‘Dream Home’: The Hong Kong Housing Market Can Be Murder

And you thought the housing crisis in the US was out of control. You haven’t seen anything yet. The whole idea behind Pang Ho-Cheun’s Dream Home is that the Hong Kong housing market is so overblown and prohibitively overpriced that eventually it is going to drive people to murder just to find a place to live.

Dream Home is a satiric look at the real estate troubles in Hong Kong in the years following the hand off, all filtered through the lens of a violent, gore-soaked slasher film. The movie gives a whole new meaning to casual utterances like, “I’d kill to live there.”

Cheng Lai-Sheung (Josie Ho, Exiled, Contagion) works in a call center at a bank, making annoying cold calls offering services that no one wants. Most of her workday consists of being cursed at over the phone. At night she has a part-time job hawking expensive designer purses to customers who scarcely notice her. Her boyfriend, a long-lost childhood friend, is married with a child and is only interested in Lai-Sheung in short bursts, primarily when drunk and meeting her at hourly sex motels.

Lai-Sheung’s co-workers burn through their paychecks on spur-of-the-moment vacations and other trivial expenditures. She, on the other hand, carefully socks away every red cent in order to buy her dream home: a flat in a modern high-rise with a water view. She’s willing to do anything to secure this domicile, and by anything, I mean anything, including brutal, brutal murder.

Dream Home begins with a drawn-out, squirmy death scene that leaves a security guard writhing on the floor in an ever widening pool of his own blood. Then things get mean.

There is disemboweling, eye popping, finger chopping, vomit slipping, and skull bashing. And that doesn’t even take into account more mundane cinematic slaying, like stabbing and shooting, of which there is plenty. The violence is all very graphic and it takes up a fair portion of the movie.

Though Dream Home is not for the faint of heart, the brutality and bloodshed are done with satiric intent. From one moment to the next you’ll gasp and cringe at an act of cruelty—like one in particular that involves a pregnant woman—and then chuckle as a blue-haired drug runner sitting in a pool of his own intestines attempts to smoke a joint that has gone out.

Filmed in an almost dreamlike style, Dream Home is full of slow, spinning shots that rise up and over, reflections in windows, hazy images of the city, and actors framed within the frame by walls, doors, and other openings. At times the cinematography invokes a sort of twisted Douglas Sirk artistry, both visually and thematically.

An apparently idyllic life hides a darker underbelly and an underlying desperation. The unique cityscape and architecture of Hong Kong is on full display here, and the towering buildings, massive housing structures, and ultra-modern design infuses the film with a claustrophobic, confining, daunting air.

Dream Home is similar in tone to Revenge: A Love Story, another Hong Kong film that involves some of the same players. The story begins with a character committing horrific acts, only to go back into this person’s history to explain their actions. Dream Home bounces around in time, from one night in the present, back into Lai-Sheung’s life, beginning with the root causes of her obsession buried deep in her childhood, through events in her life that pile up and inform her present situation, up to the moments immediately before she goes on a kill-crazy rampage.

The structure is intricate, keeps the pace moving forward, and serves to unravel the mystery of Lai-Sheung. Pang, who also wrote the script, handles the temporal shifts well, and the plot avoids becoming jumbled or convoluted. The problem is, and this is the main issue that keeps Dream Home from being an excellent movie—if you can stomach the violence and gore, that is—that Lai-Sheung’s motives, while clear, don’t seem to match her actions.

She never appears driven enough to commit such terrible acts. The primary forces are never serious enough, or intense enough, that fits her behavior. It ‘s never clear why she fixates on this one flat. Sure, she got screwed by the sellers, and it was her childhood dream to own a flat with a view of the water, but there’s a serious discrepancy between her emotional state and the action she takes. Her story lacks the emotional weight necessary to make her deeds truly believable, it comes close, but never quite gets there.

Dream Home is a beautifully filmed story with a wicked sense of humor and a twisted morality. It’s gory, gory, gory, and as such, is not for everyone. People vomited at the premier. A good, entertaining movie, it could have been great, but falls a little bit short, focusing on grotesque murders rather than what could have been a captivating narrative.

The DVD comes with almost an hour of bonus features. Portioned out into bite-sized bits, nine different chapters delve into different aspects of the film. Most hover around the five-minute mark, but there are a few in the 15 minute range. Topics include Story, Cast, Director, Pre-Production, Special Techniques, Stunts, Special Make Up FX, CGI/Visual FX, and Photography. Most of them are interesting and certainly worth a look, especially if you’re interested in the impetus behind Dream Home, and the thoughts of the cast and crew on making such an extreme film.

RATING 7 / 10
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features for publication consideration with PopMatters.
Call for essays, reviews, interviews, and list features.