Koma (2004)
Reviewed by: ewaffle on 2006-02-20
“Koma” is an effective suspense/horror movie that makes the unthinkable real and in doing so tries to scare the audience. It shows that in Hong Kong the price for a kidney taken from a living person is at the intersection of high-tech medicine and a market economy. That a lively trade in such organs exists is no longer an urban legend, of course—the number of organ transplants done in the PRC is second only to the number in the United States and a significant percentage of the recipients are from overseas. The sometimes non-consensual nature of the donations—most organs in the PRC are from condemned prisoners—has stirred debate among doctors who treat those into whom the organs are transplanted, with a number of MDs in the United States unwilling on ethical grounds to treat patients whose operations took place in Mainland China.

But none of this is terribly germane to the movie at hand. The two very attractive and compelling female leads create characters that we believe in, even when some of what they do is unbelievable. Angelica Lee (Ching) seems to have everything—a loving family, a huge house (with a cello used as decor) and a boyfriend who is a doctor and who adores her. Unfortunately her boyfriend is actually a loathsome creep. More unfortunately she is going to die soon from renal failure. She is cute, touching, wispy and a terrible driver. Karena Lam (Ling) lives on the wrong side of town in a crummy apartment. She has no family, no friends and a relationship with Andy Hui (Lee’s boyfriend, Wai) that makes the Rossellini/Hopper pairing in “Blue Velvet” look like “Ozzie and Harriet”. Her mother is comatose in some type of hospital where there seem to be plenty of nurses and other medical professionals but who leave things like treating bedsores to the patient’s visitors. She has a lousy life but it will go on for a long time after she attends Ching’s funeral.

There are enough red herrings to open a decent sized fish market, but that is par for the course in such a movie (metaphors by MixMaster). It is pretty clear early on who the kidney thief must be but the Lee and Lam are good enough and the story is just interesting enough to that we are more involved in what will happen next than in who the bad guy/girl is. There are lots of standard but still effective horror movie images. At one point early on Lee, who feels she is being stalked, is looking into a mirror. We see her back and her reflection on the left of the screen and the mirror fills right half. We think “someone or something might appear suddenly in the mirror” but aren’t really disappointed when it doesn’t happen. A few minutes later after a car accident Lee is sitting shaken and weeping in the front seat of her smashed sedan when a guy pops out of the darkness and pounds on her window asking if he should call the police. Once again we expected something to happen in the window and this time it did. There are plenty of other off the shelf images and sequences—which is not a bad thing. They continue to be used because they work.

For example the handheld camera takes the point of view of someone sneaking up the stairs and into the bedroom of the sleeping (or is she) Ching. If it is all her nightmare, which it seems at first, then why are the French doors open and the phone line cut, just as she dreamt? People are kidnapped and left for dead but not killed, most nights are stormy, huge hospitals are left unguarded and seemingly abandoned, corridors twist and turn in ways would get any architect fired. Things that are clean are really clean—a public men’s room in a subway, often not the most salubrious place—is looks sterile enough to manufacture semiconductors while the medical research facility that is the setting for final confrontation looks like it hasn’t been mopped in quite a while.

It may be in my mind only but I am unable to see a scene with a hand clutching a scalpel reaching out from a closing elevator door without thinking of “Dressed to Kill”, a terrific suspense/horror/slasher/medical movie that had its share of crazy medical professionals. The scene very late in the “Koma”, in which Ching sees the tips of Ling’s shoes under a nearby doorway and draws the wrong conclusion is also taken directly the earlier movie, a scene in which Nancy Allen is dreaming (or is she) about stalking or being stalked by Michael Caine.

Directors and writers quote other movies at their peril. Truaffaut can pay homage to Hitchcock as much as he wants and will be none the worse for it but sometimes the current movie might suffer in comparison. Still, “Koma” is a decent enough medical horror movie with two superb performances.
Reviewer Score: 7