Anna Magdalena

This UFO film stars Takeshi Kaneshiro, Aaron Kwok and Kelly Chan in a modern day HK yuppie love triangle. It struck me as a sad little film in which love can only be realized in fairy tales and where people can never really change from what or who they are.

I did not find any of the characters particularly compelling and kept waiting for Takeshi to break out of his socially repressed state, but he never can except in his fantasy. But then I never could understand his strong feelings for Kelly Chan who had a zero personality in this film.

Though not a bad film at all - well directed with very good quality production values, I don't think many people will feel satisfied with itís outcome. The film is broken narrative wise into two main movements - one the real love triangle that is going on and secondly a fantasy piece from the mind of Takeshi. The fantasy piece is quite charming, beautifully filmed and almost uplifting, but by contrast it makes the real life section all that more mundane and depressing. Lots of fun cameos, but it is a bad sign when the cameos are the most memorable things about a film. I recall the mystified look of the theater goers after the lights came on - I donít think anyone expected the film to end the way it does.

My rating for this film: 7.0


Reviewed by YTSL

IMHO, there are many things to dislike about this United Filmmakers Organization (UFO) production.  First and foremost among them is the significant screen time given to someone -- sorry Aaron Kwok fans! -- who is most emphatically NOT my favorite actor.  My viewing experience was also negatively affected by Kelly Chan's -- at least until the final forty or so minutes of the film --alternately acting like she was in a music video, inappropriately exaggeratedly and woodenly, and often looking like she was staring at and reading from a script or big cue card that was being held just above and behind the camera.  Perhaps the nadir of this romantic drama (besides close ups of those two people kissing) were two sequences -- one involving Kwok, Chan and Takeshi Kaneshiro using their dodgem cars to "kiss"  each others'; another of which featured Kwok and Chan rollerblading -- which seemed like they were scenes from a teen flick.  And it certainly didn't help matters that my videotape copy of this film had small English subtitles whose bottom half was submerged for much of the movie.

Yet not only did I persist and watch ANNA MAGDALENA in its entirety twice in four days but I also actually got quite a bit of pleasure from doing so both times.  Maybe if this had happened just once, I would have chalked it down to my having been in a particularly indulgent mood or having a lot of goodwill for Chan and Kaneshiro after having watched them in the extremely moving "Lost and Found" (A UFO Production from two years earlier).  Since it happened two times though, my intimation is that there are aspects and sections of this Cantopop star-filled film which more than compensate for its obvious faults.
Searching for what I liked -- nay, loved -- about this offering, I would have had to been blind and deaf to not appreciate that:  The cinematography (by Peter Pau; who also worked on "The Bride with White Hair") is truly sumptuous when not magical; and the musical selections (which largely consist of music by Johan Sebastian Bach and songs Ė set to the tune of the "Minuet in G" that can be found in his "Selections from a Notebook for ANNA MAGDALENA Bach" -- by George Lam and Kelly Chan) are quite wonderful and catchy, inspired even.  Although they are already obviously good in what are designated as the creatively designed movie's first three movements (two single strands which are named after Yau Muk Yan and Mok Man Yee, Kwok's and Chan's characters respectively; followed by a duet for or by them), they -- and the production as a whole -- really come into their own in the last "variations" movement or section (a large portion of which was filmed in Vietnam).
Additionally, it actually does help matters that Aaron Kwok's lazy, parasitical and narcissistic character IS meant to be annoying (as well as inexplicably attractive to women), and that Kelly Chan is really just there to strike poses and look beautiful for the first three quarters of the film.  At the very least, this helps one feel sorry for Takeshi Kaneshiro's character, a gentle piano-tuner named Chan Kar Fu who is as unable to make romantic moves as to play tunes on  pianos.  But not too sorry, since he actually has at least one female admirer plus someone (Eric Tsang is among the notable personalities -- including Jackie Cheung, Josie Ho, Leslie Cheung and Anita Yuen -- who makes welcome cameo appearances in this movie) trying to fix him up with another woman.  Also, unlike aspiring writer Yau, he actually manages to produce a novel on his first attempt.

Chan Kar Fu's quirky yet touching tale of how it is that some people find their Mok Man Yees (and others don't) is presented and brought to life in the excellent fourth and final movement of ANNA MAGDALENA.  In this story within a story, Takeshiro Kaneshiro and Kelly Chan take on the roles of two grownup orphans (dubbed "the XO Pair" after the marks they get in school!) who go to a haunted locale to look for gold and find it along with a ghostly presence who asks them to convey a message to his love.  The duo not only do so but also end up trying to make careers out of bearing love notes -- in musical form, with varying success -- to others.

The first time I watched this polished -- but not slick -- movie, I did feel (like Brian) that an essentially wishful last segment made the earlier "real" life and world portions of ANNA MAGDALENA seem rather shallow and pathetic.  The second time around though, knowing what was coming at the end of the film, the other sections felt much more wistful and understandable.  In fact, the entire offering almost began to seem Wong Kar Waish; in terms of its being genuine, layered, reflective and sprinkled with thoughts that appear to be made lightly and so obvious once made, yet needed someone to state aloud to be actually realized. In summation:  Although this 1998 work may not be as good as some other UFO Productions (notably "He's a Woman, She's a Man" and "Who's the Woman, Who's the Man?"), it does nothing to affect this Hong Kong moviephile's opinion that this company's very recognizable logo has come to be a veritable stamp of quality.

My rating for the film:  7.5