Dream Lovers
Hong Kong 1986
Directed by Tony Au.

Chow Yun-Fat stars with Brigitte Lin in this tale of a timeless love which waits for 2,000 years then goes nowhere fast.

I really, really wanted to love this film. It has everything anyone could ask for. First, of course, there's Chow Yun-Fat. Add to his charismatic presence the beautiful and always welcome Brigitte Lin. Top it off with a love story which transcends time...this is the stuff that legends are made of. But not this time. Dream Lovers is a beautiful film, romantic, erotic, heartbreaking. I loved it right up until the very last frame. But that was the problem -- it ended too quickly, and the ninety minutes which I thought were building to what I imagined would be a fantastic and satisfying conclusion ended up being the only ninety minutes there were.

Song Yu (Chow Yun-Fat) is a classical music conductor, just moved to Hong Kong from New York, with his girlfriend of eight years, Ah Lei (Cher Yeung). But during a concert, he has visions of a terracotta warrior which looks like him rising from the bottom of a lake, and when it surfaces, he passes out. His doctor recommends less work, which means more sex for the happy couple. But the visions continue, now of a beautiful woman from ancient times, who dances in front of him as she undresses, one layer at a time, her silk robes.

Meanwhile across town, a young woman named Cheung Yuet-Heung (Brigitte Lin) who looks very much like these visions, begins dreaming of him, or someone who looks like him, making love to her passionately. Later, the dreams turn to visions of him being tortured cruelly. Her father recommends they see an exhibit of the Terracotta Warriors, and she agrees. Song Yu is there as well, looking for his face among the statues, without success. They are both compelled to visit the exhibit again until they meet, and rekindle old passions which had been dormant for 2,000 years.

Soon, there is no room for Song Yu's old girlfriend in his life anymore. Her grandmother, a blind witch (Helena Law), urges her granddaughter to let him go, saying that he belongs to the Qin Dynasty, but Ah Lei can't let go. Nevermind the fact that Ah Lei's grandmother is a blind witch, that's just the way it is, sometimes. Meanwhile, the two dreamers share stories of what they have seen in their visions, and try to piece together who they were in their former life. Were they married? Perhaps. Lovers? Certainly. Why was Song Yu tortured? What happened after that? And why were they reincarnated now, after such a long, long time?

They were both born on the same day, the same hour, the same place, the same time. And Yuet-Heung's father has secrets of his own from that day, secrets which may help explain their shared destiny.

Dream Lovers is indescribably beautiful. Each scene is so carefully composed, each shot carefully considered. Director Tony Au is able to sustain a mood of passion, anxiety, and loss with the simplest of shots. Once the two lovers find each other, they are inseperable, just the thought of being apart seeming to cause physical pain. After they first meet, they go together to a supermarket, to buy some food to bring back to the apartment. And at one point, Yuet-Heung pushes the cart down the aisle away from Song Yu, turns a corner, and is gone. The camera lingers there, and for a moment, you feel as Song Yu must feel: anxious, wondering if she really has disappeared, if finding her was just a dream. Simple moments like this make the film worthwhile, and I wonder if any other director could have sustained the mood of the piece quite so effectively. All three of the leads disappear in their roles, their love triangle played with passion like I rarely see in films. Dream Lovers is erotic, without being explicit (in fact the only nudity is a brief topless scene with Cher Yeung), romantic, without being sappy. In other words, it might make for a good date flick, but only if you're really serious.

And now let me tell you why I was ultimately disappointed with Dream Lovers. First, the characters have a habit of saying, rather than doing (a fault of the script, not of the actors). It is far more interesting to see someone have a vision of something from the past, and live it as they are living it, than to have that person sit there and describe the vision for you, which happened all too often. Second, I wanted more Qin Dynasty information. Who was Song Yu, back then? Who was Yuet-Heung? Sadly, they never say. Since he is a conductor now, and would often talk about the music he heard in his dreams, I began to wonder if he wasn't a reincarnation of Gao Jianli (from The Emperor's Shadow), which would also explain why he was tortured. But alas, no, it turns out my imagination was a bit more overactive than the film anticipated.

But in the final analysis, I was most disappointed because the movie ended too soon, and I felt the lovers relationship in the present day still had not been fully developed. It's only a ninety minute movie, had they added another half and hour, I would not have complained for a moment. As it is, however, I left the film feeling, well, as though I had lost something. No doubt this is the effect the director intended. Still, what a lousy thing to do to your audience. I recommend Dream Lovers...just be prepared for heartache.

Rating: Recommended (Recommended)

Posted by Peter Nepstad on April 25, 2004.


I found the need for a subtext to justify the spooky conditions of the love affair. I found this strongly enough so that the story itself was otherwise not comprehensive. No complaints about the cast nor the cinematography, just a problem with what it was supposed to be, the deep seriousness of Lin's father and his old friend, the curator, the warnings of the witch. Just because it's Hong Kong is not license enough to lose a potentially interesting allegory by the dumbing down this one gets.

Posted by: Allan Hirsh at July 6, 2008 11:40 AM
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