A daring effort for what it’s worth, Back Home is an eerie occult horror that works even better as a thinly veiled, caustic parody of Hong Kong’s social and political environment of recent times. There are few precedents of its calibre in the city’s cinema and there probably won’t be many more to follow.
While the immense popularity of Cantopop boy band Mirror isn’t exactly bringing world peace or doing everyone much good, some rising local filmmakers do have the band’s more prominent members to thank for bringing attention to niche genre projects that might otherwise sink without a trace.
Kong impresses here as Wing, a psychologically broken young man who was tortured as a kid when his ability to see ghosts – via his “third eye” – alienated him from his school peers, turned his father away from the family, and drove his mother Lan (Bai Ling), a Cantonese opera performer, insane.
Having fled home to live with his uncle in Canada for over 10 years, Wing believes he has lost his third eye after a long period of deceiving himself that he is no longer seeing things. Then a suicide attempt by Lan, who is discovered with her tongue cut out, brings him back to Hong Kong to face his demons all over again.
Essentially a folk horror set in a dilapidated public housing estate, Back Home sees Wing befriend a similarly haunted kid (Wesley Wong) – to the chagrin of Tai Bo’s paper-offerings artist and de facto village elder – while investigating the mysterious suicide cases that have plagued the neighbourhood.
Still, for its local audience at least, Back Home is likely to be appreciated more enthusiastically for its satirical edge than its horror movie credentials – especially as Tse has publicly declared that he thinks of Wing’s desire to stop seeing ghosts as a metaphor of Hongkongers turning a blind eye to injustice in society.
Why are only the young seeing ghosts? Why did Lan remove her tongue? And what happened on the estate’s deserted and apparently once glamorous seventh floor? With every question one may ask, Back Home does appear to make its case far more eloquently in the terms of a social allegory than it does in narrative logic.
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