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.