Beyond The Dream

Hong Kong (2019) Dir. Kiwi Chow

“I thought love was only true in fairy tales / Meant for someone else, but not for me”

This thing called love is a fantasy for some of us, yet, a condition exists which convinces people someone – a celebrity or somebody they know – is in love with them and it feels very real. The term for this is Erotomania, going far beyond a crush or idol worship, raising the question whether love can exist outside of the fantasy for them.

One night, a woman Ling (Wong Lam) removes her outer clothes then crumbles on the pavement in clear distress. As people film her on their phones, Lee Chi-Lok (Terrance Lau), who knows Ling, steps in to help her, as does a passerby (Cecilia Choi), covering Ling with her cardigan. Chi-Lok learns the woman lives in the same apartment building as him and returns to the cardigan to her, discovering her name is Yan-Yan.

Romance blossoms but Chi-Lok is worried about Yan-Yan rejecting him as he – like Ling – is schizophrenic. Yan-Yan isn’t bothered but her violent father (Ng Kam-Chuen) is and forbids Yan-Ya from seeing Chi-Lok again. Six weeks later, Chi-Lok attends his support group meeting, to find Yan-Yan joining them – except she is not as he remembers her.

With the number of films on the topic of mental health seemingly on the increase, it is a good thing that so many filmmakers feel the need to address it on screen; the caveat is how they go about it. Some might feel they are raising awareness but end up mocking these illnesses and conditions, or simply don’t do the necessary research to understand the subjects.

Fortunately, others are sensitive to this and their aim is to educate and help remove the stigma attached to mental conditions, like Kiwi Chow hopes to with Beyond The Dream. A feature length remake of his 2006 short film Upstairs, Chow takes a universal theme of falling in love and applies to a scenario far from romantic but equally heart wrenching in how it plays out.

Because of the nature of the story, it would be nice to keep the enigma of why Yan-Yan is so different after six weeks but sharing this with you now is unfortunately unavoidable as it is vital to the discussion (although you may have guess it already). Yan-Yan is in fact Yip-Nam, a postgraduate psychology student, writing a thesis on Erotomania among schizophrenics and needs a case study to get the approval.

Yip-Nam did indeed stop to help Ling and Chi-Lok that night, and left her cardigan, but everything else was a figment of Chi-Lok’s imagination – albeit real to him. Despite looking alike, the two women are very different: Yan-Yan is sweet and playful; Yip-Nam is all business. The tumult inside Chi-Lok’s head at seeing his angel act like a stranger threatens to push him over the edge, his medication only placating him somewhat.

However, Yip-Nam is no angel. Already earning a reputation, she is currently having an affair with her tutor Simon (Chan-Leung Poon), reaping the benefits his position. Having been give a chance to find a cast study by her supervisor Dr. Fung (Nina Paw), Yip-Nam uses Chi-Lok’s weakness for her to get him onside and be her case study, but once the forbidden door is open, trouble ensues in getting it to shut again.

No doubt, this conventional plot direction might seem as if Chow is making this palatable for mainstream audiences, lest he is accused of being either didactic or disingenuous towards the subject. Before we continue, I think it is important the representation issue isn’t considered applicable here as I doubt having a real sufferer of schizophrenia break down for real on screen would be considered cruel enough, and credit to Chow for not sensationalising this either.

In that regard, stigmatism and mocking of mental illness is limited to a few callous words from Yan-Yan’s father and the people filming Ling at the beginning; hereto after, all discussion and depiction is purely medical based and respectful. That said, Yip-Nam manipulating Chi-Lok is hardly respectful, but the end game is not humiliation or any direct harm, but is still unethical nonetheless.

As it transpires, Yip-Nam and Chi-Lok actually have something in common – both feel undeserving of being loved rooted in a psychological distrust created by their mothers. Yip-Nam’s is the more tragic of the two, but the implications are the same and neither can understand what love is unless it happens within their own fantasy illusions of it. Therefore, maybe they are fated to save each other if only they can figure out what the truth is about their feelings and their relationship.

Like I mentioned earlier, the general tone of this film is standard melodrama but the presentation belies this, opting to make the delusion as confusing for the audience as it is for Chi-Lok. Reality is twisted on many occasions throughout, and timelines sometimes played with, whilst the handsome depth of focus camerawork creates a reverie out of many an innocent scene, only for the snapping editing to make it nightmarish.     

Essentially playing dual roles, Cecilia Choi is hauntingly magnetic as Yip-Nam and giddily sweet as Yan-Yan, suffusing both depictions with an ethereal quality as if the whole film is a mirage. Her crowning moment is in the climax as both Yan-Yan and Yip-Nam fight over Chi-Lok at the same time. Credit also to Terence Lau whose essaying of Chi-Lok really humanises a schizophrenia sufferer, and captures the pain of a mental breakdown as horrible but not horrifying.

Beyond The Dream achieves three things: it raises awareness of Erotomania, opens our eyes to the struggles of a schizophrenic, and – not wishing to trivialise the first two – introduces us to the talents of Cecilia Choi and Terrance Lau as once to watch for the future. A sensitive yet powerful film, hopefully it leads to a better understanding towards mental health conditions.

Currently streaming as part of the Focus Hong Kong Online Easter Festival Online Festival March 31st – April 7th

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