Dream (2023) ☆☆(2/4): A coach for a bunch of homeless soccer players

South Korean film “Dream” is definitely not for me. As a sports drama film, it is so generic that I was not surprised or moved enough in any possible way. As a tearjerker, it is so artificial that any of character in the film did not have enough human quality to make me care about them in any conceivable way. As a comedy film, it is so silly that I was quite annoyed more than once instead of amused enough in any plausible way.

Perhaps, I am not an ideal audience for the movie from the very beginning, After all, I did not like director/writer Lee Byeong-heon’s previous film “Extreme Job” (2019) enough for recommendation, and my opinion turned out to be quite minor because that film made a considerable local box office success at that time. Considering what I observed from other audiences around me when I watched “Dream” during this Sunday afternoon, I think it will be another hit for Lee, but I still do not think the movie is better than “Extreme Job” or his truly funny film “Cheer up, Mr. Lee” (2012).

During the first half hour of the film, you can easily see through what the movie is about as well as how it is about. We have a disgraced star soccer player named Hong-dae (Park Seo-joon) as the central character of the story, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that he will eventually come to redeem himself despite one very unfortunate incident which jeopardizes his professional athletic career to a considerable degree.

For improving his public image more, Hong-dea agrees to work as the new coach for a little soccer team consisting of homeless people. Because there will be an international soccer tournament for homeless people in Hungary, Hong-dea must prepare and train a bunch of homeless people a lot, but, not so surprisingly, these homeless people are not so good at playing soccer in one way or another.

Nevertheless, Hong-dae really has to make these homeless people into better soccer players mainly because of a young female documentary filmmaker named So-min (Lee Ji-eun). Although she knows too well that Hong-dea’s team is pretty hopeless from the beginning, So-min is already quite determined to make a powerful narrative to draw more attention from the public, and Hong-dae agrees to go along with So-min’s plan because, well, that may help improving his current public image.

So-min goes all the way for anything to generate any pity or sympathy from those potential viewers out there, and those homeless players in Hong-dea’s team certainly have each own sad personal story. When one of more skillful players in the team gets seriously injured at one point, So-min instantly sees a perfect opportunity for engaging melodrama, and she manages to persuade Hong-dea to let this guy remain in the team even though he may not play that well during the upcoming tournament.

The movie could be much funnier if it just leaned more toward satire, but it instead lets itself bogged down by more melodramatic elements while also failing to develop its main characters into human figures we can really care about. To be frank with you, I found its main characters too broad to care about, and I was also quite annoyed with a number of underdeveloped subplots including the one involved with Hong-dea’s criminal mother.

In the end, the movie attempts to pull our heartstrings during its last act where Hong-dae and his team eventually go to that international soccer tournament for homeless people, but it does not succeed much in my humble opinion. Yes, Hong-dae and his team certainly try as much as possible while playing against several mighty foreign teams one by one. Yes, they are quickly overwhelmed right from the beginning as your average underdog team. Yes, they somehow find a way to distinguish themselves even though there is still not much chance for them to prevail to the end of the tournament.

The main problem of the movie is that none of the main characters in the film is believable enough to earn our support or sympathy, though it is inspired by a true story to some degree. While Park Seo-joon has several big moments as you can expect from his character, his character is still no more than a superficial caricature on the whole. In case of Lee Ji-eun, she surely tries as much as possible with her thankless role, but she is ultimately wasted a lot as her character is swayed back and forth between satire and melodrama without any gravitas at all, and the same thing can be said about several supporting performers in the film including Kim Jong-soo, Jung Seung-gil, Lee Hyun-woo, Yang Hyun-min, Hong Ahn-pyo, Heo Joon-seok, and Ko Chang-seok, who is sadly wasted even though he somehow manages to leave some good impression on us at least.

Overall, “Dream” is a big disappointment compared to another recent South Korean sports drama film “Rebound” (2023), which is as conventional as “Dream” but did a lot better job at least. I believed in the main characters of “Rebound” right from the start, and that was the main reason why I could root for them even while clearly discerning several rote aspects of the film. In contrast, I did not believe much in the main characters of “Dream”, and I remained quite distant to its story and main characters even while observing some positive responses from the audiences around me from time to time. They might have enjoyed the film more than me, but I think both I and they will not remember it that much around the end of this year, and that is all I can say for now.

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