Don’t stand in the way of a lady and her new home, as Mark Lee discovers in Ho-Cheung Pang’s grisly satire.
Uniquely modern phrases such as ‘the subprime mortgage crisis’ encapsulate the somewhat insidious misery of the financial situation we’ve endured for the last few years, and it’s little wonder that these words trigger a shudder to all but the most financially comfortable. Arriving with a deceptively pleasant title, a Far East location, and a plethora of eye-watering violence, Pang Ho-Cheung’s Dream Home drives its carnival of carnage forward harnessing such a theme, guaranteed to resonate with viewers throughout the UK and beyond as the end to our misery seems nowhere in sight.
Just in case the unsuspecting British viewer may be anticipating some sort of Kirstie Allsop and Phil Spencer fronted property piece, this compelling yarn clarifies its grisly intentions within the first few minutes, with the discomfortingly efficient dispatch of an apartment block security guard at the hands of our seemingly dispassionate female lead, Sheung (rock star turned actress Josie Ho). Yet this opening scene demonstrates another aspect to the bloody property satire; the violent journey documented in this movie, it is clear, will be one which is captured stylishly, and with the bleakest, blackest of grins. Technically, the gory hackfest is shot with a deft hand, and not only is the murderous mayhem presented with gloriously over the top imagination, but the snippets of plot which sketch out the climax to the chaos are equally thoughtful and inventive in approach.
Pang’s Hong Kong is a suitably congested and claustrophobic backdrop, brilliantly captured by dizzying shots of high rises, dirty tower blocks, and aerial perspectives of the cluttered landscape; indeed, barely a scene is without a multitude of colours, shapes, and detail. This is a place where people live, quite literally, on top of each other, and it’s bringing out the worst in many. With competition for finite resources in an economy spiralling into freefall, the collective moral fibre is weakened; gangsters intimidate residents out of properties, married men enjoy multiple partners and extended golf weekends away from their not entirely unsuspecting wives, and city workers concoct shady schemes to generate improved revenue, with no thought for the futures of their customers whom they know have no ability to pay.
Dream Home’s brutal violence often feels unremitting, and it is true that Ho’s Sheung often feels too cold to provoke any viewer affection, yet there is sensitivity to be found secreted amongst the congestion and the clutter. Carving the story from a collection of carefully placed flashbacks interspersed with the unfolding slaughter, we are afforded some relief with the touching childhood relationship between Sheung and neighbour Jimmy, who communicate with each other via cups and string across the high rise buildings. The adult Sheung struggles bravely, juggling a number of jobs and a sick father as she tries desperately to scrape enough funds together for her dream apartment – and its dream view.
That Pang’s stylish shocker is disturbing, there is no doubt, and whilst some of the violence and gore prods playfully at our guilty sense of humour, other elements are shocking and disturbing to the extreme. The mere mention of a distressing and virtually unwatchable scene with a pregnant woman in her apartment should be enough to warn you that the movie will not play by the rules, and the camera will not flinch as Sheung’s gargantuan rage is realised. Yet that scene aside, the end product is an exhilarating, tough, and often blackly humorous journey with a woman who has a dream, who works tirelessly, and who is ultimately a victim of the very industry she works within.
Some will find Ho’s character too dry to empathise with, and many will be turned off by the stylish and brilliantly executed ultra-violence. Yet for those who can stomach the voluminous viscera (some of it has to be seen to be believed!), and relate to the sharply relevant financial frustrations driving the bloodshed forward, the largely accomplished Dream Home will prove a rewarding and sometimes breathtaking horror journey.
Dream Home arrives on a single DVD disc, and is encoded with region 2 for a European audience. Unfortunately, Network Releasing have adjusted the cover artwork from the artwork I saw a couple of months ago (with Ho lying down amongst a suitably cluttered array of corpses and general junk), choosing instead a slightly more cynical and well worn style which belies the almost arthouse nature of this intriguing production. That said, the original artwork does feature in the menu structure, which is easily navigable and clearly set out.
The aspect ratio is 1.78:1, and the transfer is of an impressive standard. I did notice a couple of moments of pixelation at an early stage in the film (and a small amount during the Josie Ho interview), though it’s feasible that these moments are on the checkdisc, but not on the final release. Pixelation aside, the quality of the picture is excellent; play this disc on a player with upscaling abilities, and the end result looks near Blu-ray quality with excellent definition and accuracy. The film uses substantial filtering for various scenes, often adopting greens and cool blues, and these are reproduced well. Additionally, the constant and unrelenting clutter in nearly every shot is captured in excellent detail, and our brain is never given any reason to doubt the visual cortex-bombarding display in front of our eyes.
Subtitles are included, and are delicately sized and well positioned, never interfering with the onscreen action. I did notice a couple of minor errors, such as a spelling mistake, but overall the translation feels credible.
There are three trailers provided, including Tony Manero, Iranian movie No One Knows About Persian Cats, and Afterschool. All look like interesting pieces.
Audio is limited to 2.0 stereo, although the soundtrack is decent enough; clean, clear, and free of distortion. Levels are well managed, with the voices remaining clear amongst and between the louder action moments. The range of bass, middle, and treble is well proportioned, with suitable depth and clarity apparent, which benefits the musical score as it crosses from pulsating dance/hip hop hybrids, to melancholy piano pieces, through to the rocky, punky track such as the one fronted by Josie Ho and her band.
Extras are limited on this DVD release, though it’s not completely barebones, and there are a couple of features to provide some backdrop for fans of the movie.
The Josie Ho Interview runs for 9 minutes and 35 seconds, and Ho speaks confidently with excellent English about the making of the film, and many of the ideas behind it. It’s particularly interesting to hear how significant a role Ho had in determining the direction of the film; she is clearly a strong character and has firm opinions, and the overwhelmingly violent overtones of the movie are to some extent a result of Ho’s desire to push the extreme lever to the limit.
An Image Gallery runs through 2 minutes and 8 seconds of often graphic and explicit shots from the movie and its production. Whilst it’s reassuring to see many of the actors unharmed and being set up for the bone-snapping carnage, you really must not watch this before the film itself.
A Theatrical Trailer, running for 1 minute and 32 seconds, rounds up the selection of extras. As trailers go, it’s pretty entertaining viewing, but again, it’s for post-film entertainment only.
It will certainly be too violent and plain nasty for many, yet if you can connect with the bleak humour, the satirical approach, and the mindnumbing whirlwind of violence, Dream Home may just provide momentary relief from the misery we’re all having to endure as the financial turmoil continues.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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