Saturday, January 8, 2011

In short: Dream Home (2010)

Hong Kong, 2007. Cheng Lai Sheung (Josie Ho in what big-time film critics would probably call a domineering performance) is working two miserable shit jobs, having a loveless affair with a married man, and living with her younger brother and her ailing father in a run-down old flat. She is dreaming of buying a flat in the more upscale, but not exactly luxury, apartment building across the street that is entwined with the dreams and troubles of her childhood. As far as it shows, Cheng seems to have the feeling moving in there would fix all that is wrong with her life, but she's just too poor to get where she wants in any normal way, hard as she may try.

The scenes showing us Cheng's daily life in 2007 are intercut with other scenes showing us the (non-traumatic) unhappy past that shaped her, and a third group of scenes in which she goes through a few apartments in her dream home, mercilessly slaughtering the inhabitants. The reasons for her killing spree will only become completely clear once the film's two lines of flashbacks have run their respective courses.

I wouldn't have pegged Edmond Pang Ho-Cheung as a director able to produce this kind of concentrated tale of physical and economical horror, but here Dream Home is, looking for all the world like a less weird, and slightly more upmarket sister movie to Tiwa Moeithaisong's Meat Grinder.

Pang shows himself to be a director at the same time at home with Cheng's gruesome and slightly over the top (this is a Hong Kong CATIII movie, after all, and there are traditions that need to be kept to) killing spree and the emotionally much more subdued scenes of the protagonist growing up. The latter scenes are the most interesting part of the movie for me in that they're not going for the explanations for serial murders narratives usually use. Pang shows no interest in either the "born evil" variation, or the "one single trauma causes everything" explanation, and instead shows Cheng's growing up as somewhat unhappy, with violence all around her yet never hitting her directly, and her adult life as depressing and loveless, probably not much different from the lives of thousands of other inhabitants of Hong Kong of her generation.

In direct contrast to the scenes of carnage, Cheng's daily life is shown in muted and undramatic tones. It's the kind of life that's full of little failures - mostly caused by economical factors completely outside one's control - that still doesn't drive most people into homicide or we'd all be dead. Subtextually, Pang seems to argue for the idea that Cheng would not have become what she is in a society less fixated on monetary gain as a way to escape all troubles, and that monsters are not created with a bang, but with a whisper. The shadow of fear of the reunification with mainland China and its effects that has lain over a few generations of Hong Kong inhabitants and the movies they made is still there, even in a film that on its surface is only ever about the escape into a better flat.

There's also something grimly humorous about Dream Home, like a slightly ironic shrug about the state of the world that can only find expression in hacked off body parts and people icing their own guts. It's the sort of humour possibly based on anger, possibly on resignation. Like the film it's appearing in, it seems deeply, though not necessarily pleasantly, human to me in any case.


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