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Anna and the King

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Anna and the King

Starring: Jodie Foster, Chow Yun-Fat
Director: Andy Tenant
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 147 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genres: Drama, Romance

*Also starring: Mano Maniam, Ling Bai, Kee Thuan Chye, Teoh Kah Yong, Randall Duk Kim, Kenneth Tsang

Review by Greg King
3 stars out of 4

The story of Anna Leonowens, the strong minded, widowed British governess who travelled to Siam in the mid-1800's to educate the king's many children, has been told in film many times before. The most famous incarnation of this story is Rogers and Hammerstein's musical The King And I, in which Yul Brynner virtually made the role of the despotic but benevolent king his own, and its subsequent tv spin off. The story was previously filmed in 1946's non-musical Anna And The King Of Siam, and more recently as a bland animated musical. Director Andy Tennant, who magnificently reinvigorated the Cinderella story in the recent Ever After, takes the familiar story and breathes new life into the material in this lavish, epic version.

Jodie Foster essays the role of the outspoken Anna, who arrives in Thailand from colonial India to educate the heir to the throne in modern concepts. She eventually charms and influences the king, anxious to maintain a delicate balance between tradition and the future, yet ensure his country's continued independence amidst colonial expansion into Asia.

It is not clear whether Tennant, whose credits also include the bland romantic comedy Fools Rush In, was trying to create a lush epic in the David Lean tradition here, but his direction is a little uneven. The film's second half heads into boy's own adventure mode with its subplot involving an attempted coup and treachery threatening the palace. The intrigue is resolved in a spectacular, if contrived, climactic Bridge On The River Kwai-like confrontation.

While Anna And The King explores broader themes of colonialism, tradition, and the clash of cultures, its treatment is nonetheless rather superficial. The film lacks enough dramatic confrontations and clashes between the headstrong Anna and the king to sustain tension and thus hold the audience's interest for its generous running time.

The two leads combine well to inject passion and warmth into their roles, and Tennant beautifully develops an air of sexual tension between the pair. Foster delivers her usual solid performance, and maintains an impeccable British accent throughout. But it is Hong Kong action hero Chow Yun-Fat who delivers the most surprising performance here, bringing a beautifully regal bearing and intelligence to his role as King Mongkut. Rather than merely replicating Brynner's famous mannerisms, Yun-Fat stamps his own presence on the role, creating a far more complex and interesting character.

The film has been beautifully shot in Malaysia by veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel, and certainly looks gorgeous. The production design, which recreates the king's sprawling palace, is also quite sumptuous.

Copyright 2000 Greg King

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