December 06, 2005


Soi Cheang's HOME SWEET HOMESlipping into theaters (and now onto DVD) with barely a ripple, Soi Cheang's HOME SWEET HOME continues Soi Cheang's chronicling of the black and twisted souls of the Hong Kong bourgeoisie.

His first movie, DIAMOND HILL was a stunning DV gothic about lost kids and lost souls, then he made HORROR HOTLINE...BIG HEAD MONSTER which was a great horror flick with Francis Ng as a soul-sick DJ that fell apart at the end when the movie devolved into a shot-by-shot remake of THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT. NEW BLOOD was a muted, alienated urban horror flick that owed a little too much to the J-horror craze crawling around the continent at the time, but the follow-up LOVE BATTLEFIELD was an exceptional film about young love bumping into heavily armed Mainland criminals. Now comes HOME SWEET HOME which returns to the squatters at the heart of DIAMOND HILL and, while wildly uneven, it's worth your notice.

Shu Qi and Alex Fong move into a housing estate in Hong Kong, built on the bulldozed remains of a squatter community. These shanty-towns dotted Hong Kong for a long time, but when the government decided to develop the land and lease it to development companies, the result were near-riots as hundreds of tenants were cleared out by the police and their homes and possessions were leveled. Gleaming housing estates sprung up in their place and Shu Qi and Alex Fong are the eager beaver yuppies who snap up an apartment.

They're barely settled when their brat goes missing, abducted by a monster who lives in the ducts. What follows is a mommy versus mommy battle with some truly sick twists along the way. Unfortunately, Soi Cheang seems distracted and dilutes the power of the ideas behind the screenplay with numerous digressions and wandering plot lines. The worst offender is the revelation at the one hour mark that Shu Qi and Alex Fong own a dog that seems to understand the basic principles behind elevator operation. The elevator knowledge isn't the shocking thing here, what's shocking is that the dog exists at all since it hasn't even been hinted at previously. Major characters vanish with their fates left unresolved and, most disappointingly, Shu Qi has mental problems that are hinted at several times but nothing is ever made of them. She comes so close to going bonkers that you really want to see her cut loose and go psycho (a la Anita Yuen in the under-rated TIL DEATH DO US PART) but, alas, it's not to be.

The movie is strongest when it drops the plodding police procedural plot and leaves behind the standard issue horror movie tropes and embraces Soi Cheang's favorite thing: sick group dynamics. There's some great near-STEPFORD WIVES moments at the beginning of the movie but, again, nothing ever comes of them. The acting style is uniformly crazed but Karena Lam as the mom-ster manages to turn in a really great performance and almost single-handedly saves the movie from sinking without a trace.

The idea of a Phantom of the Housing Estate who embodies Hong Kong's paved-over past is so electrifying that parts of HOME SWEET HOME spark with high voltage. But that leaves the rest of it looking that much dimmer and drearier.

December 6, 2005 at 11:22 AM in Reviews | Permalink


Post a comment