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Much like Hong Kong helmer Lo Chi-leung's previous chiller, "Inner Senses" (2002), "Koma" crawls under the skin and stays there. An addition to the East Asian psychothriller genre, tale about stolen organs and personality transfer has no ambitions beyond being a well-tooled slice of hokum. but with the benefit of starring two of Hong Kong's brightest names, babe du jour Angelica Lee and fast-rising actress Karena Lam.

With: Karena Lam, Angelica Lee, Andy Hui, Raymond Wong, Liu Kai-chi, Annie Man, Roy Chow. (Cantonese dialogue)

Much like Hong Kong helmer Lo Chi-leung’s previous chiller, “Inner Senses” (2002), “Koma” crawls under the skin and stays there. An above-average addition to the still-rockin’ East Asian psychothriller genre, tale about stolen organs and personality transfer has no ambitions beyond being a well-tooled slice of hokum. but with the added benefit of starring two of Hong Kong’s brightest young names, babe du jour Angelica Lee and fast-rising actress Karena Lam. Some Western theatrical action looks in the cards, followed by robust ancillary biz among genre buffs.

“Inner Senses” (the final film of the late thesp Leslie Cheung, which also starred Lam) was released around the same time as fellow H.K. chiller “The Eye” (toplining Lee), and “Koma” came out close to “The Eye 2” this spring. However, unlike its predecessor, “Koma” at least managed a face-saving HK$6.9 million ($880,000), 70% of the take of “Eye 2.” Both the little-seen “Inner Senses” and “Koma” are superior to both of the “Eye” yarns.

Drunken bridesmaid Fung Chi-ching (Lee) stumbles across the naked, bloody body of a woman in a hotel room. The distaff corpse is the latest victim of a rash of kidney thefts, and Chi-ching identifies a strange woman she glimpses in the corridor as a possible suspect.

Latter is medical researcher Suen Ling (Lam), who turns out to be an old one-night stand of Chi-ching’s doctor b.f., Tsui Wai-man (Andy Hui). When Ling starts harassing Chi-ching by phone and threatening to steal her kidney, Chi-ching starts freaking out. (Turns out she’s suffering from slow renal failure.) The cops don’t believe her story, reckoning it’s a simple case of a love triangle gone wrong.

Pic starts tightening the screws as Chi-ching, in the first of several well-handled shocks, crashes her car and is taken home by Wai-man. After being kidnapped by an organ thief (Raymond Wong), and saved — in a creepy, neon-lit sequence — by Ling, Chi-ching slowly befriends the other woman, though Ling remains edgy and cold.

Chemistry between the two young actresses, with the cute Lee as a spoiled rich girl and dowdy Lam as a poor girl with a mom in a coma, is very fine, especially in suggesting the fatalistic bond that links the femmes. Double climax, which begins with Chi-ching covertly buying a replacement kidney from the organ thief, and finishes with an axe pursuit straight out of “The Shining,” is great stuff.

Lam, better known to fest auds from her role in Ann Hui’s “July Rhapsody,” is fairly muted as the mysterious Ling, with cutie Lee getting more play on screen. Dialogue is sometimes laughably corny, but Chan Chi-ying’s atmospheric lensing and Chan Kwong-wing’s moody music make such nitpicking superfluous amid the generic thrills. Chinese title simply means “Help.”


Hong Kong

Production: A Filmko release of a Filmko, Camera Media Investment Responsibility Co. production. (International sales: Fortissimo Film Sales, Amsterdam/Hong Kong.) Produced by Lawrence Cheng. Executive producers, Andrew Yu, Yu Gang, Tse Kar-fai. Directed by Lo Chi-leung. Screenplay, Susan Chan; story, Yeung Sin-ling.

Crew: Camera (color), Chan Chi-ying; editor, Kwong Chi-leung; music, Chan Kwong-wing; art director, Man Lim-chung; sound, Kinson Tsang. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 18, 2004. Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Karena Lam, Angelica Lee, Andy Hui, Raymond Wong, Liu Kai-chi, Annie Man, Roy Chow. (Cantonese dialogue)

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