Dream Raider (獵夢特工)

Dept. of What Dreams May Come


Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. In dire need of a scientific advisor, one who’s familiar with the more fringe elements of science, an investigator recruits the adult child of a dangerous criminal scientist, in the hopes of convincing their parent to cooperate with the investigation. As the three slowly build a team, and a rapport, and deal with a number of related high tech crimes, they suspect they might be facing a massive scientific criminal conspiracy! This is essentially the set up for Dream Raider.

It is, however, also the summary of Fringe, the TV show created by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman, and Roberto Orci that ran from 2018 to 2013. A TV show whose shadow falls very heavily over the first HBO Asia Original sci-fi series.

Where Is My Mind?

In the first four episodes we were given access to, Detective Li Xiao of Nan Wan City, Taiwan, seeks out a so-called Dream Raiding machine, so he can interview a comatose girl. After reaching a dead end with the device’s inventor, the jailed Cheng Tian-Li, Li Xiao turns instead to Cheng Tian-Li’s estranged daughter Cheng An-Ya to help operate the machine. When things go awry the elder Cheng is dragged into events, and together they help solve the crime, forming the Fringe Division – I mean – “Dream Raider Special Task Force”.

Building  a show around some fantastical tech isn’t always a bad idea. They LOVED that shtick in the 80s with Knight Rider (car), Automan (A.I.), Thunder in Paradise (boat), and Magnum P.I. (moustache). The storylines from Dream Raider might fit perfectly into a season of Ghost in the Shell, but oddly for a show about entering other people’s minds, it’s not the technology that ends up straining credulity, it’s the plotting.

Despite the cyberpunk opening credits, the technology is, for the most part, dealt with consistently, but the plotting of each episode can feel all over the place. Whether it’s been lost in translation, or just never addressed, there’s never any real reason for Li Xiao to turn to this fantastical Dream Raiding machine. There’s no ticking doomsday clock that requires the adoption of such drastic technology.  

Cell Games

In the similarly themed Tarsem Singh movie The Cell, at least Jennifer Lopez’s Catherine Deane had a good reason to use her own dream raiding tech to enter the mind of a comatose serial killer. She needed to discern the location the his latest victim, who based upon his past MO, was trapped in a tank, hidden somewhere as it slowly filled with water.

In Dream Raider, Li Xiao’s got 48 hours to follow up on a hunch, that there may be a crime happening, because his boss told him that’s all the time he had. Thanks to the pre-credit teaser, the audience might suspect there is more at play, but the characters in the show sure as hell don’t. 

Another unfavorable comparison to The Cell, or with Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, arises with Dream Raider’s “Dreamscapes.” The worlds that the Dream Raiders see when entering another person’s mind are mostly drab rooftops, or industrial buildings, with the exception of the alien invasion themed “Dreamscapes” in the second episode, which also happen to take place on a drab rooftop.

Even the way Li Xiao finds out about the Dream Raiding machine is laughable. A doctor casually mentions it to him, just in passing, that 10 years ago, someone (he can’t remember who) might have made a machine for entering comatose minds. Oh, and they might have gone to jail.

That’s it.

It may seem like a minor complaint but the episodes are littered with small annoyances like this. While the show cleverly plays it coy with what happens if you die in the Dreamscape of another person’s mind, it’s established early on that it’s pretty bad to disconnect a dream raider suddenly while they are … um… raiding? Then they proceed to roughly disconnect a room full of people with almost no ill effects.

Dream Raiders Assemble!

Despite the outrageous success of the team in the one episode, their boss gives them just a single day to investigate a similar crime in another. Why? To make it more exciting!

Small inconsistencies like this build up, resulting in a frustrating watch. Which is a pity.

The performances are all pretty good. Weber Yang is enjoyable as the gruff, not-quite-as-dumb-as-he-looks detective Li Xiao, and builds an enjoyable team chemistry with Ellen Wu and Jason Wang. It’s actually funny when he starts to catch on to what the scientists are telling him, before they have to dumb it down for him.

I have no idea, however, why the show continually introduces Li Xiao’s partner Che Na (Aggie Hsieh), the most kick-ass character on the show, only to shuffle her back to the sidelines almost immediately!?

“What, Don’t You Like My ‘Fringe?'”

Bringing it back to that Fringe comparison, while it was eventually revealed that the show’s resident mad scientist, Walther Bishop, was in some part responsible for many of the crimes the Fringe division investigated, it was a slow drip over the shows many seasons. Importantly, the Fringe team themselves didn’t know all their cases were connected.

Dream Raider may have only 8 episodes to tell its story, but when every crime the team investigates turns out to have links to the same sinister corporation, and is met with complete dismissal by their seniors in the police force, it just becomes exasperating.

While it nails many of the aspects of the shows they seem to be taking as inspiration, it turns out the showrunners needed to spend a little more time investigating the non science fiction aspects of those shows.

Dream Raider《獵夢特工》
HBO, Season 1, 8 episodes
Showrunners: Soi Cheang (鄭保瑞)
Cast: Weber Yang (楊一展), Ellen Wu (吳子霏), Jason Wang (王識賢), David Wang (王耀慶), Vivian Hsu (徐若瑄), Wu Ke-Xi (吳可熙), Jun Kunimura (國村隼), Aggie Hsieh (謝沛恩), Garfield Chung (鍾政鈞), and Bella Wu (吳以涵).

Dream Raider debuts Sunday, 16 August at 9PM on HBO GO and HBO (Astro Ch 411 HD) as well as on HBO’s Facebook page at the same time. New episodes will premiere every Sunday at the same time.

Irish Film lover lost in Malaysia. Co-host of Malaysia's longest running podcast (movie related or otherwise ) McYapandFries and frequent cryer in movies. Ask me about "The Ice Pirates"

Episode 34
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