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October 27, 2011

Dream Home

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Wai dor lei ah yut ho
Pang Ho-Cheung - 2010
IFC Films Region 1 DVD

As pleased as I am that a film by Hong Kong's idiosyncratic Pang Ho-Cheung has received a limited theatrical release in addition to the recent DVD release, I feel some concern that Dream Home might put off those not familiar with his other films. For those who have seen some of Pang's previous films, like Isabella or Exodus, Pang's sometimes sardonic humor is the leavening element for films that have grim premises or taboo subject matter. Dream Home is the grimmest of Pang's movies, yet the filmmaker doesn't shy away from such moments as when a young man, his guts spilling out on the floor, complains about his burnt out marijuana cigarette.

What will also be lost to many stateside viewers is that the film has been conceived and executed as an elaborate middle finger towards China. Dream Home can be seen as a Hong Kong filmmaker's catalogue of almost everything that isn't allowed to be shown on Chinese movie screens, made at a time when virtually every Hong Kong filmmaker looks to China for commercial viability. To some extent the over the top sex and violence is both a throwback to an earlier era of Hong Kong films, while pushing the envelope further than what what done in the past.

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The film follows Sheung, a young woman obsessed with buying an apartment with a seaside view. Switching between a night in October 30, 2007, when Sheung goes on a killing spree, and incidents in her past, it is gradually revealed why Sheung wants a particular kind of apartment and why she goes on the rampage in the building she hopes to call home. The film is something of a critique regarding Hong Kong's consumerist society. While Sheung is hoping to buy an apartment that seems financially out of her reach, she works as a telemarketer for a company that issues dubious financial services, as well as part time for an upscale leather goods store with items she could probably not afford herself. Even when Sheung seems ready to buy the apartment of her dreams, the sellers cancel the deal in the hopes of taking advantage of the housing bubble. Yes, Dream Home has its very topical side, with a horror story too many could identify with.

Just how taboo busting is Dream Home? There's patricide, homicide, male and female nudity, sex scenes, some girl on girl action, dismembered fingers, a dismembered member, fatal uses of plastic ties, flesh piercing knives, and lots and lots of blood. The flashbacks simultaneously tell of Sheung's attempts to maintain her place as the good daughter who strives to take care of her family, and makes personal sacrifices to get the "dream home", while part of the narrative is about the forced relocation of poorer Hong Kong families, evicted to make way for newer, taller, and unaffordable apartments. Sheung's actions are extreme, but they are shown to be a response to the failure of playing by the rules, when others change the rules to their advantage.

In the middle of all of this is Josie Ho, serving as both star and producer. Hopefully, Contagion will give Ms. Ho more attention, and remind a few people that she is fluent in English. Josie Ho has made some daring choices in the past, notably the lesbian themed Butterfly. Reportedly Ho and Pang had a dispute regarding the level of violence in the film, with Pang wanting a more realistic approach. As best as I can tell, the producer got the upper hand. I;m not sure if extreme quite covers the level of violence in Dream Home. And it is quite possible that the portrayal of violence is meant to be questioned. And yet with all the maiming and slashing, nothing quite prepared me for the suggested horror of Dream Home's caustic ending.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at October 27, 2011 07:47 AM


I've been really curious about this film so I enjoyed your review. I haven't seen any of Pang Ho-Cheung's films but this is currently available on Netflix. Hopefully I'll get the chance to watch it soon.

Posted by: Kimberly Lindbergs at October 27, 2011 11:18 PM

I've now seen almost every film by Pang available at Netflix. On a couple of films, his family name is listed as Ping. I'm also hoping to write about his acclaimed comedy, Love in a Puff, which is one of my many still unseen DVDs. Recommend Exodus, especially.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at October 28, 2011 03:48 AM