August 10, 2019

Empty Dream: Dental Fantasies

What is it that aligns the art of expressionism with the world of medicine repeatedly in film? Is it utter madness? It sure seems like it as some of the most vivid cinematic manifestations of the genre are associated with some seriously demented doctors. Who can forget The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T? From South Korea comes another example: Yoo Hyun-mok's no-less-outrageously loopy Empty Dream, a largely silent black-and-white fantasy that concerns two patients of a dentist with an odd methodology. One toothaching woman (Park Su-jeong) will undergo a perversely intimate form of resuscitation after fainting during her procedure; her male counterpart (Shin Sung-il) will find his novacaine shot sending him into a weird sexual fantasy that involves that woman in the neighboring chair.

But was it actually novocaine? It's questionable. Because his drug-induced daydream is going to take him to some pretty twisted places via scenes that mix bondage and electrocution, a cabaret crooner and a dancing contortionist, strategically torn clothing and animated mannequins. Where else can the sun be put out of existence by a single gunshot fired by a madman? The waking world is no less strange as characters' minds are flooded with equally bizarre imagery like whirring circular saws, lewd mouth rinses, and teeth cleanings that apparently cause orgasms. Does your dentist's office stock erotic magazines in its waiting room? Does your dental hygienist remove your stockings to help you relax? The office smelling salts may not work when they need to in Empty Dream, but you're also unlikely to fall asleep.