Anna Magdalena (1998)
Takeshi Kaneshiro, Aaron Kwok, Kelly Chen. Directed by Yee Chung-Man. Cantonese with English subtitles.

Chan Kar-fu is a piano tuner, a career choice that seems to suit him well. He lives alone, he doesnít appear to have any friends, and thereís a kind of straight-laced exactitude about him. When he meets Yau Muk-yan at a customerís house, Muk-yan is in the process of breaking up with his girlfriend, leaving her sobbing, apparently only because itís time to move on.

The two strike an uneasy acquaintance, and since Muk-yan has nowhere to go, he moves temporarily into Kar-fuís apartment. Where Kar-fu is quiet and keeps to himself, Muk-yan is loud, with no job and no direction in his life other than supposedly trying to write a novel while gambling any money he gets his hands on. So when a pretty woman moves in upstairs, itís pretty easy to guess who falls in love with whom, who gets shafted, and who ends up happily ever after.

Only it doesnít quite work out that way. While the film follows the familiar Hollywood romantic comedy path for its first three acts (labeled here as ďmovementsĒ in loose agreement with J.S. Bachís Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach, which seems to include ďMinuet in G,Ē and plays a large part in the filmís soundtrack and in the structure of the story), the fourth takes an unusual turn that should be experienced without spoiling. Itíll have to be enough to say this is not quite what youíre used to seeing in American romantic comedies.

The acting is solid but not outstanding. Muk-yan takes up so much energy and space that he leaves little room for Kar-fu or Mok Man-Yee, the pretty piano-playing neighbor upstairs. This is surely how it would be in real life, of course, but director Yee Chung-man lets the character fill too much of the frame too much of the time, so that we donít get to know Man-Yee at all. Something is making her sad and angry, but we have no idea what it is, or whether these emotions are from recent events or just her personality. This makes it impossible to know if sheís making good choices, or to get any sense of how much each of the romantic rivals might actually love her.

Anna Magdalena is still an enjoyable movie with an interesting narrative premise, and that fourth act, however it plays out, is creative and intriguing, in a fantastic, baffling way.

7/10 (IMDb rating)
73/100 (Criticker rating)