Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Dream Home (March 19th at the Capitol Theatre)

[DREAM HOME screens Saturday March 19th at 11:59 pm at the Capitol Theatre]

Review by Bob Ignizio


Just as in the rest of the world, the housing market in Hong Kong circa 2007 was one in which real estate prices had been artificially driven sky high by unscrupulous banking and investment practices. Although her friends advise against buying in this climate, Sheung (Josie Ho) has her heart set on an apartment with an ocean view. She's even found the perfect place. Problem is, she doesn't make enough on her salary to keep up with the payments. So what's all that got to do with the brutal murder scene that kicks off Ho-Cheung Pang's DREAM HOME (Wai dor lei ah yut ho)? Plenty, as we slowly come to learn through flashbacks to key moments in Sheung's life.


On one hand, DREAM HOME is like a Hong Kong version of one of Dario Argento's seventies giallos, full of stylish and gory set pieces lit with bold colors. At the same time, it offers a biting commentary on the housing crisis, putting blame on both the bankers and lenders who artificially raise housing prices, as well as those buyers who just had to have a McMansion even though they knew they couldn't afford it. Meanwhile, those people just trying to get by and be responsible get caught in the middle and become victims. Of course no one harmed in the real housing meltdown had their intestines yanked out or various appendages lopped off as a result (as far as I know, anyway), but we're working in metaphor here.

Although the recent financial crisis is seen as the main cause of Sheung's (and Hong Kong's) problems, it's also strongly implied that the return/handover of Hong Kong toChina didn't exactly help matters (it's no coincidence that one of the years the film flashes back to is 1997, the year Hong Kong once again came under the sovereignty of the mainland). The film also takes aim at the men of Hong Kong. Sheung's boyfriend is an irresponsible philanderer too cheap to even pay for the hotel room the couple uses for their tryst, and the rest of the men seen or mentioned in the film don't fare much better. It would be a stretch to describe Sheung as a feminist anti-hero, but you have to admit she does take matters into her own hands.

Josie Ho does a fine job maintaining some degree of audience sympathy as Sheung even as she goes further and further off the deep end. None of the other players in the film have to much to do besides die convincingly, so this is essentially a one woman show, and Ms. Ho pulls it off quite capably. As visually appealing as director Pang's compositions are, I'm less enamored with his decision to tell his story out of sequence. I get what he was going for by parceling out information in such a way as to keep the audience wondering about certain key plot points, but it feels more gimmicky and confusing than anything. The sense of mystery could just as easily have been maintained with a more linear approach. Regardless, this is a clever and visually striking thriller that has something to offer for arthouse sophisticates and straight up gore hounds alike. 3 out of 4 stars.

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