A Slasher Flick for the Thinking Man: The Sub-prime Mortgage Crisis Meets Campy Hong Kong Horror
It was when Pang Ho-Cheung and his friends were sitting around one day, kvetching about what it would take to be able to buy an apartment, that they came up with the concept of the young director’s next film. To snag a flat in a city where real estate prices have sky-rocketed, they wondered, “Would you have to kill someone?”
That’s the brilliant premise of Dream Home, a horror film for the thinking man that’s both a suspenseful thriller about a murder spree in a Hong Kong high-rise and a satire of one of the world’s most expensive cities, whose 1997 hand-over saw real estate prices rise a whopping 15%. Cleverly cutting between grisly old-school, Guignol horror and a back story of real estate despair that has led our killer here, this is perhaps the only slasher flick ever filmed wherein the sub-prime mortgage crisis is a major plot point.
Pang Ho-Cheung, one of Hong Kong’s hottest young directors, has made a name for himself pegging genre flicks to the turmoil of the city. In the wake of the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, his debut You Shoot, I Shoot followed a contract killer who, facing a decline in demand due to the economy, turns to marketing — teaming up with a film-maker who captures his hits on video. His most recent film, Love in a Puff, was a romantic comedy about lovers who meet up as a result of the city’s new anti-smoking laws. As in those films, Dream Home is a satire of a wicked city. But oh, for you horror fans — there’s plenty.
Our heroine Cheng Lai-sheung (Josie Ho) is a smart, hard-working employee of a bank, where it’s her job to push card-holders into debt. She feels morally queasy about what she’s doing, but she’s got too little time to think about it — she’s bent on buying her dream home, an apartment on Victoria Bay on sale for $4.9 million. Growing up across the street in Tsim Tsa Tsui, she knew No. 1 Victoria Street as where her friend Jimmy lived. But when the government, in alliance with Triad members and business tycoons (we’re looking at you, Stanley Ho!), condemned the house — forcing its residents out, she watched the violence, destruction, and the construction of a glimmering new high rise. In Hong Kong — and elsewhere in China — young people don’t prove their mettle until they’re able to buy their own apartment.
Her father, a builder, has worked for decades constructing such mega-rises but has never earned enough to buy a nice flat of his own. Now, despite the fact Cheng works two jobs, gets life-insurance from a family member’s death, and the bank is willing to lend her 70% (this is so pre-recession), the home-owners of her dream home are seeing the market rise. It’s 2007 and the bubble hasn’t burst. When they tell her they’re going to try for more, Lai-Sheung turns quickly from devastation to planning…
So what does our heroine do? We watch her in the apartment’s gleaming hallways, walking obsidian floors beneath twinkling chandeliers as she stalks her prey — the building’s other residents. Her goal slowly becomes clear to us — she’s not here to kill those who occupy the apartment she wants, she’s here to kill all their surrounding neighbors, thereby lowering property value.
Like all good horror directors, Ho-Cheung isn’t afraid to have us sympathize both with our heroine — the woman who is poor, despite having worked a life-time — and her victims. One of the first killed is a pregnant woman, whose unborn baby literally drips out. (Eeeeeeeeeeeeew!) But horror sequences aren’t just grizzly, they’re clever; Lai-sheung kills all her victims with the household items she finds in these rooms she’s lusted after. A kid smoking pot is killed by shoving a bong into his throat (its glass bulb slowly fills with the blood flowing in); a wealthy woman is killed by shoving her head into the very vacuum bag her Filipino maid had been using to more efficiently store her clothes. (Brilliant!) Significantly, Cheng performs much of this violence with her father’s tool belt — which she wears clipped around her waist. While the tools would never serve him to get an apartment, they will serve her.
But this is far from the serious, symbolic satire of revenge. There’s a real sense of humor. Ho-Cheung has said he was inspired by the cultish comedy of Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Kreuger, and one can see it when the drugged-out kid she disembowels tries, slumped over, to smoke a last jay; “Sh*t,” he says. “It’s gone out.” Then, when (spoiler!) she moves into the apartment, the radio’s playing. It seems that, overnight, the stock market crashed. Property’s tumbling. It’s the sub-prime mortgage crisis…
At the screening, Ho-Cheung was on hand to answer questions. When asked what inspired him, he admitted, “Up to this point, I still haven’t been able to buy a flat in Hong Kong.”
And he’s a hit film director.
Directed by Pang Ho-Cheung
Starring: Josie Ho, Eason Chan, Michelle Ye
Language Cantonese with some Mandarin (with English subtitles), (Hong Kong), 2010, 96 minutes.