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Anna & Anna

Karena Lam meets Karena Lam in Anna & Anna.
  Chinese: 安娜與安娜
Year: 2007  
Director: Aubrey Lam Oi-Wah  
  Cast: Karena Lam Ka-Yan, Lu Yi, Tender Huang Teng-Hao
  The Skinny: Two Karena Lams are not necessarily better than one. Aubrey Lam's romantic drama attempts some sort of thematic seriousness, but the uneven focus, inconsistent tone, and strange narrative choices render this an unfulfilling disappointment.
by Kozo:

Two Karena Lams in one film sounds pretty exciting. The Canadian-Chinese actress is among Hong Kong's most talented and accomplished young actresses, and seeing her act against herself is a very attractive idea. It's also a wasted chance as Anna & Anna squanders both the concept and Lam's performance with a film that's less than it tries to be.

Directed and co-written by Aubrey Lam (Twelve Nights), the film tells the tale of Anna (Karena Lam), a successful career woman in Singapore who ditches her apartment and boyfriend, and moves back to Shanghai to take up a new job. Once there, she encounters a twin (also Karena Lam), who she thinks is just a frumpier lookalike. Nope, it turns out that this other woman IS her. They're the same person split at a certain juncture in time; one remained in Shanghai and married boyfriend Ouyang (Li Yu), while the other went to Singapore where she became independent, successful, and infinitely more fashionable. How did one girl get doubled, and what will they do now that they have a twin?

The "how" actually doesn't need to be explained, but the filmmakers do it anyway, with somewhat laughable results. At their second meeting, Singapore Anna tells Shanghai Anna that there's a scientific explanation for their duplication, involving the spawning of a doppelganger or "evil twin" due to various stressful circumstances. Her research material: the Internet! Chalk up another victory for crappy pseudo-science via poor screenwriting.

This moment sounds like it could be foreshadowing for something sinister, especially when one factors in the opening sequence, where child Anna has a sudden vision of her not-yet-existent twin. The overbearing music and suspenseful camerawork seem to indicate that this may be an Anna vs. Anna thriller, if not an atmospheric Shanghai-set horror film. However, the ominous "evil twin" mention is forgotten almost immediately, and film quickly reveals itself to be a drama that we're supposed to take seriously. That is, assuming that the strange horror film-like moments haven't totally alienated us yet.

The splitting point for the two Annas was a big choice in their shared life. It happened some years ago, when Anna decided to leave Ouyang after losing (or perhaps aborting) their baby. Apparently, Singapore Anna left Ouyang rather rudely, while Shanghai Anna cried and decided to stay, leading to their separate but linked fates. Essentially, they're the same women who've led vastly different lives based on that choice. One has become an icy career woman who doesn't appreciate her combo chef-rockstar boyfriend Billy (Tender Huang), while the other is a pained wife who doubts if her husband's inherited and rather acute depression is legitimate or not.

However, Singapore Anna misses Ouyang, so the two pull a switch. Singapore Anna revisits her past by spending time with Ouyang, while Shanghai Anna reports to work and attempts to manage Singapore Anna's troublesome secretary Paul (Ye Nan), who's upset because he saved up three years for a vacation and then decided to cancel it. Meanwhile, nobody seems to notice than an unqualified housewife is taking on a six-figure job. Hell, she can't even figure out how to open her office door.

The main problem with Anna & Anna is that it tries to do many things, but does them either poorly or in an incomplete manner. Aside from the "is this a thriller or not" issue, the film doesn't explore its themes well, with most of the key plot points being unaffecting internal realizations that don't register with the audience. We spend lots of time with Singapore Anna, as she looks back at her life with Ouyang, but Shanghai Anna's office escapades and subsequent trip back to Singapore seem perfunctory and underdeveloped. The film provides supporting details for its themes, including secretary Paul's issues with his travel itinerary, plus Ouyang's attempt to ditch his anti-depressants and return to a life of piano playing (he tunes pianos for a living because his fragile psyche couldn't take the stress of performing). However, since Anna's stories aren't fully told, it all becomes a bit bewildering.

What the film seems to tell us is that we can't escape fate or that indefinable quality that makes us ourselves. Anna has double this problem, because she can't escape the pull of either life, making her a seemingly incomplete and melancholy girl who spends lots of time staring into the distance contemplating her past, her future, or whether or not that haircut was a good idea. What does all this mean? Who really knows? The film doesn't convince or affect enough to make the message matter. The killer here is that the concept is very promising, having featured in plenty of other films, some acclaimed and some not. Post-viewing, Anna & Anna should become a card-carrying member of the latter camp. (Kozo 2007)

  Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Deltamac (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Cantonese and Mandarin Language Tracks
Dolby Digital EX / DTS ES
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
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image courtesy of Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen