Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Sellers' Market

Films: Dream Home (Wai dor lei ah yat ho)
Format: Streaming video from Amazon Prime on Fire!

I’m not sure what I expected with Dream Home (or Wai dor lei ah yat ho if you prefer), but it wasn’t what I got. The elevator pitch of this one seems like it should be a comedy, or at least that it could be a comedy. A woman, desperate to purchase a flat in over-priced Hong Kong, saves up for years for her dream apartment. When the deal falls through because of the owners’ greed, she goes on a killing rampage to, for lack of a better way to say it, lower the market value of the real estate.

Tell me that’s not a great pitch for a comedy/horror movie. It has enough reality to be relatable (the movie is from just after the sub-prime mortgage crash) but a great deal of potential for some funny deaths, the sort of wacky hijinks that are common in a standard horror comedy. That is absolutely not what we get in Dream Home. This is a surprisingly dark and brutal movie with substantial, shocking gore moments that come out of nowhere. I think we’re supposed to sympathize with the main character as well, something I found impossible to do.

There is a plot to Dream Home, but—and I know this sounds bizarre—it’s not really important. Much of the backstory is told in a sort of flashback as Cheng Lai Sheung (Josie Ho) goes on her killing spree. We learn of her past, when her family was evicted from their coastal apartment so that high-rent high rises could be installed. She vows to purchase a flat for her parents that overlooks the local harbor, but fails to do so before her mother dies. She works two jobs to save money, but when her father is taken ill from something determined a pre-existing condition, much of her money goes into keeping him alive.

Through a series of events (I won’t spoil this), Cheng is finally ready to put money down on a flat, but the banks will only loan her up to 70% of the asking price, and when the owners decide that in a sellers’ market they can get more, she snaps. She heads to the building and starts killing anyone she sees. It’s an exceptional level of overreaction. Thwarted, Chen targets whomever she can killing them with household items—frequently, but not exclusively a kitchen knife. There are a fairly inventive kills (the use of a space-saver bag, for instance, is clever and fascinating), but it really does just devolve into a wild killing spree.

There’s a lot that feels disconnected with Dream Home. First, the backstory about her losing her home as a child and failing to get an apartment for her mother doesn’t really matter in any way. There’s nothing here that indicates that we should really care about this, and since the story comes to us piecemeal, by the time we understand it, we’ve given up caring. Sheung’s coworkers are awful, spending all of their money on pointless trips and booze. Most of the people she ends up killing, or at least a lot of them, are drugged out wastrels. They don’t deserve their fate, but they don’t do a lot to deserve any pity, either.

And then there is Sheung herself. She’s frankly not very likable. She is completely monomaniacal when it comes to a flat with a sea view to the point that she doesn’t really have a personality. She’s completely one-dimensional. Or two-dimensional, I guess. She has the goal of the apartment and she is, out of nowhere, really inventive at killing people.

And that’s really the problem I have with Dream Home more than anything. Since there isn’t really anyone who is that sympathetic (aside from one or two of the victims), it becomes just an exercise in watching brutal killings—and they are brutal. This is excessive and nasty, and for no really good reason. There are no laughs here; there’s just pain and callousness. When Sheung kills two guys who are planning on essentially date raping a woman, there’s no pleasure in the killing because Sheung’s not much better, and it’s not like she’s going to leave the woman alone.

There’s a potential movie here, but this wasn’t the one it should have been or one I ultimately wanted to watch. Spin this about 15% differently and make it a horror comedy, and it would work brilliantly. As it is, the only thing it has going for it is how well the home buying market angle has aged.

Why to watch Dream Home: It’s surprisingly relatable in today’s market.
Why not to watch: It’s badly mistargeted.

4 comments:

  1. Oh shit, this looks fucking hilarious. Yeah, I'd like to see this.

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  2. This does sound like it would be better suited for horror comedy then a straight up horror film. The premise is really interesting. Maybe someone will remake it into one.

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    1. It would work really well as a horror comedy. It's just slightly misaligned.

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