Directed by: Andy Tennant
Written by: Peter Krikes and Steve Meerson
Starring: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat, Bai Ling, Tom Felton, and Keith Chin
A friend of mine told me that we have in Anna and the King is
a splendid and satisfying romance - without the romance. She went on to
say that she saw this sorely overlooked 20th Century Fox release (now
available on home video) more than once. I can safely assume that the
first time was for the story and acting, and repeat viewings were to capture
all of the visual delights the film has to offer (which anyone will have
a hard time totally absorbing the first time around).
A musical and several films have told this story. The first cinematic
interpretation of the life of Anna Leonowens (Anna and the King of
Siam starring Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne) hit us back in 1946. Ten
years later came the popular The King and I (the movie version
of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical), a showcase for Yul Brynner and Deborah
Kerr. Warner Brothers even released an animated version of this story
In brief, this popular story of stage and screen follows Anna Leonowens
(Jodie Foster), a widowed British teacher (and single parent), as she
travels to Siam in 1862 with her son Louis (Tom Felton). Anna has accepted
a job to teach King Mongkut's eldest son, Prince Chulalongkorn (Keith
Chin), the ways of the rest of the world. She needs the paycheck, but
she realizes that this may turn out to be the hardest job and biggest
challenge she's had yet. Of course, not everything is to her liking in
this very foreign place, and she can't just go and have a chit chat with
the king whenever she wants. She has to follow protocol and see him whenever
he gets around to it. Not only that, but the governess learns that she
has picked up another 50-plus students as the king wants all of his children
to be taught instead of just the eldest son. The stage is set for a battle
of wills between these two stubborn people. They don't see eye-to-eye
at the start, but with the passing of time, both Anna and the king begin
to respect and trust one another, teach each other valuable life lessons,
and develop a lovin regard for each other.
Anna and the King is not without its flaws. At nearly 2 and 1/2
hours in length, it's a little too long, slow in some parts, and has a
Hollywood climax you might find a bit distracting. In addition, the use
of the diaries notwithstanding, it can be hard to guage the accuracy of
this film - in interviews, even, Tennant and Chow Yun Fat tell different
stories of the making of the film. The film may also feel too politically
correct for some tastes.
There's still plenty to like about this film. Its look, feel, and acting
are all worth the price of admission. It's a solid choice for the whole
family and for those craving a good story about love, honor, and respect.
In addition, those craving a lush epic minus the typical song and dance
numbers will be very pleased. Although the two leads do, at one time,
hit the dance floor for a waltz, they do not test our patience by trying
to hit a high note.
Anna and the King works because of its beautiful look and feel, and
the acting and chemistry of Yun-Fat and Foster. The film will easily remind
you of the kind of pictures that Hollywood used to make - those breathtaking
epics that didn't spare a thing on visuals. This is the kind of period
piece that you hope for: the costumes, the set designs, the colors, and
Caleb Deschanel's cinematography, along with an inventive musical score,
make you feel like you're actually there and that you belong.
The visuals of this film will delight you, and its acting will also
put a smile on your face. I have heard some complaints of the casting
decision of Foster as the film's lead and her struggles with her accent.
Sure, she may not have been the first top-quality actress to have been
considered for the role, but Foster did a solid job portraying the headstrong
educator. It may not have been her best work to date, but she certainly
did not disappoint. Her fans should be pleased as usual.
As for her costar, I had my doubts and I am so pleased that he proved
me dead wrong. I mean here is one of the top Asian action imports American
audiences have seen. Chow Yun Fat is practically part and parcel of Woo's
signature style, two-fisted shooting and all. Please note that there's
no guns, no tooth picks, and no disappointments going on in this current
film. Fat gives us a majestic, strong, and believable king who could do
as much teaching as the person he hired to educate his offspring. Kudos
also must go to Bai Ling (as Tuptim), who gave us a strong supporting
performance as the king's newest concubine who plays an intricate part
of the developing story.
Anna and the King is not a perfect film, but you have to look
at it for what it is: a romance, first and foremost. You will believe
the chemistry between the film's two stars and actually feel the love
their characters had for one another. Many things suit this film well,
but none as much as the interplay between the two people you came to see.
Anna and the King is a touching journey to a far away place that
will surely leave a smile on your face.