Kar Yan Lam
Andy Chi-On Hui
Kai Chi Liu
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26th Jul 05
The lives of two girls become entwined during the aftermath of a live kidney theft.
You’ve probably heard the urban myth; someone wakes up naked in a bath full of ice and sees a message scrawled on the opposite wall – ‘Call the police or you will die.’ The victim checks their body, only to discover the horrifying truth of a fresh scar, crudely stitched, on the lower right hand side of their back, roughly where one of the kidney’s should be…
Over here in the West the business of kidney-theft sounds more like an urban myth than a common occurrence, a spook story, a scary dinner party tale designed to send chills down the spines of the gullible. But here in the Hong Kong thriller Koma, the reality and common fear of kidney theft is dealt with from both sides of the story, from those who take kidneys for profit and those who need them (and, more pertinently, can afford them) in order to survive or improve their way of life.
Opening at a wedding, the film centres on Ching (Angelica Lee – The Eye) who is the lucky bridesmaid who catches the bouquet, which is great news for Ching as she has only recently fallen in love with her current boyfriend, the successful dentist Wai. After a full evening of happy partying and celebrations, Ching drunkenly returns to her room, but unwittingly discovers the immediate aftermath of a kidney-removal victim in all its blood-drenched glory.
Shocked out of her drunken stupor at the sight of the naked woman covered in blood, Ching retreats into the corridor, where she catches a glimpse of a girl before calling the police. But when Ching is later called to the police station to identify the suspect, the girl (Ling played by Karena Lam) reveals that she knows Ching, and she tells of a shocking revelation that sends the film on a whole new twist that binds the two girls tighter and tighter together in ever-decreasing circles of danger and intrigue.
Setting itself up as a character study of two women caught up in a love triangle, Koma works largely thanks to the wonderful performances from both leading ladies. Angelica Lee is captivating as the ‘too thin’ Ching who has the misfortune to be suffering renal failure and needs an urgent transplant to live, whilst Karena Lam plays the role of the bitter, and possibly slightly unbalanced Ling to perfection. The two girls play a variation of the rich girl / poor girl theme, both with their own particular crosses to bear, and the screen comes alive when both girls are on screen at the same time.
Alongside the performances, the film’s direction (by Chi-Leung Law) is solid with some pleasing Hong Kong visuals and nice lighting, and the script has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing right until the end. Admittedly, there are one or two plot holes, and some of the continuity is clumsy at best (at one point Ching has one of her teeth pulled, although straight afterwards the gap in the teeth seems to have been filled), but the pace is well-judged, and if you can overlook some minor indiscretions, you should be well rewarded, especially if you're a fan of Korean cinema such as Sympathy for My Vengeance and A Tale of Two Sisters (although it's not quite as good as either of those examples).
Serving more as a slick and stylish thriller, Koma still contains enough brief scenes of violence and gore (many scalpel slices, a knife in the eye) to keep fans of ‘non-ghost-story’ Asian thriller horror happy. With an engaging plot and decent production values, Koma is a solid movie that manages to keep it’s ice-cool composure right through to the final (and frankly quite shocking) scene.