In the poignant social realism film “Dream Palace,” Hye-jung (Kim Sun-young) hopes to begin a new life in an apartment building named Dream Palace with her son Dong-wook (Choi Min-young).
The block stands tall in the middle of nowhere, located in somewhat awkwardly new suburb that this family feels unsuited to.
But this new home is priceless to Hye-jung, because she has bought it with the compensation she received after her husband was killed in an industrial accident. After fighting the husband’s company for months, she bought a home at the price of her husband’s death.
Life at the new apartment isn’t easy. From day one, a rusted water pipe discolors the water and Hye-jung turns all the taps on until the water runs clear. She shampoos her hair with a bottle of drinking water. She can’t even cook for her son, who is apathetic to Hye-jung because he believes his mother betrayed the group of bereaved families who continue to protest against the company over the accident. Life overall is exhausting for Hye-jung.
But this tough-spirited woman doesn’t give up. She visits the office and meets the people responsible for selling her the apartment. But she doesn’t get the answer she wants, because authorities say the issue has to be resolved after all the houses are sold.
Hye-jung’s past, filled with protesting and fighting against society, continues even at her new home. She deals with people who can’t understand her and joins a group of tenants to gain support, but she faces another issue that turns her into a betrayer.
It seems like everything started to go wrong from when she accepted the money and bought the house to put past behind her. Owning a new, nicely built apartment feels sinful to Hye-jung.
Throughout the movie, Kim’s multi-dimensional acting immerses the audiencein the plotline. In some scenes, Hye-jung seems very egocentric, focused on her new home and protecting it no matter what. But as she encounters Soo-in (Lee Yoon-ji), who is continuing her sit-in protest over her own husband’s death, she looks out for her and persuades her to move into “Dream Palace.”
Although the film mostly portrays Hye-jung’s struggle and isolation as she deals with different groups in the society, the movie has compressed down a variety of societal issues prevalent today -- the lack of measures to deal with industrial accidents, unsold new house inventories, and struggles between regular employees and subcontracted workers.
Kim told The Korea Herald that she was hesitant to take the role of Hye-jung.
“To be honest, I was reluctant at some point thinking, what if people who are still protesting for what they want watch this film, because our movie is based on a scenario that highlights on people’s lives who decides to stop protesting and compromise,” Kim said in an interview in Seoul on May 25.
“I think it’s ironic that what this movie would really mean for people who are hanging in there. Telling their story in the name of art sometimes feels like a foolish dream,” she said, adding that the film is just about people who want to live an ordinary life just like others.
Kim won best actress for the role at the Asian Film Festival in April.
“Dream Palace” by rookie director Ka Sung-moon is worth watching just because it’s been a while in local cinema to have two female protagonists leading the storyline, but it’s true that the movie is not bright at all and there is no happily-ever-after ending nearing the end.
“I’m in my late 40s and have done acting for more than 20 years but it’s still rare to see films that have women’s narratives, especially those in their 50s or 60s -- unless it’s something very shocking like portraying women as victims in the sex industry,” Kim said, mentioning the 2021 film “Gull.”
“It’s a problem of film industry globally, not just in Korea. We are already too familiar with stories from men’s point of view. But I’m sure, one day, there will be more films telling stories of mid-aged women because women are just humans, the same as men,” Kim said.
The film “Dream Palace” opened in local theaters on May 31.