Prolific director Herman Yau’s contribution to this year’s Lunar New Year releases, “A Home With a View”, is an adaptation of a stage play by comedian Cheung Tat-ming. In the best of the Lunar New Year traditions, “A Home With a View” is about family and getting together but maybe not in the way you would expect.
The Lo family is a typical Hong Kong family, in a lively and crowded neighborhood. The father Wai-man (Francis Ng) has spent all the money he could possibly put together, including the pension of his own disabled father (Cheung Tat-ming) to buy a flat with a 20-year mortgage in a noisy tower block. As anybody living in cities knows, buying a flat is a big achievement but life doesn’t get any easy after the purchase; possibly even worst! The monthly payments are always on the mind of Wai-man and the idea of 20 more years of struggle is tormenting his anxious wife Suk-yin (Anita Yuen), while his adolescent son (Ng Siu-hin) and daughter (Jocelyn Choi) seem more concerned with the need to catch up with the latest smartphone and other expensive youth trends. And of course the old wheelchair-bound and almost senile granddad (Cheung Tat-ming) living with them, contributes to the general chaos.
Although dad Lo is good spirited and keeps everybody calm most of the time, every now and then the tension reaches the boiling point in the household. The only soothing force and pressure valve for the family is a small portion of sea they can admire from the living room window. When things get overheated, the whole family enjoys a pause and recharges contemplating that slice of the fragrant harbour, framed within the adjacent tower blocks. Moreover, a bit less poetic but equally consoling, is the knowledge that a sea view is an added value to their hard-earned property.
One day though, the Los make a horrific discovery; a massive, lurid billboard came up overnight and it is now obstructing their beloved share of heaven. Dad Lo is soon in action, he is confident he can prove the billboard hasn’t got the permission to be there, but things get more complicated when he discovers the billboard is no less that a piece of modern art, belonging to his shady neighbour (Louis Koo) with suave manners and a mysterious past. As a bureaucracy delirium unfolds and the situation gets more and more extreme, the Los start to plan equally extreme measures.
Despite being a stage play adaptation, “A Home With a View” is a dynamic and almost head-spinning experience. The introductory scenes in the Lo’s flat are a frantic waltz of camerawork and dialogues and set the tone of the things to come. Farcical at times, but also sad and dark, the movie is a true Herman Yau’s product and as many of his films, is also a social commentary and critique. His focus here is on the property market mayhem in Hong Kong but this is such a widespread problem that it will resonate almost galaxically with the audiences.
Property prices in big cities have skyrocketed and buying is prohibitive for the middle class. As we follow Dad Lo on his letting agent job, we can have a taste of the converted subdivided flats, rooms dressed up as a “studio flat” and young couples that can barely afford one. The film touches briefly also the schooling and elders’ care topics but never forgets that this is mainly a comedy. Yau fills his work with satire and the tension-raising agent of the movie is mainly the inefficacy of the government officials and the endless, frustrating red tape obstacles; the dark, humorous climax is well anticipated and comes almost as a relief.
A big slice of the 90 min running time is filmed in Lo’s flat with great ability, keeping the flavor of a stage play but also the dynamism of a movie, with the camerawork making the most of the claustrophobic setting. The cast is impeccable; top Hong Kong actors Francis Ng and Anita Yuen in Dad and Mum Lo, meet the high expectations and they are surrounded by equally good supporting actors. Ubiquitous star Louis Koo makes a small but excellent appearance as the bizarre artist neighbor who sparks up the whole pandemonium. Cheung Tat-ming, author of the play and co-writer of the film-script, is in the farcical role of the granddad. As in every good Lunar New Year films lots of cameos and small parts are given to big names, like Anthony Wong as the sweet-talking inconclusive solicitor and Lam Suet as a noisy butcher neighbor.
“A Home With a View” is one of rare Herman Yau’s incursions in comedy territory and it’s an entertaining mix of social satire and dark humor, spiced up by brilliant performances.