Koma (2003) Movie Review

With just 3 films in his oeuvre (“Double Tap” and “Inner Senses” being the other two), director Chi-Leung Law is quickly proving to be one of the more talented filmmakers currently working out of the former British colony. With nifty camerawork and even niftier scene compositions, one feels almost obligated to ignore the narrative and just concentrate on the man’s visuals. Except for Johnnie To (minus the attachment of Ka-Fai Wai) there’s no one better at establishing style and mood without a single line of dialogue being spoken.

“Koma” re-teams Law with Karena Lam, the star of “Inner Senses”, here playing Ling, a young woman who may or may not be a kidney thief. With a rash of such thefts plaguing Hong Kong, suspicion falls on Ling after socialite Ching (Angelica Lee) picks her out as having been at a recent crime scene. As coincidence would have it (or is it?) it turns out Ling once had an affair with Wai (Andy Hui), Ching’s boyfriend. Things get even more muddled when it seems as if Ling is stalking Ching — but is she?

If you were expecting “Koma” to follow the standard love triangle cum “Fatal Attraction” plot, you’d be wrong. The script by Susan Chan keeps throwing curve balls at the audience, determined to keep things unpredictable at all costs. Whenever it feels as if the movie had chosen a course and was following it, the very next scene proves that assumption wrong. Doing a plot-by-lot synopsis would be terribly dull, but suffice it to say that the storyline has more than a few aces up its sleeves, and soon the two women have somehow, someway become friends.

Besides the fact that they’re sleeping with the same man, both women realize they are incomplete. For Ching it’s her health, caused by — of all the irony — a faulty kidney. She’s also neurotic about her body, her mind, and other things rich people without a job can afford to be neurotic about. For Ling, the problems are more Earthbound; her mother is in a coma and will never wake up, and Ling herself is suffering from a terrible case of unrequited love. And oh yeah, she’s really strapped for cash.

I will admit that I fell for the film’s Big Reveal, which comes at around the 70-minute mark without so much as an advance warning. Which isn’t to say all the twists and turns in “Koma” works, because on more than one occasion the word “contrived” will come up when discussing Susan Chan’s screenplay. And while the Big Reveal does explain some of the film’s more contrived moments, such as Ching and Ling’s sudden (and seemingly random) friendship, it still leaves some holes.

At its core, “Koma” works because it’s constructed from a script that allows director Chi-Leung Law to do some amazing things with his two leading ladies. The framing of “Koma” is outstanding, with each close-up as perfect as you could get. Mood, atmosphere, and tension are achieved with just the right camera perspective and solid performances from the two stars. The film is correctly called a Thriller, even though there are some odd comedic moments to lighten the mood from time to time, albeit nothing really out of place.

While Karena Lam’s stoic — and at times downright devilish — performance threatens to overshadow her co-star, Angelica Lee does hold her own here, which isn’t easy to do considering how shallow her character is written. Thin, frail, and overcompensating for her poor health and neurotic personality, Lee’s Ching is pitiful to behold. Ling is just the opposite — a self-sufficient woman who knows exactly what she wants and how to get it, except no matter how hard she tries she can’t seem to take Wai from Ching. And it grates on her, mostly because she knows that, beyond the wealth and privilege, there’s absolutely nothing special about the competition.

“Koma” is a solid Thriller all around, with enough style and substance to please most fans of the genre. Besides featuring stunning cinematography by Chi-Leung Law, the film boasts two of the best young actresses currently working in Hong Kong today, which is in itself a major bonus. “Koma” is definitely worthwhile, even if the script sometimes takes too many liberties in order to get things to where it wants to be. And where did it eventually end up? Why, the ol fire ax versus scalpel duel, of course.

Chi-Leung Law (director) / Susan Chan (screenplay)
CAST: Roy Chow …. Ming
Andy Hui …. Wai
Karena Lam …. Ling
Angelica Lee …. Ching

Buy Koma on DVD