“Koma” – A.J. Hakari

If the dramatic thriller Koma serves a purpose, it’s to highlight the difference between what’s a plot twist and what’s sheer indecisiveness. On the one hand, you have something like The Sixth Sense, whose unexpected story turns not only made it famous but also kept in line and formed a logical connection with the turn of events preceding them. Koma, on the other hand, is like watching a guy not only mess up the punchline of a joke, he keeps going back to the beginning and changing things every time he tries to fix it.


After getting promptly smashed at a friend’s wedding reception, pretty Ching (Lee Sinje, a.k.a. Angelica Lee from The Eye) receives the shock of her life when she stumbles upon a woman bleeding to death due to someone having removed one of her kidneys. The incident hits all too close to home for Ching, for she herself has kidney troubles that have caused some strain in her relationship with her boyfriend (Andy Hui). To top it all off, after she puts the finger on Ling (Karena Lam), a woman she saw lurking around the scene of the crime, in a lineup, she learns of a connection between her beau and the mystery woman that throws her for another loop. But after Ling is cleared of all involvement in the kidney theft, she and Ching are forced to become reluctant friends in order to survive the wrath of the wannabe surgeon still lurking about.


Sometimes I don’t know what’s worse: a movie that succumbs to the “long-haired, vengeful ghost” conventions that befalls so many potentially cool Asian horror films, or one that sets out to do something different but comes up with a really weak follow-through. Koma is a bona fide member of the latter category, having shifted into the right gear but spending its 88-minute running time letting its wheels spin and kick up mud in a ditch somewhere. Things start off on an eerie and effective enough note, with the opening scenes echoing the old urban legend about waking up in a tub of ice and finding that one of your kidneys has mysteriously vanished. But it’s not just that Koma is more interesting when it’s shrouded in mystery; when the time comes for the hidden connections and various secrets to be revealed, what the viewers get is so dull and confounding, you’d wish the filmmakers would pull the covers back over the plot.


Director Lo Chi-Leung can never sit still long enough for us to become involved with the film as either an organ-swiping thriller or a soap operaesque drama with some missing kidneys thrown in for good measure. He’s always dashing back and forth between the two genres, never introducing them to one another, so when they come together in a climax that should be more emotional than it turns out to be, the effect one feels is more awkward than anything else. The production is a handsomely-made one, and the lead performances from Lam and Sinje are reasonably decent, but they hardly seem to matter when the haphazard plotting keeps viewers at such a distance. All the atmosphere in the world can’t compensate for a story that can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be or provide much in the way of effectiveness in the meantime, and hardly has this been truer than in the case of Koma.


Although Koma has firmly planted itself in an environment that makes it look suspenseful, it forgets to employ the sort of storytelling tactics that actually make it be suspenseful. With a great sheen to it but populated with too many characters less complex than they think they are going through their own uninvolving dramas, Koma is like a bitter cake that some chef tried slathering all the frosting he had in the kitchen on.


Rating: ★½☆☆


-A.J. Hakari

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