DREAM HOME (2010): HOW TO MAKE A LADY MONSTER
Starring: Josie Ho
Directed by: Ho-Cheung Pang
Written by: Ho-Cheung Pang, Derek Tsang, Chi-Man Wan
There are numerous monstrous women in our mythos: mermaids, witches, gorgons, lamias. The DNA of these classic creations is visible in the pantheon of modern female horror movie monsters. The archaic mother appears as species-propagating, otherworldly creatures, like the xenomorph queen of Aliens (1986) and SIL from Species (1995), or as punishing, killer moms, like Mrs. Bates and Mrs. Voorhees, whose punishment of “bad” children for hurting their own is a perversion of defending their brood. They can be succubi who steal men’s virility and flesh, as in Jennifer’s Body (2009) and Under the Skin (2013), and then there are the multitudes of sexy, hungry, female vampires who promise pleasure yet take life. This is far from a comprehensive list.
Horror often focuses on the havoc these creatures cause in the lives of their victims, but it offers only a cursory explanation about their origin (at least, until the sequels). Hong Kong director and screenwriter, Ho-Cheung Pang, tells of the creation of a monstrous, punishing angel, forged in the crucible of 2007’s global economic crisis and the cultural, economic, and political forces at play a decade after Hong Kong’s 1997 handover to China. He illustrates the evolution of Cheng Lai Sheung from dutiful daughter to mass murderer in his film Dream Home (2010).
Beginning with a prologue stating “in a crazy city, if one is to survive, he’s got to be more crazy,” Dream Home is told through a series of flashbacks, while Cheng Lai Sheung goes on a midnight murder rampage in an upscale condominium block. The violence she perpetuates serves a dual purpose: obtaining her dream home and striking a blow to the forces of capitalism and patriarchy that have tried to shape her into a hard-working, yet docile and subservient woman unable to fulfill her dreams.
As a child, Cheng Lai Sheung witnessed the families in her neighborhood being forced out of their homes to make room for the luxury condominiums of Hong Kong’s rising elite. Unscrupulous developers used thuggish street gangs to intimidate the home owners and their families into leaving. And the banners and posters in the neighborhood strongly implicated the government in the exploitation of Cheng Lai Sheung’s community. This catalyzed her idea of a dream home, one that would protect her and her family from the tempestuous waters of life.
Because she is not a man in a patriarchal society, Lai Sheung doesn’t earn as much as the men she works with at the call center. These higher paid men mock her for her desire for a dream home. In addition to her paying jobs, she is an unpaid domestic servant at home and an unpaid sex worker to her married lover, whom she meets with clandestinely in a love hotel or his car for sexual liaisons. We see the recurrence of these roles in other women throughout the film: loyal employee, maid, sex worker.
As long as she is drawing nearer to her goal, she strives to meet societal expectations socially, as well at home and work. Encountering a setback, her father’s illness and the unexpected loss of his insurance, puts her in a difficult position. She is expected to either use her savings to pay for his treatment or jeopardize her ability to work by spending more time at home to care for him. This is the beginning of Lai Sheung’s “more crazy” period, because the new family home is more important than the people it would house. Instead of taking care of a slowly dying father, she discovers a ghastly third option and kills her father. She is delighted to discover that his life insurance money will make up the difference between her savings and the cost of the condominium.
When the condominium owners raise the price, she again resorts to murder and mayhem. Donning her father’s tool-belt and breaking into the high-rise, she murders the people in the adjacent unit, plus the noisy upstairs neighbors. The body count grows when she also kills a security guard, two policemen, a drug dealer, and two sex workers who cross her path.
Li Sheung’s male victims represent her resentment of the patriarchy that strives to force her into constricting and unwelcome roles. The businessman/father betrayed her loyalty through unequal wages, longer hours, and the expectation of free healthcare. The police and security guard worked for the corrupt government officials and greedy developers who started her on this path. The young men (the noisy neighbors and their drug dealer friend) were the lawless triads, violent tools of the oppressors.
The pregnant wife, housekeeper, and party girls were all archetypes of the oppressive, stifling roles that Lai Sheung strove to avoid. The violent nature of their deaths was Lai Sheung’s “more crazy” repudiation of those rolls. Significantly, the pregnant wife suffers a particularly brutal death: first being beaten until she aborts, then being suffocated with a vacuum cleaner and “space-saver” bag. She is at one end of a continuum, while the sex workers and mistresses who give men sexual pleasure are at the other. After receiving his seed, the pleasure-giving wife transforms into the mother, creating more people that he can own. All of the women in Dream Home — whatever their roles — are expected to be caretakers of men.
Lai Sheung’s “more crazy” has its intended effect. Horrified by the massacre in their home, the owners lower their asking price, enabling her to move in. Lai Sheung is an almost sympathetic character who drastically rewrites the rules of society in her favor. By slaughtering a dozen hapless individuals, she steps out of the mold she was being forced into, instead becoming a new creation. Ho-Cheung Pang doesn’t offer much commentary on what the future holds for his lady monster, but I hope she is able to enjoy her hard-won freedom for at least a little while.