Dreamtrips (1999) poster

Dreamtrips (1999)


Canada/China/Hong Kong. 1999.


Director/Screenplay/Producer – Kal Ng, Photography – Gavin Liew & Derek Rogers, Music – Gary Sze, Production Design – Kelly Sze. Production Company – Munkfilms/Kino Gedanken Experiments.


Jennifer Chan (Jenny Lee), Wayne Kwok (Charles), Gary Sze, Wan Chi Hong, Jamie Lau, Jane Chow (Christine), Kal Ng (Jean), Damon Mason, Paul Fonoroff (Professor Bernstein), Alex Lee)


In Toronto, Jenny Lee feels upset at the fact her fiancé Charles has abruptly stopped talking to her. She wanders about in melancholy. Eventually she takes a card from a woman at a neighbouring restaurant table for a company called Dreamtrips. The number she calls directs her to a hotel room where she places on a neural nodes that take her into the Dreamtrips, a virtual realm that is drawn from her own memories. Her subconscious prompts her to recall her times with Charles but he is only a remembered self and she becomes upset when he will not answer her questions. Something goes wrong and she then becomes trapped inside Dreamtrips. Similarly, Charles has also become trapped there – this being the reason he has disappeared. A Dreamtrips guide tries to solve the situation by merging the dreams the two have.

Dreamtrips was the second film for Kal Ng, a Hong Kong expatriate who has lived in Canada since the 1980s. Ng had previously made Stories of Chide the Wind: The Soul Investigator (1994), which is also a fantastic film. Neither that nor Dreamtrips appear to have been widely seen – this is only the second review of the film on the web, the first in the English-language. Ng is next set to make Nirvenue (2015) about a parallel world.

It is worth noting that Dreamtrips came out the same year as The Matrix (1999) and a host of other works on Virtual Reality themes, including David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999) and The Thirteenth Floor (1999), along with Chris Carter’s short-lived tv series Harsh Realm (1999), even a Christian film about the Devil seducing people by Virtual Reality in Revelation (1999). By contrast to any of these, Dreamtrips could not be more disengaged with its concept. In actuality, it is less of a Virtual Reality film as these other abovementioned are and falls more into the shared dreamscapes of films such as The Cell (2000) and Inception (2010) or perhaps more closely the Lithuanian Vanishing Waves (2012) and the Japanese Real (2013), which both had lovers entering a shared dream space in search of the other.

Dreamtrips has the feel of a film that has been made for festival audiences. For regular attendees of the Vancouver International Film Festival, Dreamtrips would be what we informally joke about being ‘another Tony Rayns special’ after the programmer for the festival’s Dragons & Tigers section specialising in Asian cinema who each year manages to deliver some of the most tedious, incomprehensible and unwatchable films ever foisted on an audience.

The focus is on meandering non-action rather than drama and the exploration of ideas. Much of the film involves Jennifer Chan mooching around Toronto delivering a series of dreary interior monologues. This improves little once we enter the dreamscape where things tend to a banal ordinariness and more meandering, even long scenes of her potting hoops at a schoolyard basketball court. The results are infuriatingly slow and dull. Despite the imaginative possibilities offered by venturing into Virtual Reality and people’s dreams, Kal Ng demonstrates little in the way of directorial skill or even the ability to make the film seem interesting. The central characters remain utterly distant and unengaging, we fail to be involved by Jennifer Chan’s vague and melancholic quest, even the drama about the missing boyfriend and how Jennifer Chan will get out of the dream world fail to raise one pulse above something that very closely approaches falling asleep.

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