“In a crazy city, if one is to survive, he’s got to be more crazy.” So starts this story set in Hong Kong where the price of an apartment overlooking the sea is somewhere around $5 Million. This movie is supposedly based on a true story, and it is in some timely aspects, as the ending so bluntly puts it, but, for the most part, it’s completely fiction. My first clue to this fact was that it was going for laughs and not for drama (cribbing off the Coen Brothers should put filmmakers in some sort of cinematic jail). My second clue is where the movie landed on, what I like to call, the horror arc. The arc starts with small fights, verbal or physical, progressing to more intense action film violence; around three quarters of the way slasher films come into play with their varying levels of blood and gore. But when all the dismemberment and disemboweling (beyond the torture porn levels) causes people to slip around on someone’s spilled entrails like they were banana peels, things stop being gross and start being funny. That’s where Dream Home fell.
Cheng-Li (Josie Ho – the title character in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, but don’t hold that against her; she was a revelation here) is a young lady who is desperate to get a home with a view of the sea. Working at a job she hates, sleeping with a married man to coerce him for some extra cash, borrowing more money then she can ever afford to repay, and still with the price of the house she so desperately wants beyond her reach. So she must take drastic matters into her own hands. She will do whatever it takes to make her dream come true.
The main problem with my initial viewing of Dream Home was that I didn’t know it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously; that it had its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. I approached this film and fell into the utter darkness of its comedy and wondered why I couldn’t see what it was trying to say. Now, with new understanding of the tone and approach, re-watching the film was far more enjoyable. Throughout the first viewing I kept wondering why it took people a good eight to ten minutes to suffocate; to kick over stuff and choke and thrash about wildly and choke and writhe on the floor and choke and try to crawl away and claw at their throats and choke . . . well, now I know it was all meant for a laugh. A deep dark laugh.
The story is told as a fractured narrative where what happens almost at the end of the story is interspersed with flashbacks filling us in on how we got here. It gives the viewer lots of questions to begin with, but eventually it answers most of them. I struggle, though, to determine if the fractured approach actually added anything to the story and I don’t really think it did. Most if not all of the action, is at the end of the story’s timeline and rather than build to it, the filmmakers decided that we needed bursts of energy between the bits of what essentially turns out to be exposition and explanation. However, I don’t want that to come across as if I felt the majority of the film was boring. Exposition has the connotation of being so, but when the focus of the audience is drawn towards what will become of our protagonist before motives are firmly established, the buildup can be nothing but explanation.
Then comes the end of Dream Home and the final punch line. The timeliness of said punch line and how all of us around the world are the butt of that joke really helps to hammer home just what kind of humor we’re dealing with here. The film basically says, “See what we’ve been forced to become, been forced to do to make it in this world?” And just when we have wrung our hearts and sold our souls in order to be able to keep up with the niceties of life, the rug gets pulled out from under us and we’re cast into utter despair to wallow in our own guilt and shame. Funny, huh?