Director: Pang Ho Cheung
Writer: Pang Ho Cheung, Derek Tsang, Jimmy Wan
Cast: Josie Ho, Michelle Yip Suen, Eason Chan, Norman Chu Siu Keung, Lawrence Chou Jun Wai, Nina Pau Hei Ching, Derek Tsang Kwok Cheung, Lo Hoi Pang, Felix Lok Ying Kwan, Juno Mak Jun Lung, Tan Lap Man, Wong Ching, Nelson Yu Lik Wai
Running Time: 96 min.
“Dream Home” generated a great deal of controversy upon its 2010 Hong Kong release, due in large part to its graphic violence. Despite carrying a Category III rating (basically the equivalent to our NC-17), the Hong Kong DVD is censored. In a move that doesn’t make much sense, the cut footage is still available on the DVD but only as “deleted scenes.” So these sequences were too violent for Hong Kong audiences to view as part of the film but it’s okay to jump straight to them on a separate DVD menu? Regardless, “Dream Home” has been released uncut in the United States from MPI Home Video and it is indeed one gory, gory movie.
At its heart, “Dream Home” is nothing more than a slasher movie with slick production values, its plot spun around the recent housing crisis in order to give it an aura of social relevancy. A Category III film for the arthouse set, if you will. Director Pang Ho-cheung has been making unconventional films in Hong Kong since 2001, with scripts that often riff on HK cinema cliches but spin them in a different light. His first film “You Shoot, I Shoot” was about a hitman forced to hire a would-be filmmaker to help him video tape his kills and increase business in tough economic times. In 2010, Pang achieved HK box office success with “Love in a Puff,” a romantic comedy about the smoking ban in Hong Kong.
Released the same year, “Dream Home” is Pang’s way of combining the horror movie with elements of comedy, all while taking a (somewhat) serious look at the housing crisis and high cost of living in Hong Kong circa 2007. In the lead role is Josie Ho, a stunning actress who previous worked with Pang Ho-cheung on “Isabella” and “Exiled.” IMDB tells me she played a character called Cantana in “Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li” but, as beautiful as Josie Ho is, you couldn’t pay me to watch that flick. If “Dream Home” works at all, it’s because of Josie. She plays a character who could be all too easy to view as loathsome and irredeemable, and yet Josie has you caring about her the entire movie.
Josie stars as a young woman just trying to make it in Hong Kong’s unforgiving economic climate. She’s working two part-time jobs, something that leaves her little room for a social life. She’s resigned herself to late night rendezvous with a married man, played by Eason Chan, while she works her ass off to raise enough money to move into her ‘dream home’: an expensive apartment with a great view of the Hong Kong harbor. Lengthy flashbacks are woven into the structure of the film, admittedly killing some of its tension and forward momentum, but these scenes go a long way towards developing Josie’s background. Her family history also has a little something to do with her present state of mind, which is fragile to say the least.
It turns out Josie’s dream home might be a little too expensive for her, even though she’s been saving money for years. But what if someone went around killing off tenants in a spectacularly violent fashion? That might just drive the price of real estate down. So when we’re not exploring Josie’s past via flashback, we’re watching hapless or unlikable characters get brutally dispatched just like in any “Friday the 13th” movie. Whether it’s cheating spouses or a bunch of sex-crazed stoners, it’s difficult to really care about the fate of these victims. The gore is intense and I have no qualms about stating that “Dream Home” is one of the most violent films I’ve seen in a lifetime of watching horror movies.
That said, the impact of the gore is often lessened by the fact that the filmmakers rely on CG rather than practical effects. The violence tends to look to “clean” and intangible; you may be staring at someone with a gaping knife wound on their face but you can tell the knife wound was added by some dude clicking on his mouse at a computer screen. It’s an issue with many horror movies these days and it may or may not bother viewers.
The realism of the onscreen violence is also lessened by the reaction of the victims, who sometimes flail in their death throes for an extended period of time; sit calmly smoking a cigarette while their intestines hang out of their body; or come back to life even with a wooden plank sticking out of their mouth. Moments like these felt so exaggerated I was almost expecting an “American Psycho”-style twist where the murders were all in our protagonist’s head.
In the end, it’s difficult to pinpoint just why I enjoyed “Dream Home,” other than the fact that Josie Ho is a very watchable actress. I will say the film has a decent message beyond the topical relevancy of the real estate crash, and the ending encourages the viewer to ponder what happens next. A voice on the radio promises “The worst has yet to come.” Could it really get any more graphic than this?
“Dream Home” pushes the limits of onscreen depictions of sex and violence way beyond your average Hong Kong movie, and just about any American horror film too (“Hostel” director Eli Roth may want to retire after watching this). Due to its sterile, computerized look, the violence may not have the impact that the filmmakers intended but Josie Ho certainly does. “Dream Home” is recommended for fans of extreme horror films; it is now streaming in HD on Netflix Instant.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 7/10