Hong Kong’s overheated property market and bureaucratic inertia become the backdrop for absurdity in Herman Yau’s black comedy A Home with a View. Based on a stage play by co-producer and actor Cheung Tat-ming, the satirical work joins a long line of films from Yau made with a keen eye for social issues in the city.
The home of the title belongs to the Lo family, and the place is far from idyllic. Parents Wai-man (Francis Ng) and Suk-yin (Anita Yuen) are desperately pushing the household to save cash, their kids Bun-hong and Yu-sze (Ng Siu-hin and Jocelyn Choi) are quick to bicker, Grandpa (Cheung Tat-ming) is going senile and the neighbours are a pain. Whenever tensions rise, which seems to be pretty often, the Los’ calming force is a bit of harbour view they can gaze out on as they catch a breather. But keeping a view shouldn’t be counted on in Hong Kong, and soon enough it’s blocked when someone sets up a billboard on the roof next door.
The Los are quick to complain, but the eyesore’s mysterious owner, Mr Wong (Louis Koo), is in no mood to co-operate. When Wai-man tries to get officialdom on his side, there’s no headway either. And an attempt at rallying the local community is a bust. As all avenues for appeal seem blocked, and with Wong smug that everything’s going dandy, the Lo family may have to try desperate measures to get back their view.
Yau opens A Home with a View without disguising its theatre origins as Cheung’s script plays out in long takes of frantic chatter in the apartment’s studio set – a blatantly stagy start that risks being divisive among film buffs. Once the pace cools and the camera starts to roam beyond the Lo family’s block of flats, the filmmakers go big with satire. Key to the plot is Wong’s expectation that chronic red tape and civil service stasis will work to his favour, while added diversions include an episode at Yu-sze’s school that reflects frustrations in education too. Wai-man meanwhile comes off as no angel early in the piece, when it emerges that he’s an agent for illegal flats in an industrial building and he provides a rundown on sleaze in that particular market.
The social ills in A Home with a View are enough to drive an ordinary Hongkonger insane, but Yau and writer Cheung prevent them from being overbearing onscreen by keeping up an entertaining and even goofy vibe. Helping too is the director’s knack for working with strong ensemble casts. Francis Ng and Anita Yuen play off each other well, while Louis Koo offers an amusingly enigmatic performance. Delightful supports include Anthony Wong as a family friend and essentially the face of a risk-averse civil service, veteran Woo Fung as an elderly security guard, and Lam Suet and Lo Hoi-pang as grouchy neighbours.
Social topics are hardly uncommon in Hong Kong cinema, especially these days with a younger generation of filmmakers eager to take up pressing issues. But with A Home with a View, Yau and Cheung turn them into a form of cinema that’s something else entirely: a stage-to-screen hybrid that draws on dark moods in society for singularly offbeat entertainment.