Anna & The King

"OK"

Anna & The King Review


Because "Anna and the King" stands on its own remarkably well, it may be unfair to begin this review with a comparison to "The King and I," the most famous film adapted from the same source material. But what I found most striking about the elegant, intelligent remake is how acutely aware it made me of the insulting Euro-centricity of its predecessors.

In the same story told in 1946 ("Anna and the King of Siam"), 1956 (from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical) and 1999 (that dreadful cartoon version), widowed English schoolteacher Anna Leonowens has always been portrayed as a much wiser, civilized woman who teaches the elaborate but backwards Asian monarch to think like a European, to waltz like a European and shapes his diplomatic policy by whispering in his ear.

The prudent but powerful screenplay for this non-musical, epic remake -- directed by Andy Tennant, who so successfully reinvented Cinderella in "Ever After" -- puts this Anna (played by Jodie Foster) and this King (Chow Yun-Fat) on very equal footing, making their relationship far more combative and compelling.

The second most striking thing about "Anna and the King" is that it's absolutely gorgeous. From the vast palace grounds created especially for the film to the beautiful costumes (by Merchant-Ivory favorite Jenny Beavan) to the lush mountains of Malaysia that stand in for Siam of the 1860s, every frame of the movie is alive with visual vibrancy.

The third most striking thing about "Anna and the King" is the intricate, intimate performances of its stars, which comes as no surprise at all, as they're both irrefutably the best choices in the film biz for the title roles.

Looking period-perfect in her corsets and bustles, Foster projects palpable pensiveness and percolating pre-feminist determination under Anna's contrived and prim air of self-confidence.

And after years of being recognized in America only as the double-barreled star of outrageous Hong Kong shoot-'em-ups, Chow Yun-Fat finally gets a chance to prove the versatility he's famous for in the rest of the world, giving a meditative, noble, romantic and dashing performance, so original and so devoid of caricature that even "King and I" aficionados will forget all about Yul Brynner for the length of the film.

At its core, the story is largely the same as it has always been: Brought to Siam to instruct scores of royal children and wives in Western ways by a forward-looking king, the strong-headed and resolutely Victorian widow Anna Leonowens becomes the sovereign's friend and confidant while butting heads with him over everything from his foreign policy to the terms of her contract.

But "Anna and the King" is truer to the real Leonowens' memoirs than the classic musical ever could be. It's more pragmatic (a single dinner party does not resolve Siam's diplomatic problems) and considerably less romanticized (the king does not chicken out under Anna's scornful gaze when it comes to the horrible punishment his runaway concubine).

It examines both the imperial attitudes of England -- which looms over Siam's borders from its occupied neighbors nations -- and the sometimes barbaric practices of Siam's monarchy.

Of course, Anna and King Mongkut still dance -- although it's not the centerpiece of the movie. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" is still employed as an instrument to indict slavery -- although it's read by the crown prince instead of a concubine, adding weight to its dramatic use.

But the discourse between the leads is ever so much more clever, strategic and engaging. Chow's king visibly enjoys having someone to spar with -- he finds Anna a stimulating intellectual and they share insights into each others' psyches.

Director Tennant makes wise choices and changes throughout to modernize the narrative, replacing the musical's G-rated sensibilities with more sophisticated touches of humor, irony and tenderness. He makes room for strong, relevant moments for supporting characters and employs some powerfully effective symbolism.

He also missteps now and again. Several scenes with the children come off extremely staged. The use of a subplot involving a border squabble with Burmese guerrillas seems completely unhinged as it randomly comes and goes throughout the picture, when it should hang over the story like a storm cloud. And that same subplot plays a role in the confusing, far-fetched but exciting finale.

But all Tennant's mistakes (with the possible exception of the indulgent run-time of 140 minutes) are made in the name of getting his movie out from under Rodgers and Hammerstein's long shadow, and he certainly succeeds at that.

I worry that people might not see this movie except to measure it against "The King and I," and I suppose I haven't helped with this compare-and-contrast review.

But if you've read this far, I'm guessing you're going to go anyway, so once you've seen it, give the picture a leg up and spread the word: "Anna and the King" is a wonderful movie.



Facts and Figures

Budget: $75M

Production compaines: Fox 2000 Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Anna Leonowens, as König Mongkut, as Tuptim, as Louis Leonowens, as The Kralahome, Prime Minister, as General Alak, Kay Siu Lim as Prince Chowfa, King Mongkut's Brother, Melissa Campbell as Princess Fa-Ying, as Prince Chulalongkorn, Mano Maniam as Moonshee, Leonowens' Indian Servant, Shanthini Venugopal as Beebe, Leonowens' Indian Servant, Deanna Yusoff as Lady Thiang, Head Wife, Ann Firbank as Lady Bradley, as Lord John Bradley

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Trumbo Movie Review

Trumbo Movie Review

An entertaining film about sobering true events, this is the story of notorious screenwriter Dalton...

Goosebumps Movie Review

Goosebumps Movie Review

Mixing the action, comedy and horror from novelist R.L. Stein's books into a family-friendly package,...

Dad's Army Movie Review

Dad's Army Movie Review

The beloved 1970s British sit-com gets the big screen treatment, although there's been very little...

Spotlight Movie Review

Spotlight Movie Review

This film demonstrates that you don't need guns to make an exciting thriller. Based on...

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Movie Review

Not the subtlest director working in Hollywood, Michael Bay brings his surging machismo to this...

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

Dirty Grandpa Movie Review

There's nothing clever about this deliberately rude and vulgar comedy, but certain audiences will find...

The Big Short Movie Review

The Big Short Movie Review

Smart and snappy, this comedy is one of the scariest films of the year, using...

Advertisement
The 5th Wave Movie Review

The 5th Wave Movie Review

Also based on the first in a trilogy of post-apocalyptic teen novels, this thriller feels...

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ride Along 2 Movie Review

Ice Cube and Kevin Hart reteam for a sequel no one really asked for, following...

Room Movie Review

Room Movie Review

One of the most extraordinary films of the year, this drama cleverly weaves in events...

Creed Movie Review

Creed Movie Review

While this film is basically Rocky VII, it's also much more than that, and perhaps...

A Perfect Day Movie Review

A Perfect Day Movie Review

An irreverent comedy in the style of the original M.A.S.H., this wartime romp takes an...

Partisan Movie Review

Partisan Movie Review

With his feature debut, young Australian filmmaker Ariel Kleiman tells a creepy story about a...

The Revenant Movie Review

The Revenant Movie Review

A wrenching saga of survival and revenge, Alejandro G. Inarritu's new epic is just as...

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

The Hateful Eight Movie Review

Quentin Tarantino is a filmmaker who simply can't be ignored, especially when he lobs a...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.