Cheng Li-sheung (Josie Ho) is a young, upwardly mobile professional finally ready to invest in her first home. But when the deal falls through, she is forced to keep her dream alive – even if it means keeping her would-be neighbours dead.
There is much to leave the average viewer gasping with disbelieving shock in Ho-Cheung Pang’s Dream Home – the castration of a young man mid-coitus or the plastic-bag asphyxiation of a heavily pregnant woman, just for starters. But the director lets us in very early on as to the true nature of evil in his terrifically entertaining social satire/slasher pic – a pre-credit crawl that states the average price of a Hong Kong apartment is nearing HK$2000 per square foot.
This is particularly troubling for Cheng Li-sheung (the wide-eyed and ingratiating Josie Ho), who harbours a lifelong obsession to own an apartment in an unattainable high-rise that overlooks Victoria Harbour. Working two jobs and having already chosen to unburden herself of her ailing father (Norman Chui), she will let nothing stand between her and the opportunity to make her fantasy a real-estate reality.
To secure a place at an affordable price, she takes it upon herself to lower the property values of the building. And nothing brings market values crashing down like a frenzied murderous rampage in a neighbouring unit.
Pang captures the desperate housing situation that the Hong Kong middle-class are currently experiencing by making the actions of his seemingly-innocuous 'heroine’ so extremely horrifying. An extended opening sequence that captures, in detail, the strangulation of the tower’s security guard reveals itself to be an exercise in restraint when compared with what follows. Picking upon a group of young partygoers in the unit below, whose music and sexual antics echo through the hallways, Cheng dispatches them via disembowelment, multiple stabbings and the broken wooden base of a futon bed; two policemen sent to investigate are also offed, one in a direct-to-camera head shot from his own pistol.
The cross-cutting of then-and-now story strands puts the audience in a very uncomfortable moral dilemma. As the viewer becomes more empathetic with Cheng’s frustration at her unrealised life aims, we are also party to her unrelenting murder spree. Josie Ho’s everyday loveliness is dangerously winning; whilst indulging in the carnage, her expression indicates she is focussed on her goals, not her actions. She has a Hannibal Lecter-like detachment from her actions, as if she has no choice but to commit them – it’s just who she is. In Cheng Li-sheung, Josie Ho has created a wonderfully involving super-villain.
Pang cannot help the occasional genre indulgence – the men smoke lots of weed and crave debauched sex; the girls are naked all the time and happy to indulge in said debauchery (the violence is not the only graphic component in the film). For some, the degree of slasher film excesses will outweigh the social commentary Pang intended; alternately, attempts at satire will be lost on those just seeking gory thrills. But both elements succeed well enough in this skillfully-crafted and professionally-packaged work to ensure Dream Home will enjoy international festival exposure and cult status on the midnight-movie circuit.