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Home Sweet Home


(left) Tam Chun-Ho and Karena Lam, and (right) Shu Qi

Chinese: 怪物
Year: 2005
Director: Soi Cheang Pou-Soi
Writer: Szeto Kam-Yuen, Tang Lik-Kei
Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Shu Qi, Alex Fong Chung-Sun, Tam Chun-Ho, Lam Suet, Li Peng, Matthew Chow Hoi-Kwong
The Skinny: This horror-thriller from Soi Cheang is emotionally complex and intriguing, but also overwrought and depressing. The actresses hold the screen with blistering intensity, but to what purpose is questionable. An involving, though sometimes ridiculous and unrewarding film.
by Kozo:

Hong Kong realtors had best steer prospective clients away from Home Sweet Home. This horror thriller from director Soi Cheang (Love Battlefield) posits the real estate buyer's nightmare. Imagine if you bought a HK$4.5 million dollar flat in a swank new high-rise, only to discover that the building is haunted by a disfigured and emotionally unstable woman who rummages through your trash and may even kidnap your kids. Of bigger concern: the local cops suck hard and the housing management is even more ineffectual. Not only do they let crazy lady Yan Hong (Karena Lam) roam all over the estate, but they let her nemesis, harried mother May (Shu Qi), crawl through the air conditioning ducts and generally make a mess of the place in search of her missing child. Yes, it's sad that two emotionally damaged women are fighting over lost children, but really, do they have to make life hell for their neighbors?

But Home Sweet Home is not the story of the inconvenienced neighbors, nor is it a really much of a thriller. Instead, Home Sweet Home is a dour, depressing, and downright unrewarding melodrama about flawed women who get stuck in distressingly sad situations. In May's case, she's an introvert who only cares for husband Ray (an underused Alex Fong) and son Chi Lo (Tam Chun-Ho). May would rather spend her time playing alone with Chi Lo than chatting with her neighbors - though her passive nature gets put aside when Chi Lo is snatched by grotesque Yan Hong, who's eyed Chi Lo ever since he set foot into the complex. Yan Hong's deal isn't revealed right away. In the beginning she just appears to be a deranged woman who inhabits the building like your proverbial "Phantom of the Housing Estate". But, as the film progresses, her sad, pathetic story ultimately gets revealed.

The revelation: that Yan Hong had a sad, pathetic life that knew plenty of misfortune. It also knew plenty of bad parenting, as some of what occurs to Yan Hong isn't the fault of anyone but herself. Karena Lam is photogenic in the flashbacks and grotesque in the present day, and she does a decent job selling the character in either physical state. What she doesn't do is prove to us that Yan Hong is necessarily worth sympathizing with. Sure, her lot in life was crappy, and her emotionally-devastated stares are heartbreaking. But ultimately, what's revealed about Yan Hong isn't enough to make her that sympathetic - especially when you factor in her acts of violence and kidnapping.

In contrast, Shu Qi's May is totally sympathetic, as she's an out-and-out victim whose major fault is that she doesn't seem to own any pants. In a minor, though ridiculous detail, May always wears skirts - even when crawling through ventilation ducts, or when preparing to meet Yan Hong mano-a-mano. Still, despite May's lack of a functional wardrobe, the audience should definitely be on her side, and her plight takes on a noticeable intensity thanks to that. Throughout the entire film, May must fight alone, as the cops, her neighbors, and the nonexistent management of the housing estate pretty much write her off as paranoid and delusional. Of course, given the fact that her kid did disappear in a frighteningly odd way, you'd think that someone would show a little more concern for her. The neighbors and housing management seem to not care that a child abduction has occurred in their supposed safe community. While May's solitary struggle may be compelling, it's also somewhat unbelievable.

Director Soi Cheang does create some genuine pathos, and his characters and their situations can be remarkably felt. The resulting film comes off as intense and compelling - if you can forgive the film's lack of credibility. Aside from the mystifyingly crappy neighbors, the cops are laughably ineffective, and seem to exist only to act skeptical or get in May's way. Home Sweet Home does possess a compelling and gripping pace, but once the plot holes become apparent, the film starts to seem overdone, and even borderline inane. Karena Lam and Shu Qi's gutsy performances come off as overacting, and the nakedly horrified performance of child actor Tam Chun-Ho starts to look wild-eyed and over-the-top. It would have been better if Home Sweet Home had been tighter and more confined, but the sheer expanse of the setting makes the plot holes hard to cover.

Home Sweet Home does possess a few emotional hooks that manage to leave an impression. At some point, the line between the two mothers blurs, and the resulting moments pack a solid emotional punch. It's those one or two moments that make Home Sweet Home at least partially worthwhile. Soi Cheang works overtime to get the audience to care, and if he doesn't succeed in even the tiniest way then the viewer is likely a robotic human being that could never grasp the sheer desperation and frustration of a mother who's lost their child. The actresses certainly spill sufficient sweat, blood, and tears to sell the emotions, and their effort is appreciated. On emotion alone, Home Sweet Home is pretty good stuff. But as a complete motion picture, it's not so pretty. (Kozo 2006)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 0 NTSC
Panorama Distributions
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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