quiet and still moments have music that would almost fit a scene with more movement. Then again you have scenes that are enhanced greatly by Law Wing-Fai's choice of scoring that you forget some of the flaws. I respect his choices with the score but it was not a 100% satisfying experience.

1986 was Chow Yun-Fat's big breakthrough year as a movie star in Hong Kong, mostly thanks to the role as Mark-Gor in John Woo's A Better Tomorrow. His role in Dream Lovers was probably one he took before he started to act in any movie offered to him. On one hand he was probably fairly secure financially but him being the most active actor in Hong Kong generated some thrash movies as well. Now and again he did brilliant work in movies like City On Fire, An Autumn's Tale and Dream Lovers isn't so much a forgotten role, but it kind of got lost during all the commotion surround Chow Yun-Fat that year. Of course thanks to DVD we can rediscover these kind of movies! His role as Sung Yu is acted out in a very understated way and that fits very well. Of the two lovers Sung Yu is probably the least confused but he is still cautious with Yuet-Hung. He don't want to lose a possible soulmate but don't want to move to quickly ahead either. In Hong Kong 1941 Chow showed what great charisma he already had and he continues to show that here. Marvelous stuff.

Brigitte Lin is probably more known to fans of Jackie Chan thanks to her role in his classic Police Story. That was not a classic character role as such so I was initially a little worried how she would handle herself in a drama like this. I think Brigitte gained so much more confidence in this role thanks to the backing of a great cast plus a team of accomplished filmmakers. With all that at hand no wonder she turned in a great performance. Together with Chow Yun-Fat's character she also questions what is really going on before going into a relationship based on something seen in a dream. As mentioned, where Brigitte dominates the most is during the flashback sequences. Here she is also very understated and has very little dialogue but she just embodies the part perfectly, especially in the scene when we find out what ended their love 2000 years earlier.

Cher Yeung's supporting part as Sung Yu's abandoned girlfriend is also very impressive. Her character gets to step aside and accept that fact despite being heartbroken but that doesn't make Sung Yu an unsympathetic character. Sure we feel sorry for Wah-Lei but also understand why she has to be left alone like that. Cher doesn't always have to act out how crushed she is but we understand from looking at her. No more is needed.

Regarding the characters, I made a small note at the beginning that we don't get any substantial back story to them but I understood after a while that it was a very conscious choice. The entire running time is devoted to slowly getting to know them and especially in the scene where Sung Yu and Yuet-Hung finally sit down to talk we get to know all we need at that point. They're not the best written characters in cinema history but there's something about how Yau Da Ah-Pin and Manfred Wong have constructed the script around them that is so strong. Should also mention that a few erotic scenes are found here and there in this movie. They could've been a major downfall for the entire production but thankfully Tony Au doesn't do it cheaply or distasteful and they don't seem out of place with the narrative either.

In almost every review of Dream Lovers there has always been mentions of the ending in a negative way. Unconsciously I think I reacted towards it being unexpected but my views of the themes in the movie didn't hurt the ending for me. Appropriate or not is up to each viewer.

Tony Au's masterpiece will not be a home run for every viewer out there. I think fans of cinema will more wholeheartedly embrace Dream Lovers but much also depends on what you yourself think about the mentioned themes of the movie. In the end I thought it was a breathtaking experience and as a Chow Yun-Fat fan it's always great to see what he has done outside of the action genre.

The DVD:

Megastar presents the movie in it's original aspect ratio 1.85:1 and this is quite a dirty print I have to say. The colours throughout are quite good though and detail halts at an average. Watchable print for a 1986 movie.

The Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 remix provided by Megastar does pretty much sound like mono all the way. I didn't heard any obvious channel separation so, as with Haunted Cop Shop, the audio seems to come very close to it's original presentation. A 5.1 Mandarin track is also on the disc.

The English subtitles were of pretty good quality for a Hong Kong dvd. This is a very talky movie at times and whoever was in charge of the subs did very few errors here. Other subtitle options provided are Thai, Vietnamese, Spanish, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese.

The usual standard dvd extras appears here also. We get a plot synopsis, a cast & crew listing (with short biographies of director Tony Au and stars Chow Yun-Fat and Brigitte Lin), and trailers for Dream Lovers, A Better Tomorrow 1 and 3, Once A Thief and Media Asia's DVD Trailer.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson