Saturday 12 July 2008

Koma (2004)

A girl wakes up in a hotel bathtub full of ice with a note in front of her reading, 'Call the police or you'll die'. Sure enough, she's missing a kidney. She's apparently the fifth such case in the city, hardly surprising given that kidneys are going for $60,000 a pop on the black market. She's discovered by Ching, a young lady who was there for a wedding and so was naturally rather drunk at the time. Ching reports to the police a suspect who she'd seen wandering around at the wedding looking out of place, and that suspect turns out to be a medical student called Suen Ling.

Everything would seem to be falling nicely into place, but then this isn't that sort of movie. Ling is sleeping with Ching's boyfriend, a doctor called Wai, thus prompting a whole setup theory that the police aren't too unwilling to believe, especially given that Ching seems to have more than a few issues, from self loathing to kidney failure and now the confidence issues associated with a boyfriend who's cheating on her. Then again Ling seems to have a few issues herself and more than a few secrets.

She sets up a couple of truly twisted stalker situations that point to this being a horror suspense film, but then the pair begin to bond and become very close indeed. In many ways they're opposite sides of the same coin. Both are in love with Wai, but the one he loves can't have sex so he seeks that from the other instead, and while Wai is the key to everything that happens between the two of them, it's absolutely the two young ladies who rule this story.

It's a bizarre and fascinating film in which our expectations are constantly played with. One thing that I really admired is that there are quite a few routine shocks, nicely done but completely routine. However the moment we start expecting a routine film, writer Susan Chan throws something else at us entirely. The routine shocks are there to sucker us in. The film itself is far, far from routine. In its way it's a horror film, a psychological thriller, an exploration of urban legend and something that transcends all of these. it's dark and twisted and beautifully appropriate.

I know a few of the names in this Hong Kong film, but not enough. Angelica Lee is the Malaysian actress who suffered through the original version of The Eye, but this makes a pitiful two out of sixteen films I've seen her in. That's one more time than I've seen Kar Yan Lam aka Karena Lam out of seventeen films. Interestingly the lady I thought I recognised is neither of these. The actress who plays Ching's mother isn't credited at IMDb, but it's Lau Hung-Dau aka Liu Hong-Dou aka Redbean Lau, who seems to be split into two people at IMDb: Hong Dou Liu and Redbean Lau. I could swear blind that I've seen her as some sort mob boss but I can't find a credit that I've seen. Intriguingly, she's Angelica Lee's mother here but Karena Lam's mother in Inner Senses.

Inner Senses was the film Chi-Leung Law made before Koma and he co-wrote that one. Koma was the first film he directed that he didn't write, instead bringing in Susan Chan who did stunning work. She was the first name I looked up to see what else she's written, because the talent she displays here suggests a long and distinguished career as a thriller writer. I was more than a little surprised to see that I've seen her work before, in Jackie Chan's Who am I? and that her many film credits don't seem to suggest psychological thrillers: titles such as My Mother is a Belly Dancer, Rave Fever and Why Me, Sweetie?!; Nude Fear, Run Papa Run and Summer Holiday. Either that suggests that she got lucky here or that she has truly astounding versatility as a writer. Whichever it is, she got this one very right indeed and everyone else involved backed her up to the hilt.

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