Director/Screenplay – Daric Loo, Producers – Warner Davis, Daric Loo & Andy Palmer, Photography – Juan M.R. Luna, Production Design – Eun Kyung Nam. Production Company – Cold Arrow Productions.
Corey Sevier (Alex Hahn), Jordan Ladd (Rachel Arai), Ryan Alosio (Ben Hahn), Renee Dorian (Elaine), Jeanette O’Conner (Natalia), Kim Poirier (Christine), Marie Wilson (Lisa Arai)
Alex Hahn manages a coffee shop he inherited from his parents, although this is struggling financially. Opening shop one morning, he meets singer Rachel Arai who flirtatiously suggests they should go out. Moments later, she is killed in a car accident. Alex becomes obsessed with who Rachel was. She begins to appear in his dreams. Reading up all he can about her and visiting the places she lived, Alex continues to go back and visit her in shared dreams that are so lucid they seem real. In the dreams, the two of them embark on a relationship, although it becomes apparent to Alex that this is Rachel as she was several years ago at a time when she lapsed into a coma and that she does not realise she is dreaming. His ability to go back to this time and become her perfect man somehow changed the person that she ended up becoming. However, their perfect relationship seems doomed by the knowledge that she will soon wake from her coma. Meanwhile, in the waking world, Alex’s brother is pushing to sell up the coffee shop so that he can get his half of its worth.
Awaken is a deceptive film. The poster for the film that highlights the smiling heads of the two lovers against a nimbus of sunshine suggests very much a romance film. And this is not something that the rest of the film entirely dispels. You get the impression that you are about to watch something akin to Safe Haven (2013).
However, the film soon moves from what seems a wistfully earnest romance being conducted with not quite the studio-backed resources of something like Safe Haven to the decidedly interesting. Firstly, director/writer Daric Loo kills off the love interest (Jordan Ladd) a couple of scenes into the film. Thereafter he has her appearing to Corey Sevier in dreams. This seems an exceedingly corny device but Loo places some conceptually challenging spins on this that make Awaken anything but a run of the mill romance in which Corey Sevier is able to develop the power of lucid dreaming and move around inside the dream they share, which would appear to be made up out of their mutual memories, while she is some years in the past and not aware that she is dreaming and he realises that he has somehow become the ideal man she spoke of in the past before he even met her.
What we have feels like something akin to the light romcom Just Like Heaven (2005), which had Mark Ruffalo romancing the ghost of Reese Witherspoon from where she lies in a coma, albeit having inhaled a good deal of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001) and its philosophical ruminations on lucid dreaming. Awaken also came out not long after the huge hit of Christopher Nolan’s dream heist film Inception (2010), which must have held some influence – you keep being reminded of the relationship between Leonard Di Caprio and Marion Cotillard as his dead wife who kept reappearing in dreams. You could also maybe draw analogy to Somewhere in Time (1980) where Christopher Reeve dreams himself back seventy years in time to have a romance with Jane Seymour.
The film makes a few slips into the loopily New Age – like Jeanette O’Conner as a bag lady finding significance in palm readings – but mostly meets the challenge of its ideas. It becomes a romance film with unusual conceptual ambitions. Things are perked up by some quirkily amusing lines, all of which come from the direction of barista Renee Dorian – “This is no Time Traveler’s Wife ” or “I wish this was happening to me – it’s totally Korean drama.” The film eventually winds its unusual premise to a reasonably heartfelt and effective ending (which is subsequently spoiled somewhat by a corny upbeat coda where Corey Sevier meets the new love of his life).
Awaken was a debut feature film from Daric Loo, who had previously worked as an editor and producer of reality tv shows.