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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Dream Home
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by Jay Seaver

"Purchasing a home of one's own can be very, very messy."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (UNCUT): "Dream House" tries to be a lot of different things, and winds up a bit of a mess as it jumps from one tone to another, playing like a small drama for a long time before taking a brutal detour into some of the nastiest violence you'll see on screen. Of course, some might argue that the gore that got the film Hong Kong's equivalent to an NC-17 rating (even after being cut for theatrical exhibition) is not nearly as frightening as what opens the film - statistics on the cost of buying a home, especially in Hong Kong.

The numbers are mind-boggling, pointing out that since 1997, Hong Kong income has increased 1%, while the cost of housing went up 15% in 2007 alone. Apartments as small as 600 square feet can go for $300,000, more with a harbor view. And that's what Cheng Lai-sheng (Josie Ho) wants; she's been saving for it her entire adult life, working two jobs in order to do so. She's got a very specific target, 1 Victoria Place. As we see in flashbacks, she's got her reasons for wanting to purchase a unit there, but her determination has become an obsession that even her realtor Nelson (Anthony Wong Chau-sang) finds to be a bit excessive. And that's before she gets close enough to her goal that not making it would really send her over the edge.

The desire to own one's own home is an almost universal motivation, and the scenes in Dream Home where we see the seeds being planted in Lai-sheng's head and how it dominates her thoughts in the present day are well-played. It is, at times, a little confusing. The flashbacks often play out in a very disconnected way; if we're told her father (Norman Chu) was in construction before learning that his health problems are possibly related to long-term exposure to asbestos, it's very quickly and in passing, even though that could be a major part of what motivates her. Certain bits, like the collaboration between the government, developers, and triads, probably also play much better for Hong Kong natives than foreigners - and I'm not sure whether the scheme that Lai-sheng and her co-workers are running is an example of a side-plot that's not well-integrated, something Chinese audiences would grasp better than everyone else, or both. There are two notable unfaithful husbands - Lai-Sheng's boyfriend (Eason Chan) and the owner of an apartment in 1 Victoria (Sin Lap-man).

Still, the gist of it comes through, both because co-writer/director Pang Ho-cheung does well at using each scene to tell us something about Lai-sheng and because Josie Ho is good in the role. She makes the character easy to relate to, even if her impulses aren't always the best. She's tired and worn-down most of the time, and the different ways that manifests itself are well done; it's fine work to show how her work as a telemarketer chips away at any good feelings she has, or how she's always thinking about saving to buy that flat, even when spending time with her family or boyfriend. And when her quest takes a turn for the worst, the outburst is real and believable, embarrassing for Lai-sheng and those involved but not out of place at all, even though she hasn't been prone to outbursts before.

And then comes the mayhem.

It says a lot about how good Ho, Pang, and company do that by the time the violence breaks out, the audience may have forgotten that this is that sort of movie (depending on what got them into the theater in the first place; folks coming for the gore may wonder just what was taking so long), despite the fact that the real estate prices that opened the film were followed by a grisly murder before rewinding a bit. We're reminded why this got slapped with a Category III rating in a hurry, though, as the film serves up a lot of blood and guts in a relatively short time. The gore effects are very competent, and the level of violence is decidedly not for the squeamish - I can happily go the rest of my life without ever hearing the sound effect of a pregnant woman (Michelle Ye) hitting the floor again, quite frankly (and, indeed, I believe this may have been cut for the film's theatrical release in Hong Kong).

This section just keeps going, getting deep into slasher movie territory to the point where the movie seems to have a real identity crisis. Yes, the filmmakers do serve up some creative kills, well done gore, and shamelessly gratuitous nudity, enough for a fairly decent slasher film, but do the folks who came for that want to sit through the hour or so of flashbacks and examination of Lai-sheng's everyday life to get to it? On the flip side, the people who enjoyed that may find the violence so overpowering that the film's more incisive points are all but forgotten by the time it's over. "Less is More" is a somewhat facile bit of advice, but when a movie spends so much time on why someone is driven to violence, spending so much time on the actual violence can blunt the effect that the filmmakers had been working to achieve.

The disconnect between the film's halves is severe enough to make "Dream Home" hard to recommend; different audiences are each likely to find half of the film they're looking for, and the movie as a whole isn't brilliant enough to make the other half quite worth it.

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originally posted: 08/10/10 02:10:14
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/14/11 danielle doesn't deserve any comment at all 1 stars
11/03/10 Crazydog Well worth a look 4 stars
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  DVD: 09-Aug-2011



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