Starring: Josie Ho Chiu-yee, Eason Chan Yik-sun, Derek Tsang Kwok-cheung, Lawrence Chou Tsun-wai
Directed by: Edmond Pang Ho-cheung
There are more than a few Hongkongers who would kill for a dream flat, at least in the figurative sense. Director-writer Edmond Pang Ho-cheung takes the concept to its literal extreme in this blood-soaked portrait of a woman unhinged by Hong Kong life, and in the process exposes truths rarely met in local cinema.
In film after film, Pang has proven himself to be the boldest auteur to emerge in this century's first decade. Dream Home ranks up there with his best, such as his genre-mixing directorial debut You Shoot, I Shoot (2001) and the intricately plotted revenge romance Beyond Our Ken (2004). There's a little bit of both, along with elements from his other pictures, in this over-the-top yet rooted-in-reality tale of would-be flat owner Sheung (Josie Ho Chiu-yee, right, who also served as a producer).
Pang relates her saga in a non-linear manner, going back and forth from the killing spree of 2007 to Sheung's adolescence and young adulthood. Hers is not a privileged existence, but neither is it particularly harsh by local standards. Sheung was raised by hard-working parents in a shabby but love-filled home, forsook university for a thankless job, and is stuck in an unsatisfying relationship with a married jerk (Eason Chan Yik-sun).
What keeps Sheung going is her dream: a middle-class apartment with a sea view. In most societies this might not be out of reach for a woman holding one full-time and two part-time positions. But Hong Kong is far from a normal society, a premise the director makes at the very beginning with statistics relating to the region's ridiculously high property costs.
It's a point made over and over, in background details like banners of soon-to-be evicted tenants protesting against collusion between government, triads and property magnates, and footage of young people demonstrating against the destruction of Queen's Pier. These are topics constantly in Hong Kong headlines, yet Dream Home is the first to actually deal with them in a meaningful, if grisly, way on screen.
There's no denying, though, it's the carnage that takes centre stage. Some murders are engrossing, others just gross. A couple of slayings are inconsistently gratuitous, in that Sheung doesn't seem the type to slaughter unnecessarily. At times the director allows the scenes to go on too long. And the copious amounts of forensic evidence left behind belie the movie's conclusion.
But for the most part, Sheung's actions follow a logical, if twisted, path, and there is irony galore in terms of both the narrative and milieu. Perhaps the greatest irony is that Sheung is portrayed by an actress who is herself the daughter of one of Hong Kong's most prominent tycoons. Paradoxical or not, Ho delivers a bravura performance that even at its most exaggerated is remarkably sincere.
Dream Home opens today