[HanCinema's Film Review] "Life is But an Empty Dream"
By William Schwartz | Published on
The Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival is a yearly festival in Incheon which features rock and roll. What kind of rock and roll? Why, happening artists like Orange Range. All right I never heard of this band before watching "Life is But an Empty Dream", nor most of the others featured. Their music seems pretty legit though, which is fortunate since "Life is But an Empty Dream" is more-or-less just an advertisement for the the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival with some weak plot dashed in as a framing device.
That plot being translator management. If you've ever been to an international festival, you've probably noticed that translators are almost always on hand so that guests can communicate. These translators have their own important motivations. For example, Phillip (played by Choi Phillip) can't find a job and needs to pad his resume. Fujii (played by Mina Fujii) really just wants to see her favorite band. Or does she?
The plot hook I just described is actually much less important than it sounds. You see, because "Life is But an Empty Dream", motivations don't really matter. While Fujii kind of almost achieves her secret goal, rather than follow up she just ends up deciding that her secret errand was a waste of time and why bother worrying about matters of the past that can't be changed when you're at the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival and can totally rock out to the kickin' rad music?
It's rare to see a movie so genuinely disinterested in its own plot but that's just the kind of movie "Life is But an Empty Dream" is. I rather suspect that writer/director Cho Sung-kyu either approached the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival or was approached by the festival with the idea of making a movie about the festival. Only later on did he realize there wasn't actually any amazing story that could only really be told with the festival as a backdrop.
What's more there's some obvious quid pro quo going on here- posters for "Santa Barbara" feature pretty prominently. While I liked that movie I'm really not sure it was aiming at the demographic that has interest in Lizzy Borden. Conceivably there might be crossover with Peppertones fans. I'm not really any big expert on contemporary rock music, so truthfully, most of the references in "Life is But an Empty Dream" were lost on me.
But then this review isn't about me. It's about you. Do you like world contemporary rock music? Are you interested in the Incheon Pentaport Rock Festival? Did you want to go the festival in 2014, were unable to do so, and are now wondering what it was like? Did you go, and want to see if you accidentally appear in this movie as an extra? Are you a diehard fan of any of the bands I mentioned and desperate to catch the slighest glimpse of any of them? Do you have an unusual interest in what the work for festival translators is actually like? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then "Life is But an Empty Dream" is the movie for you.
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org. He also has a substack at williamschwartz.substack.com where he discusses the South Korean film industry in broader terms and takes suggestions for future movies to review.