Anna Magdalena (1998)

Directed by: Hai Cheung Man
Written by: Ivy Ho
Producer: Claudia Chung
Starring: Takeshi Kaneshiro, Aaron Kwok & Kelly Chan

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Nominations at the Hong Kong Film Awards 1999:
Best Art Direction (David Wai)
Best Cinematography (Peter Pau)
Best Costume & Make Up Design (Dora Ng)
Best Music (Chiu Tsang-Hei)

Award at the Hong Kong Film Critics Society Awards 1999:
Film of Merit

Anna Magdalenas structure is built around a piano suite suite by Bach and is the starting point for a very interesting approach to movie making by art director turned director Hai Cheung Man.

We follow the lives of roommates Chan (Takeshi Kaneshiro - Fallen Angels) and Yau (Aaron Kwok - 2000AD). Although they live under the same roof their personalities are quite different. Chan is a shy and quiet piano tuner while Yau is a loudmouthed young man who's aspiring to be a writer. Into their lives and their apartment building comes Mok (Kelly Chan - Metade Fumaca) and what we get to experience next is an ordinary and realistic love story of the almost utmost enchanting kind...

It's easy to end up being a bit divided regarding one's opinion of Anna Magdalena. The structure of the movie consists of 4 parts and it's in the last one that things really take a left turn. I don't want to go into details but one of our main characters has written a book whose content actually plays out in front of us viewers. Hai Chung Mans direction have been very straightforward up to this point, something which have worked very well for this story. In part four he does pretty well in terms of his work as a director but the pacing is slightly wrong. To me it needed a bit of editing to work along with the rest of the movie...

...which is an absolute world class love drama! Ivo Ho has written a screenplay about ordinary people like you and me and I bet that anyone can relate to these people and the events taking place in their lives. It's absolutely crucial that a thing like cinematography can reflect this and that task was left upon Academy Award winner (for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) Peter Pau to perform. He has, together with the director, chosen to light some things the way they would look and that creates a very real and genuine atmosphere, something I always appreciate. Some DOPs have a tendency to use light and colours when it's not suiting for the story at hand and the sign of a well photographed film is when you don't really notice it. Peter Pau has certainly passed that criteria.

Among the three main actors, Takeshi Kaneshiro not surprisingly impresses the most. To put it simply, he must play a man of ordinary and realistic proportions, aspects he performs so perfectly. Very understated performance with nuances some viewers may actually not pick up on. Aaron Kwok is an actor who is probably best known for his roles in action oriented films like Stormriders, but here he shows a slight bit more versatile side to his acting. The character of Yau is someone we can laugh at, be annoyed by but also admire and Aaron looks like he's having fun taking this arc on.

Kelly Chan is as always stunningly beautiful but it feels like she hasn't quite yet found the timing and charisma that it takes to act out characters like Mok. I do believe that she is still learning and with a few more acting roles under her belt, she could be a very good actress. For the attentive viewer there are a few cameos by some familiar faces such as Eric Tsang, Anita Yuen and Leslie Cheung.

The message, meaning and magic of Anna Magdalena is nailed by Hai Cheung Man. Yet in this almost perfect film, he does slip a bit during the distinctive detour into fantasy land. A niggle that shouldn't prevent anyone from approaching this romance.

The DVD:

This is probably the best dvd presentation from Universe outside of Shaolin Soccer. The picture is framed at 1.78:1 approximately and looks absolutely gorgeous throughout. Peter Pau's cinematography is given the deluxe dvd treatment here with great colours and detail. Shame no anamorphic enhancement was done here but the picture is so good that I'll forgive Universe this time.

The sound options are Dolby Digital 5.1 in Cantonese and Mandarin. The sound is quite good with dialogue and music presented without any problems. During the movie's fourth part the sound becomes more nicely spread out with music numbers such as the rendition of Brazil from Terry Gilliams film with the same name.

The subtitles are of high quality with no apparent spelling errors. They're a little on the big side though but that's being picky. Traditional and simplified Chinese subtitles is also provided.

The extras don't really add up too much but that's acceptable considering it is a Hong Kong dvd. Stars files for the three main actors plus director Hai Chung Man and producer Claudia Chung comes in both Chinese and English and these are actually solid ones but not very in-depth. The trailer for Anna Magdalena is included as well as trailers for Stormriders and Young & Dangerous 5.

reviewed by Kenneth Brorsson