Film Review: Dream Home

Dream Home (Wai dor lei ah yut ho) (2010)
Distributor: Network Releasing (UK) IFC Films (US)
Release date: 19th November 2010 (UK) 2011 TBC (US)
Directed by: Ho-Cheung Pang
Starring: Josie Ho, Eason Chan
Review by: Stephanie Scaife

Cheng Li-sheung (Josie Ho) is a young professional planning to take her first step on to the property ladder. She has saved every spare penny that she has ever earned and has become obsessed with buying a particular apartment in an affluent area with a sea view. However, due to soaring house prices in Hong Kong and the struggling economy at large things don’t quite go according to plan, and after the owners reject her initial bid for the apartment Cheng Li-sheung takes extreme measures to ensure that the market value and appeal of the property plummets drastically. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. 

What’s interesting about the protagonist is that she is not your typical movie psycho killer in the traditional sense; she is merely doing what she needs to do to achieve her goal, and she exacts each murder with cold, grim and determined brutality. Seemingly neither enjoying what she is doing nor being particularly troubled by it, she has resolutely decided what she must do to get her dream home and goes about methodically enacting her plan. Billionaire heiress Josie Ho gives a committed and convincing performance as Cheng Li-sheung, making her believable even when some of the victims and murders verge on the ridiculous at times, and judging by her being cast in Steven Soderbergh’s new film Contagion she’s surely destined for international stardom.

The non-linear narrative jumps back and forth between the present and flashbacks of different periods in Cheng Li-sheung’s life that explain exactly why she’s been driven to such extremes. Lonely, working a dead end job and lacking in self-confidence she becomes increasingly obsessed with reaching her goal. Her lazy brother, ungrateful father and her selfish, inconsiderate and married lover all gradually push her closer and closer to the edge.  

Dream Home may ultimately struggle to find a wide audience, with the excessive violence perhaps over shadowing the social satire for the average viewer. But it does have a vast amount of cult appeal and there is a lot here for genre fans to admire, even if the director does occasionally pander to expectations with a shocking lack of subtlety, including seeing prospective victims smoking pot, excessively drinking and engaging in various debauched sexual acts before being ruthlessly executed. 

A blackly comic social commentary slasher film about the competitive and overpriced Hong Kong housing market that is supposedly based on true events may seem like a strange premise, but it was surprisingly entertaining and if, like myself, you’re a young person in a big city dreaming of getting onto the property ladder you may find yourself sympathizing with Cheng Li-sheung’s cause even though her solution to the problem is rather extreme. Ho-Cheung Pang is a prolific maverick young filmmaker, and if this is anything to go by he’s definitely one to keep an eye on in the future.

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