Review: Koma (2004)

Koma is a slick and enjoyable thriller from Hong Kong, very much in the same vein as the current crop of Japanese and Korean cute-girls-in-danger horror movies, but actually made a little more interesting by its lack of supernatural elements. Which is not to say it isn’t just as delightfully ridiculous.

At the beginning, rich spoiled brat Chi Ching (Angelica Lee) witnesses the aftermath of a horrible crime. Extremely drunk after a friend’s wedding reception, Ching finds a woman who has woken up in a hotel bathtub full of ice, naked, sans one kidney. The woman is the latest victim of a serial kidney thief terrorising Hong Kong. That’s right, it’s the old urban legend about getting drunk, being dragged to a hotel room by an attractive stranger and waking up to find one of your internal organs has been sold on the black market for HK$70,000. Ching goes on to identify a suspicious woman, Suen Ling (Karena Lam), whom she saw at the scene of the crime in her drunken stupor.

The plot is much too convoluted to relate here in any great detail: suffice to say that two important ironies are revealed in the first act. First, Ching, in spite of her wealth and privilege, is gravely ill with kidney failure (do you see where this is going?), and is wracked with insecurity about what her illness means to the future of her relationship with boyfriend Wai (Andy Hui). Second, Wai has been having an affair with the volatile Ling, who was not involved with the crime, but only at the hotel to get a look at Ching, her rival for Wai’s affections… or was she?

If you don’t follow, it hardly matters. The fear of surgery has been fertile ground for horror movies for a long time, and it’s very well employed here. The detailed descriptions about how one extracts a kidney from an unconscious (or even semi-conscious) victim are enough to make the skin crawl, and that’s before the scalpels even come out. The creepiness of this premise is offset by the strange warmth of the very unlikely bond that grows between Ching and Ling (the permanently uncomfortable Wai is, understandably, just as bewildered by this as the audience), as Ching begins to receive telephone threats suggesting that she is next on the diabolical surgeon’s hit list.

Both in deceptively showy roles, the actresses acquit themselves beautifully. Lee sways between adorable and annoying while Lam repeatedly throws herself from almost catatonic calm to psychotic rage and back again. While none of the “twists” in the movie will be particularly shocking to seasoned fans of the genre, they are unfurled by writer and director with great wit and panache. By the time the various sharp-edged metallic implements come out at the end, the movie is a pure fetishistic delight (is there anything cooler than a girl with an axe?), and the ending even manages, despite all the silliness, to be remarkably affecting. I can’t wait to see more of Law Chi-leung’s work.

8 scalpels slicing through nubile flesh out of 10.
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