Home Sweet Home

The name Cheang Poi-sou is not likely to ring the bell of even Hong Kong film fans, but this director has put together a fine filmography in a few short years. His films haven’t done particularly well at the box office and have generally been low profile affairs with small budgets. Most of them have fallen into the horror genre which by itself can stick a director in Hong Kong into a lower class strata (unlike in Japan) where they have a long history of being B-films. Besides these horror films (“Horror Hotline . . . Big Headed Monster”, “New Blood” and “Diamond Hill” (which was sort of a social family drama with elements of horror)), Cheang also directed the terrifically tense “Love Battlefield” that should have been a hit, but wasn’t. Strangely, the one high profile film that he directed is by far his worst, the banal “Death Curse” with the Twins and one can only hope that he did this for the money.  With the exception of that film, Cheang has brought out really fine performances from his actors – Carrie Ng in “Diamond Hill”, Josie Ho in “Horror Hotline”, Niki Chow in “New Blood” and Niki again along with perhaps Eason’s Chan’s finest performance in “Love Battlefield”. In this film, Cheang gets two exhausting and emotionally riveting performances from his two lead actresses.
Even though the film sputters a bit in its final third, this is Cheang’s most assured work. He generates equal measures of tension and pathos that have your emotions and nerve endings doing somersaults. The first hour of the film is a bone gnawing finger eating (pun intended) rollercoaster ride of tension before it suddenly slows down dramatically and shifts the mood into one of utter melancholy that feels like a curve ball thrown at your head. Whether the film would have been more effective had it stayed on its frantic pace to the end is hard to say – probably commercially so – but the sudden switch in perspective and mood forces the viewer to step back and see this as less of a horror film and more as one of a personal and social tragedy. This film is also a welcome break from the oodles of ghost films that have permeated Asian horror for years now – yes Virginia a horror film can be made without a long haired female ghost anywhere in sight. This one hones in like an acetylene torch on fears much closer to home – just how vulnerable your child always is. Any mother who sees this may be inclined to handcuff their child to themselves afterwards and never let them go.
Ray (Alex Fong), his wife May (Hsu Chi) and their small son Chi Lo (Tam Chun Ho) move into a spacious apartment in an affluent high rise complex. Though left unspoken, one senses that there may be some psychological baggage in their past and that May’s insular and fragile emotional state may be the cause of it. Cheang doesn’t wait a minute before he begins working the nervous agitation – while moving in the boy is tricked into an elevator, the doors close and up he goes. In a panic, May searches for him but before finally finding him she looks through the ventilator grates – and sees an odd frightening creature rapidly climbing up the pipes. A few days later May is coaxed into taking Chi Lo to a child’s birthday party within the building and he suddenly vanishes. She frantically begins looking for him but the stone faced neighbors don’t seem to care and only want her to stop creating a panic because it may harm property values and the police (Lam Suet) seem more annoyed than concerned with her hysterical pleas to find her son (this anti-police sentiment also appears in “Love Battlefield”). In an earlier conversation with her son he had asked her “Mom would you abandon me” to which she answered “Of course not. Not even if you abandon me”. And she doesn’t as she hunts relentlessly for her kidnapped son.
But he is in the ventilator system – held by a “monster” (an unrecognizable Karena Lam) who thinks that he is her son and she is as intent on holding on to him as May is in getting him back and the two desperately fight over him within the narrow shafts and on the rooftop of the building. It is harrowing at times and brutal at times and the two actresses give it all they have in what must have been a test of physical endurance. Hsu Chi is terrific as a mother on the verge of going insane with grief and frustration while under her mounds of makeup and dirt Karena is able to capture your sympathies when her back story is eventually revealed and near the end with only her eyes as they display the enormous pent up pain and grief that she has lived through. It is a killer. The film has its faults – mainly an overly long flashback devoted to Karena’s character that stops the film dead in its tracks for a while - and it feels as if possibly Cheang had to edit out some material for time purposes as certain aspects of the film feel unexplained or unfinished or not fully explored – but overall this one grabs you by the throat and only barely lets you go.
Interestingly (or not), the DVD gives you an option of two choices – one is a Horror version and the other a Drama version. I watched the Horror version and then fast forwarded through the Drama version but didn’t see any discernable differences. I may have missed them or perhaps Cheang is trying to say that good real life horror is good drama and that’s certainly the case here.

My rating for this film: 7.5