HONG KONG 2010 Directed by: Pang Ho-Cheung Written by: Pang Ho-Cheung, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Wan Chi-Man Produced by: Conroy Chan Chi-Chung, Subi Liang, Pang Ho-Cheung Cinematography by: Nelson Yu Lik-Wai Editing by: Wenders Li Music by: Gabriele Roberto Cast: Josie Ho, Anthony Wong, Michelle Ye, Norman Chu, Lawrence Chou, Eason Chan, Kwok Cheung Tsang, Hee Ching Paw, Hoi-Pang Lo, Ching Wong, Ying Kwan Lok, Juno Mak, Lap-Man Sin, Wai Hung Chan, Chu-Chu Zhou, Juan Song
In order to afford her dream home a woman, Cheng Li-Sheung, goes to great lengths, applying very drastic measures to make her dying father happy with a sea view apartment: once she has identified the property of choice, she begins to kill her neighbors one by one so that the value drops dramatically, bringing the price down into a range she can afford. But despite her will to inflict utmost brutality on her victims, she also seems to be just an ordinary girl pursuing a dream – and inevitably heading for trouble the longer she plays this vicious game.
DREAM HOME boasts a very fine and complex script that provides plenty of reasons for the main character to act the way she does: we learn a lot about her through her childhood memories, especially how the difficult relationship with her father has formed her personality, as well as it explains her dependency on her dad’s affection and motivation behind the need to buy that apartment. Her mother’s and brother’s roles are equally important, laying out a precise, psychological and believable cause-and-result pattern – DREAM HOME isn’t absurd, but an intense study of an unstable personality spiraling out of control.
Cheng Li-Sheung’s dull, monotone and difficult working life adds another interesting component, turning her into someone who is used to rejection, used to the harsh reality out there that is best dealt with in raw fashion. Ultimately, Cheng separates her gentle and fragile side from the side that shows no mercy, no morals and no guilt, and she develops into a Jekyll-and-Hyde type of character who puts her dream above anything else, even human life, in a delusion that fulfilling that dream could lead to salvation and a redefined relationship with her father.
It has been noted that DREAM HOME lacks coherence, but after studying the history of serial killers in-depth you will realize that schizophrenia doesn’t need a reason. People have been killed under far more random circumstances, so Cheng Li-Sheung’s motivation seems fairly reasonable after all. But you will have to understand that she is in fact not a girl next door anymore when the film starts, but that at this point she has crossed the line and changed into a deviant psychopath. She is leading a double life, and her measures are completely out of proportion – there is no turning back for her, she has lost it completely. There is only black and white, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that she is a sadistic killer, as she derives no pleasure from the violence, but sees it as a necessary means to an end. She is committing horrible crimes, but always looks beyond the here and now, hence never actually feels anything about what happens.
There are many other ways looking at DREAM HOME besides watching it as a slasher: the movie first and foremost is a very black comedy, a sarcastic comment on Hong Kong’s money-driven culture and inflated real estate market, and an essay on what values in life really matter. Mr. Pang is taking things to the edge, so that the most violent moments border on the hilarious, but never turn into slapstick: the line between laughter and shock maybe thin, but it’s always there. DREAM HOME remains a gut-wrenching flick at all times, and is probably one of the most violent movies of the year, yet it is also one of the most intelligent films of the year, telling a story that is painfully real and intense like few other films that were released in 2010.
The ending is, quite as expected, less coincidental but most of all consequential, a reductio ad absurdum, leaving Cheng and the audience speechless in view of what just happened. It’s the to-the-point conclusion of a great, condensed film that deserves to be praised – it’s a truly accomplished work.
With DREAM HOME Mr. Pang proves once again to be one of Hong Kong’s most versatile filmmakers and a brilliant observer who likes to dismantle reality and bring its essence to the screen, concerned most of all with what moves the ordinary citizen amid an ever-changing world. I recommend watching his previous film LOVE IN A PUFF back to back with DREAM HOME, and you will come to the conclusion that Mr. Pang’s films are wonderful, contemporary works from Hong Kong that shouldn’t be missed.
Whatever’s next, I bet on Mr. Pang to excite the audience with another surprising, and surprisingly good, film. I’d kill to see it today.