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Koma   B-

Tartan Video / Fortissimo Films

Year Released: 2004 (USA: 2005)
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Lo Chi-Leung
Writer: Susan Chan
Cast: Karena Lam, Lee Sinje, Andy Hui, Roy Chow, Liu Kai-Chi.

Review by Jim Harper

With so many filmmakers choosing to take their cues from Seven and The Silence of the Lambs, it's refreshing to come across a director with a few ideas of his own, not to mention an obvious familiarity with the works of Brian De Palma and Dario Argento. Koma, the latest film from Hong Kong director Lo Chi-Leung, might not be in the same league as Dressed to Kill or Deep Red, but it's still a decent psycho-thriller with plenty of style and a fistful of nice twists.

Lee Sinje (The Eye) plays Chi-Ching, a young woman with renal failure. She's waiting for a transplant and trying to keep her life intact despite feeling ill all the time. After a friend's wedding reception Chi-Ching ends up drunk and stumbling through the corridors of the hotel, trying to find her way home. She witnesses a bizarre sight -- a young woman with a deep gash across her side, struggling to get out of a bathtub full of ice. She's the victim of the much-rumored organ-stealing racket, and the latest of several occurrences in the area. In the first of many interesting twists, one of the suspects turns out to be having an affair with Chi-Ching's boyfriend. The revelation threatens to undermine her already-fragile psychological state, sparking a wave of frustrated anger and paranoia.

I can't present more of the plot without revealing more of the twists, so we'll have to leave the synopsis there and talk about the cast. Lee Sinje's strong performance is the film's centerpiece, successfully documenting her transition from optimistic but fragile to defiant and borderline unstable. The other female lead, Karena Lam, star of Lo Chi-Leung's debut feature Inner Senses, makes the most of her ambiguous role as Chi-Ching's alternating friend and nemesis. The male cast members are less successful, with Andy Hui delivering a bland performance as Chi-Ching's boyfriend. Perhaps it's the strength of the two female leads, but Hui seems to fade into the background when they're sharing the screen.

With a running time of 88 minutes, Koma is a pretty lean film. Lo Chi-Leung keeps things moving at a brisk pace, aided by Susan Chan's stripped-down script. The scenes are kept short, frequently lasting just long enough to generate the necessary tension or establish the appropriate point. Sometimes this approach works against the film -- the climax seems to be over before you have time to fully digest what's happening -- but for the most part it helps gloss over the occasional unlikely plot development and keeps the viewer wrapped up in the bizarre events unfolding on the screen. On the negative side, there are points when the script expects you to make certain leaps of faith that don't come too easily. Given the slightly unlikely nature of the story, this is to be expected, but it's obvious that some critics have found it difficult to ignore the more preposterous developments. If you can handle all the twists and turns, and you're tired of faux-Hannibal Lecter maniacs inflicting their hideously complex plans upon the world, then Koma is worth tracking down.

Review published 07.25.2005.

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