A family’s serenity is rudely interrupted in Herman Yau’s housing-based comedy.
“Thanks to this window, we only feel a little relieved and are able to leave the noise behind…”
Dark humour is a difficult trick to pull off. Blending comedy with taboo topics, often while discussing topical issues can be quite the juggling act, and requires a writer and director who can handle the subject matters with finesse. Go too far in one direction and you get something experimental, over the top and overall terrible like Freddie Got Fingered or go too far in another and you have the dry misery of Very Bad Things. And then there’s Home with a View, Herman Yau’s 2019 comedy based on the play Family Surprise by screenwriter (and co-star) Cheung Tat-ming, which dips its toe but never quite dives into the territories it could.
Francis Ng plays Lo, the father in a family of five including his wife (Anita Yuen), unemployed son (Ng Siu-hin), social media-obsessed daughter (Jocelyn Choi), and disabled father (Cheung Tat-ming in distractingly bad old-age makeup). Having put all their savings into a single, tiny apartment the family – living in cramped conditions and with awful, noisy neighbours – are always at each other’s throats. Their saving grace is a small window with a view of the sea, which they look at whenever things become too much. However – one day, a billboard is erected, blocking the view. The Los, with no other choice, go on the warpath against the man who put it up (Louis Koo).
Home with a View definitely has the makings of a good satire, but it’s missing the edge it needs to really pull it off. A film like Dream Home showed the lengths someone would go to in order to put a deposit down on an apartment in Hong Kong. View begins with Lo having already purchased the apartment, and shows how living in such cramped quarters will affect you. It’s a good angle to take, but the film never takes full advantage of it. While a stage play is limited in its settings, a movie can expand: and seeing more detailed interactions with other floors of the building would have made for a richer film with a stronger theme. Home with a View does have its moments like that – especially with the subdivided flats Lo manages – but not quite that many of them.
The film – and probably, by extension, the play – is clearly a black comedy and has all the trimmings of dark humour, but the execution feels clunky and lacking in flow. It’s hard to tell if it’s an adaptation issue, or if it’s inherent in the original source material, but that’s rather beside the point. The escalation and resolution of the main story feels rushed and lacking momentum. The family go from attempting to vote the billboard away to straight up planning Koo’s murder, without any real moments of build-up, through increasingly dark actions. Again, there are flashes of this, such as when Lo completely freaks out when his tenants don’t pay their rent, but never quite enough.
I’d say that the creative team of Cheung and Yau could have done with looking at Kim Jee-Woon’s The Quiet Family for inspiration. Right from the get-go, that movie establishes that the family isn’t terrible, but thrown into a situation where they have no choice but to do bad things. The escalation there works. The various side stories involving the neighbours do a bit to flesh out the main characters but, like a lot of the rest of the film, it all sort of goes nowhere. I will say, though, that the way they handle Lam Suet’s butcher subplot is much more satisfying than the main story, and gives way to a lot of chuckles.
Part of the problem lies in Louis Koo’s antagonist character, who is just too one note to be particularly believable or worth getting invested in. The story would have benefited by emphasising the idea that he’s also affected by the same issues as the Lo family. We see a bit of that but barely and instead we get Koo’s smug stubbornness which is funny but not very deep. He also brings up an interesting debate against what is art and what isn’t (and whether that’s even the point seeing the family are just disputing not being able to see the sea, irrespective of what’s doing the blocking), but again it just goes nowhere.
To say that Home with a View isn’t enjoyable would be a lie, because it is. There are a few good laughs to be had, and the movie is made with the expertise you’d expect from a bunch of veterans. The story takes a few snipes at Hong Kong’s housing crisis, as shallow as they might be and the cast is all great, bringing in a manic energy that would work perfectly on stage. And it ultimately wasn’t terrible: it just could have been a lot better. Home with a View tries harder than other comedies like it – and it shows – but it’s just a shame it never reached the skyscraper heights it could have.
Verdict: Home with a View has the beginnings of good satire, but it’s not quite there yet.
Overall entertainment: 6/10
Community: They’ll only vote if gifts are involved
Foods to avoid: Soup, wine
Home with a View (2019)
Also known as: 家和万事惊
Director: Herman Yau
Writer: Cheung Tat-ming
Francis Ng – Lo
Anita Yuen – Mother
Louis Koo – Guy
Cheung Tat-ming – Grandad
Lam Suet – Butcher
Jocelyn Choi – Daughter
Ng Siu-hin – Son