I have reviewed quite a few films about the Homeless World Cup, but Dream (드림 ) is the first I’ve seen that puts some humor into what would be a typical sports drama, along with bits of Korean culture and the quirkiness embraced by Korean film.
Brief Synopsis (spoiler!)
In the story (which many articles got wrong), footballer Hong-Dae Yoon (Park Seo-Joon) is goaded about his criminal mother. He loses his stoic mien and pokes the obnoxious reporter in the eye. In social media, Hong-Dae gets labelled as the eye-poker and leaves football. But he is broke from his mother’s legal defense, and maybe his reputation can be rehabilitated. So he agrees to coach a team that is going to the Homeless World Cup within a few weeks. So-Min, a young filmmaker (IU), is assigned to create a documentary about the team.
So-Min tries to semi-script a documentary that will get a lot of views. She has picked the players herself, based on their backstories, so they add to the drama of her story, but they have little soccer skill. While most are a bit “off”, none of the players has a drug or alcohol problem. They all had past careers that were derailed by events, bad luck, bad choices, or sexuality.
She chides Hong-Dae to improve his acting so that he looks more sympathetic. As the story develops, she gets him to see his players as people and to become involved in their lives. Hong-Dae allows one player to reside in his apartment. He also defends a player’s disabled female friend from a small gang of bullies, although this gets misinterpreted by the media and the police.
However, once the truth of Hong-Dae’s heroism is known, his reputation is redeemed, and he is offered a part on another reality show. It means he would miss the Homeless World Cup, but he needs the money to get his mother out of jail. (BTW, Hong-Dae has a lot of conflict about his mother. ) At the last minute, he shows up at the airport to go to the games.
The second half of the film covers the team’s struggles at the tournament and has a lot of soccer play, most of it comical. The Koreans can only be competitive if they borrow a couple of Brazilian players. The Koreans feel severely out-matched and defeated. But Hong-Dae gives them a choice.
In a display of football heroism, the players choose to utilize only their own Korean teammates against the mighty Germans. The Koreans play despite injuries and get further beat up on the pitch, but their perseverance wins the hearts of the fans in the stadium.
Some background notes
I enjoyed this film and feel sad that it didn’t get the buildup it deserved, because of lengthy production interruptions. Shooting in Korea began during the pandemic in May-2020 and wrapped by October. But the second half of the movie –the World Cup scenes — were filmed in Budapest in Mar-2022. That the film survived such a hiatus is analogous to the perseverance of the homeless footballers in the story. Note that this was the first feature film for star IU , but because of the delays, it shows as second in her list of credits.
I’m sure there is quite a behind-the-scenes story of how they managed to film during the height of the pandemic. Perhaps that will be a future comedy someday, like Judd Apatow’s The Bubble.
The story originated because of a Korean team’s performance at the 2010 Homeless World Cup, where they came in last. The film sort of mixes the time periods with 2010 and today. Best to ignore such details.
Writer-Director Byeong-heon Lee‘s prior film was Extreme Job (2019), which became Korea’s biggest moneymaker — $120M WW — until Bong Joon-ho’s Oscar-winning Parasite rang in a few months later at $263M WW.
Both Dream and Extreme Job transform a disgraced leader and a collection of odd essential losers into a unified team that performs herculean tasks in bone-crushing endings. Both films are quite enjoyable, and if you like one, I’m sure you will like the other.
One of the terrors of the pandemic and the populism of Donald Trump is that divisiveness has become a burden that has to be continuously navigated by everyone not named Trump. Some people might be offended by a homeless comedy. In the 1980s, 2 csuch omedies made big money: Eddie Murphy in Trading Places and Nick Nolte in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. But today, is it incorrect to make comedies about the homeless?
Homelessness is a huge problem in California, where CNN says half of the country’s 170k unhoused people now live, which equals 2% of California’s 39M population. In the San Francisco Bay Area, we see it everywhere, everyday. But in South Korea, the estimated homeless population was only 14k in 2021 (0.03% of 52M), or a small fraction of the magnitude of California’s problem. That doesn’t make the homeless problem one to laugh at in any country, but it does mean that fewer Koreans are exposed to it like we are.
Dream tries to sensitize the audience to the issues: that anyone can become homeless, and that people and companies often have an angle in helping the homeless, and may only be doing it for the publicity. The real arc of the story is when the 2 protagonists stop seeing the film they are making as an opportunity for personal gain and instead bring about the improvement of players’ lives.
While the soccer is mostly comical, the film is very good at expressing the thrill of persevering and doing ones best. There is one sequence where Hong-Dae plays a 1v5 game against his players to show what he himself is made of. While I didn’t think that sequence made a lot of sense in the story, I was struck by how well it made the actor look like a real footballer. I don’t know how much of it was CGI, but it definitely made me think of Tottenham Hotspur’s Son Heung-Min, as they are similar builds.
In conclusion, I enjoyed Dream very much and thought it tried to portray homelessness, the Homeless World Cup tournament, and soccer in a positive light and with more authenticity than you would expect for a comedy. The 2 stars always look good, and all the supporting characters are interesting to watch.
8 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 8
- Released: 2023-04-26 (Korea)
- Korean title is 드림
- In Korean with English sub-titles
- 2 hrs 5 mins
- I watched this on Netflix
- Director: Byeong-heon Lee (이병헌)
- Stars: Park Seo-Joon (박서준) , IU (아이유 and birth name Ji-eun Lee or Lee Ji-eun)
- Watch the Trailer in Korean or with English sub-titles for Netflix