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Anna & Anna

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Anna and Anna is a Singapore-Shanghai collaboration which opens tomorrow, and is written and directed by Hong Kong’s Aubrey Lam, produced by Singapore’s Pip Productions, in partnership with Ascension Pictures LLP.

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The 95-minute film stars Karena Lam in two roles. The movie opens with the first Anna, a career-centered woman who has it all: a cushy job, a nice house, a musician boyfriend (newcomer Tender Huang, who rocks quite well with local band Ronin) and yet still feels dissatisfied and empty. She takes an offer to work in Shanghai as a chance to escape it all, and by chance meets a woman bearing a striking resemblance, just slightly less fashionable.

We are then introduced to the other role that Karena plays: Si Yu, a housewife/painter burdened with a chronically depressed husband Ouyang (Lu Yi). After a bit of research (on the Internet, obviously), Anna explains the phenomenon to be doppelganger: “people on the brink of death, or under extreme stress, split into two.” Sharing more than this discovery, Anna and Si Yu update each other on their lives after the split, leading both to yearn for the lives of each other and making a pact to switch identities for three days.

Si Yu liberates by taking off to Singapore to have it all, while Anna returns to Ouyang in a bid to fill the void in her life. However, they both come to realise that even though they had a choice to find out the consequence and living out the “what ifs” of their lives, both women realise that there is, ultimately, no escape from fate.
At this point I should clarify that I will not let the cat out of the bag by telling you the ending (find our yourself by watching it) , but I must point out that the film was labelled as a thriller, but save for the suspenseful soundtrack (by Dick Lee and performed by local songbird Mavis Hee) and suggestive camera angles, the film feels more like a drama. Violence, strong language and surprising turns were key thriller elements which were missing, but in its place we have a melodramatic struggle between the two Annas with their feelings of love-and-hate toward husband/ex-beau Ouyang.

While I was excited at watching the talented Karena act against herself, the film squandered the actress’ acting chops on way too many far away looks and awkwardly choreographed interactions, and even more on the existential, confusing ending, which tied up no loose strings, and generally frustrated audiences with the lack of character development of the two Annas.

A better approach would have been to spend more time on developing the why and how of the split instead of focusing on the smaller characters (such as Anna’s secretary), and end the film with a tone of finality – it is only fair that the audiences get some answers after sitting through all 95 minutes of the film.

The only character sufficiently mapped out was that of Ouyang, whose manic-depressive, violent streak made it difficult for audiences to want to want him for either of the Annas. More disappointingly, the beautifully framed shots (especially those set in the stunning autumnal rural Shanghai) were ruined by inconsistent focusing.

Criticism aside, the many shots requiring Karena to interact with herself were very well-done – the match-frames and CGI work were untraceable, so here’s a big kudos to post-production house Iceberg Design. Also, the haunting soundtrack by Dick Lee blended well with the piano solos featured in the film; should an official soundtrack be released, it’d certainly be worth a listen to.

Directed by: Aubrey Lam
Produced by: Ascension Pictures LLP, Pip Productions
Running time: 95 minutes
Release date: 8 November 2007

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