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review: two flicks from Hong Kong

March 14, 2006

Koma

Angelica Lee
Karena Lam

Home Sweet Home
Shu Qi
Karena Lam

Actresses working in Hong Kong cinema haven’t received the international props of their mainland China counterparts, not for lack of talent or beauty, they generally don’t get the chance to perform in the kind of art house fare that makes film fest devotees drool. Shu Qi has been able to break through by virtue of her appearances in Hsiao-hsien Hou films (the international notoriety got her a role as fetish bait in The Transporter, hmph). Others, like Angelica Lee (Sin-je) and Karena Lam (Ka Yan) toil away valiantly in genre flicks like The Eye, the moderately interesting horror film that was snapped up for a Hollywood remake during the great rush of Asian horror of a few years ago.

Lee and Lam hooked up for the glitzy, cheesy thriller Koma last year. It was so successful a sequel was planned, though Lee fell out of the project, to be replaced by Shu Qi (who, coincidentally replaced Lee in The Eye 2). That sequel, Home Sweet Home, ended up having nothing to do with plot wise Koma, though it was easily as bad as it’s ersatz predecessor. In Koma, Lee plays Ching, a neurotic waif with renal failure, attached to her doctor boyfriend (Andy Hui) at the hip. Lam is Ling, a self-assured mystery girl, who in service of a overcooked plot is the boyfriend’s other woman. The two women cross paths at a wedding reception when Lee’s character discovers a victim of an organ theft ring (you know the urban legend of people waking up with missing kidneys). Then the thriller machinations begin immediately; is Ling an organ thief or just obsessed with the hunky doctor, is Ching a potential victim or paranoid?In Home Sweet Home, Qi takes over the nutty wife role, however Lam’s other woman has morphed into a Frankenstein’s monster, a baby stealing troll living in the bowels of a high priced, high rise in Hong Kong. Lam is really great in both films, though it gets hard to take her grotesque phantom seriously in Home Sweet Home, though the filmmakers pile on the idea that we are supposed to sympathize with her (done mostly through clumsy flashbacks, one of which contains a really great moment with Lam). She’s mostly slithering around in full on Lon Chaney Jr make-up, saying few words, trying to appear matronly and menacing all at once. In Koma, she’s a introverted love sick woman seething at her station in life and equally as determined to free herself. Lee’s very good, taking this really annoying character on her shoulders, and doesn’t need the filmmaker’s help to create any sympathy. Qi has the worst job of the three, having to be the whiny wife in a corny melodrama/thriller and really it is just out of her hands.

Both films portend to delve into class divisions, the dangers of urban living and how these forces make these woman enemies than the natural allies they should be. Hou might have made a meal of this, these directors really aren’t up to it. Of the two, Home Sweet Home has the most potential on the page, the idea of melding together Frankenstein, Phantom of the Opera, and “Desperate Housewives,” thematically and aesthetically,  sounds kind of interesting. However the filmmakers are more focused on getting that glossy look, the racing from plot point to plot point, melodrama and the scares . . . . which is suppose what you’re probably wondering about if you’ve made it this far. These movies are not frightening. They’re billed as horror movies only in that it fits the current marketing trend of Asian films. Don’t, for the love of god, expect RINGU or run about crying how these movies suck because they aren’t scary. They suck because they’re bad. Don’t blame the women, though. Lam was nominated for a Hong Kong award for her roll in Home Sweet Home. Two films that should have given these actresses a wide notoriety will probably damn them as far as the art house market over here is concerned. Too bad.

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