Issue #250a          HOME          E-mail:        BACK ISSUES           February 7th, 2005

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(2004; Filmko Entertainment)

Cantonese: Gau ming
Mandarin: Jiu ming
English: Help or Save Life


RATING: 8/10


After a night of celebration at a friend’s wedding, drunken bridesmaid Fung Chi-ching (Angelica Lee Sinjie) searches for her hotel room but, instead, makes the instantly sobering discovery of a naked, bloody woman. She is the latest victim of a maniac who has been drugging and removing the kidneys of various women, whom he then leaves in a bathtub full of ice so that they have a fighting chance at survival. The incident hits very close to home for Chi-ching, as she is suffering from renal failure and needs a new kidney herself. However, because of Chi-ching’s rare blood type, this is something that even her family’s considerable wealth cannot provide. Hailing from a far more humble background, Suen Ling (Karena Lam Kar-yan) is an intense, independent girl determined to care for her comatose mother, no matter what the financial toll. She was noticed by Chi-ching at the hotel that evening, in the vicinity of the victim’s room. The two also have a second connection: Chi-ching’s doctor boyfriend Wai (NIGHTMARES IN PRECINCT 7's Andy Hui Chi-on). Frustrated by Chi-ching’s inability to have make love, he accepted Ling’s offer of a one-night stand. Although Ling is eventually cleared of the hotel mutilation, she begins to harass Chi-ching with a series of vicious, threatening phone calls that leave the sheltered, sickly girl on the verge of a complete breakdown. However, a later incident very unexpectedly results in the two girls bonding. The organ thief remains on the loose, though, and makes Chi-ching an enticing offer that could either save her life or gruesomely extinguish it.

Angelica Lee Karena Lam Angelica Lee

Pairing the very talented and photogenic leads of THE EYE and INNER SENSES (issue #235) under the direction of Law Chi-leung (who helmed the latter picture) gave KOMA an enticing promotional hook but, happily, there is a terrific film to go along with the hype. While some plot developments flirt with silliness and a couple of the false scares are embarrassingly telegraphed, this is a very sharp and surprising thriller with some genuinely potent twists. Susan Chan Suk-yin’s screenplay keeps the viewer off-balance by having characters do or say odd, extraneous things but these asides systematically pay-off as her intricately coiled storyline gradually plays out. There are nods to SINGLE WHITE FEMALE and the South Korean thriller SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE, but KOMA confounds most expectations by consistently keeping one step ahead of the viewer. It also manages to pack a remarkable amount of incident, tension, and character nuance into less than 90 minutes, and the film’s technical components are impressive across the board. Law coaxes highly persuasive performances from his two leads, and dependable supporting player Liu Kai-chi (CAGEMAN) also does good work as the police captain on the case, observing what seems to be a petty feud between two somewhat unstable women balloon into something far more sinister. Raymond Wong Ho-yin is also featured.

Liu Kai-chi Karena Lam (foreground), Raymond Wong Angelica Lee


The anamorphic transfer has a few minor problems. The 1.78:1 video mattes do not quite cover the original 1.85:1 hard mattes, creating a distraction in a number of brightly lit scenes (this will not be a problem for those with 16:9 displays, as only a sliver of matte will be visible at the top and bottom of the picture). The image also seems a bit too bright, washing out the blacks somewhat, but colors and detail levels are otherwise very good, doing justice to Chan Chi-ying’s excellent cinematography. Very minor damage pops up on the source material and only adversely effects a couple of shots.

The sync sound Cantonese version can be monitored in 2.0, 5.1, and DTS-ES, while the Mandarin dub is in 5.1 only. The mixes are well-conceived and executed, delivering the appropriate degree of atmosphere and sonic jolts. A 15 minute "Making of..." segment offers on-set footage and interviews with the principals and director, but is, alas, in Cantonese with permanent Traditional subs only. Also included are a music video with Karena Lam singing the film’s theme song (in both Cantonese and Mandarin), and the theatrical trailer in both languages. All in all, a fairly good package that represents one of Panorama’s better releases to date. I definitely could have done without the pair of toothpaste commercials that open the DVD, however.

Reader Peter Martin wrote in with the following interesting note about how the U.S. print differs from the R3 HK DVD reviewed here:

Dear John,

Very good review of "Koma." We actually agree on a movie! One question -- on the Panorama VCD that I have, an early scene about 20 minutes in features Angelica Lee in a car that is hit by another vehicle. On the VCD, the car spins completely around while the POV remains inside, on her face. (This was so startling that I watched it twice, and when I loaned it to a friend, both she & her boyfriend commented on it.) However, when we screened the film at AFI Fest in November, the scene stopped with the car being hit (before it spins around) and then cuts to the aftermath.

As luck would have it, the director, Law Chi-leung, was present for the screening, and I had a chance to ask him about it afterwards. He was quite surprised, and assured me that the film print was his final cut. He asked if the VCD was legal, and I assured him it was. (I bought it through YesAsia, and it sure looks authentic.) He said that "spin around" reflected an earlier, rough cut of the film, and that after they previewed it he made some cuts to tighten it up. (I haven't actually timed it to compare with the DVD timing.) He gave the impression that the other cuts were very minor in nature. He didn't know how anyone would have access to that earlier cut. All of our contacts were with Dada Films, a small, Los Angeles-based company that works with Tartan USA, right after they picked up the rights in Cannes last year. We got the source print from Dada Films. Tartan USA plans to release it in the US, though I don't know if it will get any theatrical screeings or go straight to DVD.

Anyway, that's a long way to go to ask if that "spin around" is on the DVD?

[John: Indeed it is. It's one of the most memorable moments in the film and should have been retained, in my opinion.]

We had, unfortunately, very low attendance for both, early evening screenings at the festival (one of my deepest disappointments) and one disasterously uninterested Q&A (though the other had some good responses), but Law could not have been nicer. He was excited after seeing "Polar Express" in 3-D, and felt that Hong Kong movies should forget about doing extensive CGI (since he felt it's about 10 years behind Hollywood and looks really bad).

As to "Koma," he said when he first read the script, the Karena Lam character was a man, but he felt the "man chasing a woman" horror film was played out, and suggested changing that part to a woman. He worked with the writer on a couple of re-writes. The most surprising thing for men to accept, he said, was the idea that two women can be enemies one day and friends the next.

His next film, he said, would be a ... romantic comedy. Aargh! (He wanted to do something different.)


Peter Martin

More information about the film festival in question can be found here: Many thanks to Peter for letting us know about this variation, which makes Panorama Entertainment's R3 disc the preferable choice.

This DVD is available at:

Images in this review courtesy of Panorama Entertainment. To read captions, hover mouse over image.

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Copyright © John Charles 2000 - 2005. All Rights Reserved.

DVD Specifications

  • Hong Kong Release
  • NTSC Region 3 Only
  • Panorama Entertainment #PANDVD406063
  • Dolby Digital 5.1 & 2.0/DTS-ES
  • Sync Sound Cantonese and Dubbed Mandarin Language
  • Subtitles (Optional): English, Traditional Chinese
  • 12 Chapters
  • 16:9 Enhanced (1.85:1)
  • 88 Minutes

Ratings & Consumer Information

  • Hong Kong: IIB
  • Quebec: G
  • United States: R
  • Contains moderate violence and brief nudity


  • 10 A Masterpiece
  • 9 Excellent
  • 8 Highly Recommended
  • 7 Very Good
  • 6 Recommended
  • 5 Marginal Recommendation
  • 4 Not Recommended
  • 3 Poor
  • 2 Definitely Not Recommended
  • 1 Dreadful