Judge Joel Pearce found himself in a koma after snoozing through this organ-stealing soap opera.
When hope is in front of you, and it suddenly vanishes, it's much worse than having no hope." -Ching
Although Koma benefits from creepy sequences and strong cinematography, it's packed full of serious flaws. The Asian horror market has been churning out wonderful films over the past few years, but this isn't one of them. Deserving or not, Tartan Video delivers the goods with an impressive edition of this creepy soap opera.
Facts of the Case
Combining two popular urban legends, the plot features a man who has been using the date rape drug to capture girls, steal their kidneys, and leave them in a bathtub of ice with a note to call the police. When Ching (Angelica Lee, The Eye), a young woman with serious kidney problems, stumbles over one of these victims, her life is put into a bizarre tailspin. She soon meets a threatening girl named Ling (Kar Yan Lam, Inner Senses) who has a strange connection to her. It's soon uncovered that the connection they share is Ching's boyfriend Wai (Andy Hui), who Ling has been banging recently in exchange for money to look after her sick mother. After some initial conflict, the two women form a strange friendship, one that is unlikely to last.
I'm not sure whether to describe Koma as a horror movie with a soap opera cast, or as a soap opera with a horror movie premise. Either way, the film completely fails to work.A horror movie doesn't work unless the audience feels affinity for the characters. I didn't feel anything for any of the characters because they all play like terrible soap opera conventions. Ching is an unpleasant protagonist. We meet her when she is totally drunk at a friend's wedding, and she's quite annoying and rude. When she sobers up, she becomes painfully self-depreciating and whiny, which isn't any better. Wai is rotten, acting sincere when they are together but quick to abandon her to have sex with Ling, who is abusive and cruel to everyone else in the film. These characters may have worked in a different genre, but we don't care enough about them to worry for their well being.
Koma doesn't work as a soap opera, either. In such lurid dramas, the motivations of the characters don't matter. The boyfriend would be a jerk simply for the sake of being the jerk, and Ching's emotional outbursts would seem acceptable. The explanations here are drawn directly from Psychology 101. Ching is so disturbed by her thinness (due to her illness) that she can't stand to be seen naked, and so refuses to be intimate with Wai, who is forced to get affection from another woman. The friendship that Ling eventually builds with Ching is an emotional replacement for her own comatose mother, since Ching is also sick and frail. The connection between the two girls is decent at times, and could have been enough to hold the plot together, but it is also plagued with problems. There is a supernatural connection between the two that is discarded along the way. Ling is so abusive at first that it's difficult to believe that Ching would be willing to befriend her.
The film contains nods to classic horror movies, some of which work well. The vision of Ching with a fire ax is one such pleasure, as is the effectively filmed dream sequence. The surgery scenes are gory and disturbing. The best sequence of the film is in the first five minutes, when the unnamed girl awakens naked in the bathtub to find her own kidney missing. It's a great sequence, with just the right mixture of slick cinematography, perfect timing, and voyeurism. The problem with having such a good horror sequence at the front end of the film is that subsequent sequences seem weak in comparison. This is especially true of the ending, which has a twist that exists only for the sake of having a twist at the end. There was a delightfully dark way to close things off, but they missed the opportunity. Koma is so campy that it's hard to really feel scared by that point in the film anyway.
The film has been given a beautiful transfer from Tartan Video. The video is sharp, in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. There is a little dirt on the print, but detail is strong, even in the shadows, and the colors are accurate. Subtle use of surrounds creates a natural-sounding mix. The Dolby 5.1 and DTS tracks sound about equal, obviously created from the same source.
The main extra on the disc is a commentary track with director Lo Chi Leung, which is subtitled in English. It's a pretty generic commentary, explaining his interpretations of psychology and film school 101. I always feel terrible listening to commentaries on disappointing movies, because I wonder whether the directors really believe they've created something brilliant and unique. Also on the disc is a production featurette, which covers the usual behind-the-scenes and interview footage.
For fans of Asian horror, Koma makes a decent rental with a campy storyline, some effective horror scenes, and a pair of good performances. It's the kind of movie that you feel worse about in the morning, though, so I can't really recommend it as a purchase. More than anything, it feels really unnecessary after so many other great horror movies imported from Asia in recent years.
Guilty, but only of being yet another silly and cheesy horror movie.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tartan Video
• Director's Commentary
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