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Koma
   |     review    |     awards     |     availability     |   

Chinese: 救命  
Year: 2004
Director: Law Chi-Leung
Producer: Lawrence Cheng Tan-Shui
Writer: Susan Chan Suk-Yin
Action: Stephen Tung Wai
Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Angelica Lee Sum-Kit, Andy Hui Chi-On, Liu Kai-Chi, Annie Man Chung-Han, Raymond Wong Ho-Yin, Roy Chow Wing-Hung, Monica Mok
  The Skinny: Glossy, ultra-slick direction doesn't change the fact that Koma is a gripping, tense thriller with dynamite lead performances from Angelica Lee and Karena Lam. The fast-moving screenplay does get a little ridiculous, but this is good stuff nonetheless.
 
Review
by Kozo:

If director Law Chi-Leung showed anything with 2002's Inner Senses, it was that he knows how to make everything seem like it'll go to hell—and he'll make it look good at the same time. Law's ability to terrify in a glossy manner gets a full workout in Koma, a satisfying suspense thriller which takes two already accomplished young actresses (Karena Lam and Angelica Lee) and puts them through the cinema wringer. Water, sweat, blood and puke get spattered on the girls during the course of the film, which doesn't stop them from looking great or giving great performances. They also compete bitterly over the affections of the same man, AND find time to discover a measure of touchy-feely sisterly closeness. All this, and sharp weapons in less than ninety minutes. Clearly, the makers of Koma know how to please their audiences.

Angelica Lee AKA: Lee Sinjie AKA: Sinjie is Ching, a frail young woman who suffers from renal failure. That means she could use a new kidney, since her current one is not very useful. It's ironic then, that Ching stumbles upon a naked woman with a nine-inch cut in her side at a wedding reception. It seems the girl had one kidney removed without her consent, and Ching was the only eyewitness to a possible perpetrator. That person is Ling (Karena Lam), who was at the wedding reception for a different reason: to see Ching, who's the current squeeze of Ling's former love Wai (Andy Hui). She claims to have nothing to do with the kidney theft—or thefts, as the case happens to be. The investigating cops (Liu Kai-Chi and Annie Man) inform Ching that they've been looking for a serial kidney thief, who likely takes the organs and sells them for a cool profit on the black market. Ching knows all this too well; after all, she could use a new kidney herself.

The revelation of Ling's connection to Wai throws Ching for a loop, but she has more to worry about than her boyfriend straying. Ling gets cleared of the kidney thefts, but she still goes out of her way to harrass Ching. She phones Ching and frightens her with stalker-like info, and outright threatens to take her kidney one day. Ling could do it too, since she was a med student. Hell, Wai is a full-fledged doctor, which would normally make him a suspect since he was suspicously "performing surgery" during the wedding reception. However, the cops don't suspect any of these three; they think this is just a bitter love triangle with exceptionally pissy female components. Their judgement is not surprising, since Ching has an explosive temper beneath her fragile calm, and Ling is sullen and acts like a long-haired extra from a Japanese horror film. To the cops, this is just soap-opera stuff that's beneath their notice. However, as you could expect, things are not what they seem, and the darkness to which it extends is genuinely harrowing.

Koma gets good marks for its high-tension screenplay, which outlines all its conflicts with big, juicy exclamation points. The girls start out on opposite sides, but circumstances arise which actually engender a friendship between the two. Ching eventually has reasons to thank Ling, and even more reasons to desire a split with Wai, who's not as nice or faithful as he may seem. Ling, in turn, may have issues with Ching's lifestyle (Ching is rich, while Ling has to scrape money together to support her ailing mother), but the two seem to make compatible, believable friends. The conflicts subtly shift from the threat of bodily harm to the fear of betraying a trusted new friend. And with the kidney thief still out there angling to silence Ching (or possibly sell a kidney to her), it's best for the two girls to put their differences aside.

Or maybe not. Koma keeps the plot twists coming with gripping regularity, and the actresses greet each new revelation with compelling emotion, be it sudden anger, despair, or just a cool, withering look. Angelica Lee and Karena Lam are two fine young actors with incredibly wide ranges, and Koma gives both room to demonstrate that. Their performances here are nothing new, but the way their characters' positions and passions intermingle makes it hard to turn away. Had they shot the film twice with each actress playing the other's part, the resulting film would probably have been just as effective and twice as interesting. Law Chi-Leung keeps things moving with quickening tension, plus the dynamite cinematography and art direction help, too. As commercial cinema goes, Koma is an impressive package, managing effective filmmaking with some welcome glimpses of human darkness.

It's good that Koma is such a satisfying package, because some of its individual pieces are still somewhat lacking. The screenplay, while solid in terms of conflict and psychlogical nuance, sometimes takes a few ridiculous shortcuts. At one or two times, characters seemingly take on psychic abilities, and some plot details get handed out so blatantly that even average cinema readers will be able to predict whole portions of the story. Some rules of logic get ignored to suit the film's suspenseful atmosphere, and Chan Kwong-Wing's pronounced musical score can sometimes be too obvious. Still, with Law's gripping direction, and the performances of both Lee and Lam, those quibbles turn out to be minor ones. Law smartly glosses over silly details and lingers on the meaty stuff, and the actresses occupy the screen with effective intensity. As both a showy suspense thriller and a star vehicle for its fabulous leads, Koma is excellent stuff. (Kozo 2004)

 
Awards: 24th Hong Kong Film Awards
• Nomination - Best Actress (Karena Lam Ka-Yan)
• Nomination - Best Sound Effects (Kinson Tsang Kin-Cheung)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles
"Making of" featurette, Music Video, Trailers
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