Home truths

Home truths

A new play explores Hong Kong's housing horrors and the reality lurking behind the show-flat fantasy


From left: Bobby Lau, Chan Suk-yi, Cheung Kam-ching, Shaw Mei-kwan, Paul Poon and Chan Chu-hei
From left: Bobby Lau, Chan Suk-yi, Cheung Kam-ching, Shaw Mei-kwan, Paul Poon and Chan Chu-hei
Photo: Mike Cheng
Opening the front door to your new "luxury" home and finding there is no flooring, electricity or water; scraping together HK$12,000 a month to rent a 250 sq ft cubicle … the city is full of stories about the nightmare that is the Hong Kong property market.

Now director Paul Poon Wai-sum has come up with his own tale for the Arts Festival, called Show Flat, which explores the fantasy and fakery of the real estate market, and questions our obsession with owning a home.

"What are we looking for in a home?" Poon asks. "Does owning a flat make us feel happy and secure? What are we pursuing in life? Are the efforts worth it?"

The two-hour production opens in a stunning show home, complete with amazing views. Three property agents (played by Chan Suk-yi, Chan Chu-hei and Cheung Kam-ching) compete to snare a pair of prospective buyers (Bobby Lau Shau-ching and Shaw Mei-kwan). The husband and wife, who sell papier-mache mansions as memorials for the dead, feel dubious yet tempted after 10 tiring years of flat hunting.

Lau's character has viewed 2,000 show homes over the years, but he always feels like he is walking into a morgue. To him, the homes are artificial, resembling corpses who have been carefully made up to create the impression they are healthy and alive. Lau says. "He hankers for a home which inspires a sense of security and comfort."

His wife, however, longs to move out of their shop which is full of joss-paper ghost money and make-believe offerings.

"Fanciful toys, cars and mansions for the dead are hung all over their shop-cum-home," Shaw says. "She does not feel she has her feet on the ground."

The three real estate agents switch from trying to outdo each other to working together to try to secure a sale. Yet more are content with earning a commission from their potential client. One aspires to help everyone find their ideal home, another dreams of setting up his own property agency, while the last wants to restore his lost wealth.

Director Poon explores Hong Kong's housing dilemma and what it means to the city with a sharp eye and a sense of humour.

He has long been fascinated by how a disproportionately small number of people can command most of society's wealth. While the well-off live in grand houses, the rest resort to piling into cramped spaces on top of each other. Residential skyscrapers in Hong Kong stand up to 68 storeys high.

"These soaring residential buildings correspond with the Chinese proverb 'gardens in the air'," Poon says. "They are intangible, distant mirages." He empathises with people living in cramped subdivided cubicles or within shops, like Lau and Shaw in the play. "Is space only reserved for the wealthy?" Poon ponders. "Why are people not entitled to a decent living space at birth?"

Poon says that for those who manage to save up enough for an apartment, they are often met with false expectations created by property giants, courtesy of the luxurious showrooms. The generous floor space filled with beautiful furniture that buyers see when they sign contracts can be a far cry from what they are actually buying.

"There is a huge discrepancy between expectations and reality," adds Poon.

Now there's a home truth.

Show Flat opens on February 16 at Hong Kong City Hall in Central. Tickets are on sale now. For details, go to www.hk.artsfestival.org.



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