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Koma
cast: Angelica Lee, Karena Lam, Andy Hui, Raymond Wong, and Lui Kai-chi

director: Law Chi-leung

85 minutes (18) 2004
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Koma is a psychological horror thriller from Hong Kong with pre-productive designs on that lucrative American remake. The makers have gone one step further in their presumptions while at it and purloined a little from the other side of the Pacific, either that or I imagined those frantic nods to Brian De Palma's Dressed To Kill in the film's opening 15 minutes. De Palma's bad-doers had no interest in kidneys though, and this could be a slice of Stephen Frears' Dirty Pretty Things instead. Out of the way with the multiple homages already, for of the rest of the film to come Law Chi-leung is of the opinion that enough fresh in flavour has been upturned to appeal to those in Hollywood desperate for the cool and creative of elsewhere. Let the threat continue to the local UCLA scriptwriting 'talent', the Cockneys of America, geographically fortuitous, way outweighing their innate abilities. Digression hazard warning registered: back to the review in hand. In these egocentric considerations Koma is, with a seesawing of my hand, slightly delusional, not near as like as good as it thinks it is. Not to downplay the occasionally important effectiveness of the film, and a handy running time to boot, only seconds shy of 85 minutes. It is exactly what is called for, if you could imagine a return of the cinema double-bill of old, for coupled with another halfway effective film it is ideal evening out. Even so, standing alone, the film is a not unwelcome time-capper.

It opens at a hotel wedding reception where the drunken, and already emetic, pretty young thing Ching (Angelica Lee) stumbles upon the victim of a surprise kidney removal. She sobers up on the spot. The toilet trips and vomiting we will discover are signs of her dual illnesses, a kidney disease and bulimia. Hey, now isn't one of those a coincidence! On the personal front, Ching is unwilling to submit, what she perceives to be, her 'disfigured' body to her boyfriend, the doctor (Andy Hui) and it has driven him under the bed-sheets with a medical student instead, who, it just so happens was sighted rain sodden in the hotel corridors, at the scene of the crime. To continue with the plot would be to do two things, one rob you of the few real surprises and two, rob me of one of my few critical pleasures, leaving you to discover what I can point out now, which would simply not be on, so don't displease me, read on, I ask you.

The film often leans with a loud creak in an obvious direction. If I tell you than Ching's difficulty in getting a donor organ lies in the fact that she has the rare AB Negative blood type, shortly after to add that the second girl, to put oh so casually, 'is too,' then I'm not ruining anything for anyone with a crumb of intuition or an average knowledge of soap plotting, you can begin writing the conclusion for yourselves. The dialogue is as bland as can be, research and character seem deemed unnecessary, and yet they did turn to the Precious Blood Hospital (Canton) Renal Dialysis Centre and a Kidney Education Centre's Research facility. The contacts were clearly nominal, possibly only for the locations. Don't anyone involved lie to me that anyone was swotting heavily for medical accuracy.

When it comes down to it, only the shock horror set pieces and the visuals are important to the makers. The said do the job. It is the end game that is the element that ultimately saves the film, with its protagonists undergoing an emotional transfer. The meek girl becomes murderously angry and the culprit composed and resigned in the face of the axe swings. The American remake would fail to pick up on what is so unusual about the final 'chase' sequence. By that I mean to say that there is no real chase. Running doesn't come into it. The pursuit is a leisurely vengeance, with the odd killer exertion, a murderous and atmospheric meander around the clinic corridors. Hollywood would scratch their heads at the sequence and put their starlets in starting blocks.

The picture transfer quality is poor, the image embossed and subject to judders; it's a time-coded disc, but I can only reflect what we are presented with and the next time they send an inferior review copy I won't even give the time-coding that allowance of a mention. If labels want you to speak of the superb transfer quality or extras then send the full programme. It is a fine but unexceptional film. All it demands is that top or bottom end to its double-billing.
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