Koma review by Tom Blain
Creepier than domestic suspense but still the same recipe.
There is a popular urban legend that has passed my through my Inbox on more than one occasion. The e-mail details a trip to Las Vegas that a man took. During his visit, he receives a visit from a call girl, has a few drinks, enjoys the fringe benefits of ordering a call girl, and then passes out cold. When this Internet gentleman wakes up he finds himself not in a heart shaped bed, but in a bathtub full of ice with a note instructing him to call an ambulance. What happened? (Get your puke bucket ready) The hooker drugged him and carved out one of his kidneys to sell on the black market. This nightmarish net story (sans prostitute) is essentially the opening sequence to the Chinese suspense film Koma.
The thin and beautiful Ching was enjoying glasses of champagne at her friends wedding reception in a large hotel. Later in the night, she horrifically discovers a kidney theft victim near her hotel room. Her first suspect is a suspicious looking woman named Ling. Ling seemed to be a complete stranger, but Ching quickly discovers that Ling knows quite a bit about her and even had an affair with her boyfriend, Wai. After the police dismiss Ling, things start to get creepy. Mysterious phone calls, chance accidents, and break-ins begin to occur. Is she just extracting a little revenge over being accusing of kidney theft? Is she jealous of Chings boyfriend? Or is she really the kidney thief?
The dynamic between the two women is very intriguing. The only thing they really seemed to share was the boyfriend. Ching is timid, thin; held back from being assertive by a renal disease. Ling on the other hand is tough and a bit street wise. Their relationship eases slowly from hostility to friendship. But even when things look good, you get the feeling that something could be boiling below the surface.
As we all know, Asian horror is the newest fad. Im not surprised. A lot of American Hollywood horror started to become clich to the point where the best horror films are the ones that comment fun of their own genre either through satire or farce. So the genre is ready for a makeover; and along comes movies like Ringu and Ju-On and the rest is recent history. I was expecting Koma to be along the same lines. Suspense (which is where I would put Koma) is a not so distant cousin of horror, so I would expect it to be the next genre imported to the purple mountains majesty.
But when it comes down to it, Koma is more or less a run-of-the-mill suspense film; not much different from our Hollywood brand. Now I dont mean to pick on Koma one bit. It does a fine job of staying in tune with todays scary suspense film. The only problem is that in playing into the formula it also re-inacts the flaws of the formula. The scares come when silence means the strike of a violin chord. The moments that you think will be scary end up being more or less a diversion to distract you from the big one. Dialogue foreshadows future plot points; even if those plot points are reached through absurd means. And, of course, if the movie feels like it is over, that only means that there are 20 more minutes of twists and turns left.
All in all, the movie delivers on what it was set out to do. It offers a few suspenseful shockers, although not too many. There are some uneasy, uncomfortable moments, and although the character development is a bit uneven, it at the very least exists. Keep your eye out for a few American references (in particular The Shining). You will have to keep an open mind during the ending. It is a bit strange; I think the director forced clever foreshadowing beyond reasonable situations. Not a bad film for a Friday night renter.
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