Directed by: Law Chi Leung
Written by: Susan Chan
Producer: Lawrence Cheng
Starring: Angelica Lee, Karena Lam, Andy Hui, Raymond Wong, Roy Chow, Liu Kai Chi & Annie Man

Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 2005:
Best Actress (Karena Lam)
Best Sound Design (Kinson Tsang)

“Would you like me to come for your kidney now?” the ominous voice on the cell phone asks.

Can anyone tell me why people in thrillers even bother to answer the phone?–especially when they know someone is after them and the caller ID says “Unknown Caller”?

Koma is advertised as an Asian horror movie. Your video store will probably even have it with Ringu, Dark Water, and Ju-on. Sorry to dissapoint you. While it does have some tense moments, even some gory moments, it is in reality a psychological thriller in the same “is she the killer or isn’t she” vein as Basic Instinct.

Ching (Angelica Lee) gets drunk at a friend’s wedding and stumbles down the hall. Wouldn’t you know it, out of all the many doors she could have used for support, she happens to lean on the one that opens onto a crime scene. It seems that a naked woman has crawled from a tub of ice and now pulls herself across the floor in a pool of her own blood. Yes, the old urban legend is true: somebody is out there stealing kidneys for sale on Hong Kong’s black market. But who is it? As Ching is running away, she runs into a strange woman, a woman she later points out to police on the playback from the hotel’s security camera.

Now here’s where the plot really thickens.

It seems that this woman, Suen Ling (Karena Lam), is having a torrid affair with Ching’s boyfriend, Dr. Fung (Andy Hui). When the police find out, they think the identification was part of a lovers’ quarrel and dismiss all charges against this mysterious woman. Then Ching begins receiving calls on her cell phone. It’s a woman’s voice…a woman who threatens to now remove her kidney. Is this Ling? –or is someone else responsible? Perhaps Dr. Fung? Or maybe it’s that strange guy at the bar? If you’ve seen any Joe Esterhaus thriller, you know the drill.

Koma works best when it stops trying to scare us with cheap tricks (people suddenly coming up to a car window and beating on the glass in the rain, accompanied by the required musical stinger) and explores the loneliness of its main characters. The performances here by Angelica Lee and Karena Lam are top-notch. Those who have seen the superior Asian thriller The Eye know that Lee plays a terrified victim quite convincingly, but here she also adds a hurt desperation that makes your heart really ache for her. Karena Lam does a fine job at playing the standard movie psycho babe from Hell, but her best work in the film is in the quieter moments when she openly reveals her loneliness to Ching and even grows to have an uneasy friendship with her. In fact, both characters appear to be the same coin. One will be showing heads and the other tails, and then they flip-flop. The direct translation of Koma from the Chinese is “help,” and these characters are both in dire need of some professional assistance. In the climax, it is interesting to see these actresses turn what might have been a cliched mess into something that is truly thrilling to behold.

If you’re looking for a twisted tale of bloody terror, this is not the film you seek. But, if you want a well-acted character piece with some horrific elements and an original ending that will leave you thinking, I would give Koma a solid recommendation.

3 stars out of 5.